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Cinde W. Ingram

Dark wicker stays strong

Retailers report outdoor wicker sales remain strong this season, but location determines what styles sell best.

"Deep seating sells, dining does not," said Keith Kennington of Casual Living, with four stores in and around Dallas. "If you go heavy with dining, you will live with it awhile. In my area, palm trees and tropical does not sell — maybe it works great in California and Florida, but it does not work for me."

Deep seating with colorful cushions and frames in earth tones with variations of brown, ranging from chicory to mahogany, prove popular with his customers in Texas and Oklahoma.

Ebony has remained a top pick for two years running in the Orlando, Fla., area, Fireplace & Verandah owner Patricia Jenkins said. "Being it is heading to spring and summer, we are selling some white and naturals but it is probably 4:1 the ebony," Jenkins said. "Black has been great for us."

As far as style, Jenkins finds traditional rules the roost. "We sprinkle in a bit of contemporary here and there, but just a little because we still are more traditional around here," she said. "People may like it or look at it (contemporary), but they don't buy it."

Customers don't necessarily come into Fireplace & Verandah shopping for outdoor wicker or even knowing it exists. "But when the salespeople ask what area they are trying to outfit, if it's even partially outdoors, it makes all the difference," she said. "It isn't even, maybe, that they all put it outdoors but they love it. We started this year doing some containers of it and couldn't be more pleased. With one of the companies we're up about 25% already, and a lot of it is in the outdoor wicker category."

Because more manufacturers known for interior wicker have entered the category of all-weather woven furniture, the result is more variety in both design and quality level.

"There are a lot of different styles and mixing materials together," said Craig Chapello, Fireplace & Patio Center, Aurora, Ill. "It depends on how you classify wicker. A lot of people have cast aluminum and wicker seats or they have teak and wicker parts. You certainly see a lot of resin wicker. I personally feel the vinyl and the natural stuff look better because not all the resin has realism. The less expensive ones look less expensive."

Rich's for the Home, based in Lynnwood, Wash., has created a greater presence for outdoor wicker on its sales floor this season based on its earlier success in a limited space. "We're seeing some good results, not out of sight, but we're glad we're doing it," said Jon Chapman, marketing manager. "We're giving it more space and expect more of it over a couple of years."

Lloyd/Flanders' Truffle Collection proves popular with Rich's customers along with outdoor wicker by Acacia Home & Garden and from Casual Classics Furniture Group, Chapman said. Dark brown frames sell best.

Replacement cushions

Rich's reports growth in sales of replacement cushions, which Chapman said can be attributed to better displays this season. "We used to hang them, which was hard to set up," he said. "Last year, we brought in a horizontal shelving unit that's the depth of the cushion so we go about 8 feet high, we have about four shelves and we stack them by colors. It's displayed nicely, sets up easier and it's not as labor intensive." Chapman noted it takes expertise to handle the replacement cushion category right and to take time for custom orders.

Fireplace & Verandah does not stack replacement cushions on the wall but does place special orders constantly. "People want to replace, but they want to pick out their own fabric — and there are so many different sizes." Jenkins said.

"Replacement cushion colors are changing," Kennington said. In the Dallas area, red, papaya and subtle florals continue to grow in popularity while linens are slowing. "I have heard blues are coming on again and people are getting tired of all the browns; next year should be stronger in the blues and possibly yellows, definitely reds."

Kennington was among the casual furniture retailers who reported the quantity of replacement cushion sales is staying about the same as last year, but added an optimistic note. "If cushioned furniture comes on strong that means replacement cushions will come behind it a few years," he said.

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