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Laurie Rudd

Furniture makers expand outdoors

As this month's High Point Market opens, attendees looking for the latest in furnishings to dress outdoor spaces may be pleasantly surprised by showings from traditionally indoor names.

Oval wooden table and chairs
Adams Furniture Oval Extended Table

With the advances in performance materials and processes across the outdoor furnishings industry, manufacturers of indoor furnishings are realizing the potential of a step in the outdoor direction.

“Due to the upgrading of outdoor environments, the need for outdoor furnishings is strong,” said Braxton Culler III, owner of the wicker, rattan and upholstered furniture manufacturer that bears his name. “It is definitely a growth industry.”

His company is among the indoor specialists who recognize the value of capturing a piece of the casual furniture market. Already in its 20th year of operation in the mid-1990s when its first outdoor designs were introduced, the Sophia, N.C.-based company has adapted its product lines for outdoor uses, including weatherproof resin and limited exposure collections.

For furniture giant Furniture Brands International, 2010 marks the first time two of its most recognizable indoor brands will be paired with outdoor furnishings. Through an agreement with Foremost Groups, Broyhill and Lane brands now are available on furnishings for the outdoors.

“We saw a healthy increase this year as we added the new Broyhill Outdoor and Lane Outdoor collections specifically,” said John Hunt, senior vice president, Foremost Groups. “The fact that we offered some of the biggest brands in indoor to outdoors was then a plus.”

For nearly 125 years, Ficks Reed has built its reputation on manufacturing high quality indoor collections of wicker rattan furniture. In 2004, the Cincinnati-based manufacturer debuted its first Ficks Reed line for outdoor use.

Dark wood outdoor table
Valerio Dining Table from Broyhill Outdoor
Outdoor waterproof sofa
Braxton Culler weatherproof sofa

“Our customers had been asking us to come up with some all-weather furniture for years, and we finally did just that,” said Ellen Saenger, Ficks Reed's vice president, hospitality. “It was a very smooth addition with expanding our brand to include outdoor. Quality is our No. 1 concern and in working with new materials for outdoor, we learned what can and cannot be done to ensure the continued quality.”

Why outdoors?

Customer requests also prompted Adams Furniture, manufacturer of 18th century antique reproductions, to present outdoor products at this month's market — but not for the first time.

“Outdoor was a part of our product line a couple of years ago,” said Steve Copsey, owner of Adams Furniture, High Point, N.C. Due to an inability to get favorable pricing, Adams eliminated the initial outdoor items that same year. However, for 2010, the benches will again be available.

“We recently were able to negotiate improved pricing as well as add a green element with an association with the Trees4Trees program,” Copsey said. “Our customers have been asking us to bring the teak pieces back. We feel we have the right combination now.”

Advances being made in performance materials, specifically fabrics, have worked to boost the introduction of outdoor products from previously indoor furniture manufacturers.

The availability and improved quality of outdoor fabrics in recent years is one reason for the growth in outdoor products. “In not only outdoor fabric construction, but more so the design,” Culler said.

“Not only the design, but the hand as well,” Saenger added.

Indoor influences

With the addition of outdoor pieces, remaining true to their company's styling is a concern for the manufacturer and its consumers. Efforts are being taken to continue to be relevant to their market with indoor and outdoor collections.

Outdoor sectional
Ficks Reed adds Sao Paulo, a large scale sectional, to its outdoor offerings.

“When we entered the outdoor (category), it was successful due to the attractively designed pieces,” Saenger said. “We are constantly redesigning and reinventing to maintain our position and respond to our customers.”

Outdoor selections at Adams Furniture reflect the antique styling found in its indoor products.

“Indoor styling clearly impacts what we design for the greater outdoors,” Hunt said, referring to Lane and Broyhill outdoor lines.

Marketing outdoors

Beyond design, indoor manufacturers with outdoor offerings also face opportunities and decisions regarding product marketing and sales. For most, the use of sales personnel, training and tools for the outdoor segment is an individual choice.

“We have separate sales team/representation for the outdoor products,” Hunt said. “The Broyhill reps work product at the shows; but the Foremost sales reps handle the day-to-day representation of all product.”

Arper Leaf Lounge

At Braxton Culler or Ficks Reed, the same sales representation handles both. “Our sales reps have been able to handle the selling of our indoor and outdoor products smoothly,” Saenger said. “It is a beautiful fit.”

The smooth flow of outdoor products is further enhanced when retail channels remain the same. In many cases, it is the retailers that have expanded their reach with the addition of outdoor products.

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