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Jamie Sorcher

Strong sales and top trends

Outdoor manufacturers and retailers are feeling optimistic about 2013

The MontereyThe Monterey deep seating collection from Pride Family Brands’ Castelle line has been a best-seller this year.
Many casual furniture and accessories manufacturers and retailers across the country are reporting a strong start to 2013. With the economy slowly but steadily improving, the demand for outdoor furnishings is strengthening as consumers invest in creating high-quality outdoor spaces for their homes.
     Pride Family Brands' woven aluminum French Quarter and vintage-inspired Monterey deep seating collections from the Castelle line have been particularly strong sellers for the luxury casual furnishings brand in 2013, according to Rory Rehmert, senior VP of sales and marketing.
     "Pride Family Brands is again experiencing a great year," Rehmert said. "The market for luxury outdoor furnishings is alive and well, and our dealers focusing on the upper-end segment are having a strong season."
     Gail Williams, owner of Sunshine Furniture in Vero Beach, Fla., said she is also seeing willingness from customers to invest in quality products that will last longer, particularly in the fire category. "We've always sold a lot of (fire pits), but what's happening is people have already done the mass merchant fire pits, or maybe it's not made of a material that lasts very long," she said. "They're going for the better fire pits now."
     At Tropic Aire Patio Gallery in West Columbia, S.C., co-owner Judy Singleton said best-sellers so far in 2013 include Gensun Casual Living's Geo 60"x80" oval table, Winston's Palazzo cushion collection and Tropitone's Ravello cushion collection.
     "Deep seating is growing more and more important every day," she said. "We do place quite a bit of sling dining. Composite also plays an important role for our coastal and lake customers due to ease of care and weight. Outdoor rugs and toss pillows also play an important role."
     Things are looking promising out West as well. "Overall, so far, it has been a very good year," said Chad Scheinerman, chief executive officer of Phoenix-based chain Today's Patio. "Wicker continues to be a growing category for us. Although we have always done well with umbrellas, we are seeing an increase in this category as well. We have seen some nice growth the first half of this year and expect the second half to be similar to last year's June through December. Although the housing market is really picking up here in Arizona, we aren't planning for any major increase for the second half of the year."
     Rob Schwing, general manager of Saber, said the grill manufacturer is "having a fantastic year" so far. Saber's best-selling unit this year is its largest free-standing grill, the R67SC0012 four-burner infrared unit, which retails for $1,699.
     "It's a tremendous value," Schwing said. "Customers are positively reacting to the quality, price, construction and features. Unlike several of our major competitors, we did not cheapen our grills and use 430 stainless steel. Wherever you see stainless steel on a Saber grill, it's genuine, commercial grade SS304. That combined with full surface infrared is an unbeatable combination."
     Agio President Bob Gaylord said the company's cast, sling and woven sales have all increased at similar rates. "We continue to see nice sales gains year in and year out, and it's because we're in what I'd call a ‘sweet spot,'" he said. "The retail sales points on our sets are at a point that people can afford just about everything on a floor that's offered from Agio."
     Along with the good vibe that grills and fire pits are generating, the outdoor kitchen category has arrived on the scene and is making more of an impact. "More and more homeowners are not selling their homes; they are improving the one they've got and the outdoor kitchen is at the top of their list for improvements," said Brian Eskew, marketing manager of Twin Eagles.
Treasure Garden’sTreasure Garden’s 10’ Round Shanghai in Cha Cha Lemon provides a designer look.
Outdoor kitchens are no longer an amenity for the wealthy, Eskew noted. "Twin Eagles recently introduced a value priced line of outdoor kitchen products - Delta Heat," he said. "The Delta Heat line is priced to be within reach of a much larger base of consumers. Our premium Twin Eagles product and premier value price Delta Heat products are both seeing very strong growth. Markets like the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are growing exponentially."
     Umbrellas are also a category seeing traction. "Through the middle of the year, we are happy to see that the slower start and difficult weather hasn't stopped us from making progress on the gains we made last season," said Bryan Sanches, sales manager of California Umbrella. "We are building on a great upswing in spring orders that has us ahead of last year by over 20%. We see the year finishing on a high note, with solid gains."
     Treasure Garden has enjoyed a solid year in sales for 2013 so far. According to Candy Chase, national sales manager, shipments are up double digits over last year and the company sees the trend continuing as dealers react to pent-up demand during the warm summer months due to lingering cold, rainy weather in much of the country. "Special order business is brisk," she said. "Our new Design Studio is helping consumers create custom shade at the dealer level."

     Overall, fabric and finish preferences for outdoor furniture are still trending toward neutrals in 2013, but manufacturers and retailers are reporting customers are drawn to accessories such as pillows and rugs to infuse outdoor spaces with color.
     "Neutrals are always our top sellers," Rehmert said. "Our furnishings target the luxury buyer looking to invest in outdoor furnishings. Color is added by incorporating accent pillows. For those, we are seeing blues, greens and some crimson."
     Singleton sees a similar trend among Tropic Aire's customer base. "Again, (we're seeing) dark finishes and neutral fabrics, although we are seeing some customers branch out into brighter fabrics," she said. "We pull bright colors into almost every display using accessories - rugs, pillows, floral and tabletop."

Sunshine FurnitureSunshine Furniture owner Gail Williams said her customers are drawn to quality fi re pits and are experimenting with more patterns in their outdoor décor this year.
For Sunshine Furniture's coastal market, Williams said all-weather wicker from companies such as Lloyd Flanders is consistently a best-seller. This year, she said gray wicker in particular is making its mark, as well as sling chaises. Williams has also noticed a shift in color trends this year, with Sunshine Furniture's customers embracing more color and pattern in their outdoor décor.
     "They're leaning more toward the ikats, the really cool different patterns," Williams said. "It's not quite so traditional. It's a little more contemporary, a little more modern... We're coastal, so anything seashell, navy, blues and greens. Coral is coming back strong. We're a little different because we switch it up almost every month. It's continuously new, and that's what makes it fun."
     In addition to its grill units, Schwing said Saber's grill accessories are popular sellers this year, including a tool set, griddle and new wide-head spatula.
     Across the board, fire pits continue to show strength. Saber is exploring the fire pit category as the exclusive North American distributor of Dancook products. At the HPB Expo in March, Saber unveiled the Danish company's first North American line, which includes two kettle-style charcoal barbecues and two fire bowls.
     "Dancook is our sister company in Denmark and has a reputation for high-quality, Scandinavian-designed charcoal grills and outdoor fire pits," Schwing said. "We are receiving very positive feedback from our retail partners and are very excited about this opportunity."
     Agio is also seeing success with its fire pits and fire pit chat groups, as well as its porcelain-topped tables. "These products emulate stone tops but their durability, light weight and colors have made them wildly popular with consumers," Gaylord said. "Whether dining tables, side tables, etc., Agio will continue to show collections that feature these materials that go over so well with the customers who shop our specialty retailers."
     "Fire pits continue to grow as a category for us," said Scheinerman of Today's Patio. "Who would think people would still buy fire pits in Arizona when it's over 100 degrees outside. Crazy ...but they are!"
     Outdoor kitchens, too, are trending. "Outdoor kitchens are here to stay and are becoming a more practical addition to every home," Eskew said. "Consumers are realizing they are not just for cooking, they are a great place to gather and entertain."
The R67SC0012The R67SC0012 four-burner infrared grill is Saber’s largest free-standing grill and a bestseller this year.
  Treasure Garden's success stories continue to revolve around the Cantilevered Umbrella Collections, with their exclusive AKZ model. "Our show-stopping 10-foot Shanghai umbrella, delightful in bright vivid Bella-Dura Cha Cha fabrications, provides a designer look," Chase said. "We see continued growth in our UC series of commercial umbrellas - available in three sizes - and we're expanding our popular TGEX quick ship program to include the best-selling 7.5-foot canopies. We're also introducing our new Packaged Canopy Replacement program to give the consumer an instant umbrella makeover at retail."
     This year, Treasure Garden also introduced the 100-pound Monaco base with wheels and handle in three colors which has become a best seller. Color remains key, Chase noted. "Red tops the list in both Sunbrella and in the O'Bravia offering," she said. "Kiwi and Ginkgo, the vivid lime colorations, are trending upward as is sizzling Hot Pink."

     From Williams' perspective, social media is the new driving force behind outdoor décor trends, and as a result of the Internet's fast-paced nature, the trends are changing faster. Williams said customers will see what's trending on e-commerce sites or social networks, and then go to Sunshine Furniture to find it.
     "It's what they see in Coastal Living magazine. It's what they've seen on their smartphone," she said. "When they come in, they know exactly what they want, because they've seen it. So I continuously research all that... Literally half of the phone calls we get looking for something, they've seen it on our website or they've seen it on Facebook or they've seen it on a manufacturer's website and seen that we're a local dealer."
     Customers consider comfort, price and availability, in that order, when purchasing outdoor furniture at Tropic Aire, Singleton said. This year, she said lines with lower price points aren't always translating to more sales.
     "One surprise is a new line of less expensive product that has really done poorly," Singleton said. "I guess there is no need to try to compete with the big box stores even though this line is somewhat better quality furniture."
     Gaylord said Agio's specialty retail partners continue to thrive, and the increased integration of outdoor furniture into full-line furniture stores also boosts sales. "Our longtime outdoor retailers continue to have success and we see more and more gains with them," Gaylord said. "Many of these dealers have continued to increase year-over-year and it's nice to see the success they are having.
     "Additionally, we are pleased with the progress that we are seeing with indoor furniture retailers embracing outdoor more than ever before," he said. "As they begin to understand the category, I think these retailers realize that the additional sales and the added foot traffic help to make their stores into a year-round destination."
     Rehmert said Pride Family Brands' high-end buyers respond positively to customizable, one-of-a-kind décor and "recognize Pride for its ability to deliver luxury furnishing designs and accessories handcrafted to custom specifications in a timely manner."
     Custom ordering capabilities create more sales opportunities across all of Pride's collections, he said. "The custom order business has once again attained a level of more than 50% of our overall sales," Rehmert said.

     Heading into the second half of 2013, Rehmert said he expects Pride's best-sellers from the first half of the year to maintain their momentum. "We see the same trends continuing and the season running a little later than it has in the past few years due to the weather," he said.
     Singleton said she anticipates Tropic Aire's sales will improve slightly over last year, with the store's holiday section driving traffic in the last quarter of the year.

The Palazzo cushionThe Palazzo cushion collection by Winston is a popular group at Tropic Aire. The staff infuses the display with color by adding pillows, tabletop accessories and a vibrant rug.
"(We expect) sales just a little up from the same time last year, with sales tapering off mid-October," she said. "We will set up our Christmas department, Santa's Closet, in half the showroom and will open it just after Halloween."
     Williams said she's happy with her core manufacturers - including Pride, Lloyd Flanders, Woodard and Ebel, among others - and will likely explore some of their new collections at the Casual Market in September to refresh Sunshine Furniture's displays.
     "We order over and over throughout the year, but this year we're going to maybe change it up and add a few new things, some new collections," Williams said. "I don't think people want to come in and see the same old thing. Being a single store, family-owned location, we can do a lot of different things during the year."
     Gaylord said he is optimistic that the growth the outdoor market has experienced in the past several years won't slow down any time soon. "It is the fastest-growing segment in the home category and I really believe that we've only scratched the surface," he said. "We recently saw a study that held the outdoor furniture category will grow another 22% over the next five years."
     In the second half of the year, Schwing said he foresees Saber's sales continuing to show strength. "Based on what I'm hearing about other grill manufacturers' inventory position, I am very optimistic for the second half of the year," he said. "Our sales (so far this year) have been really strong, and that seems to be holding true for June also. I'm looking forward to a solid 2013."
     This year, Treasure Garden opened two new showrooms to service the company's dealer base. In January, the company showed for the first time at AmericasMart at the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market. "Our nearly 800-sq.-ft . showroom, located in the Gardens 10th floor Space 10-A-37, won ‘Best on Floor' and we were pleased to introduce our line to gift and designer buyers who do not normally attend the casual shows in Chicago," Chase said. "In addition, in April we opened up at the High Point Market at Showplace 2600 in a colorful, fun, 900-sq.-ft . showroom. We enjoyed over 200 visitors looking to expand and round out their outdoor business by adding Treasure Garden into their mix."

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