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Forecasts mixed for wrought iron category

Courtney Paschal, Staff Staff -- Casual Living, November 1, 2007

Harold Hudson

Vice President of sales and marketing Summer Classics

Our wrought iron business in the last few years has declined as a percentage of our business due to the growth of cast aluminum and our N-dura Wicker. We still have customer demand for wrought iron and we still have two collections in our 2008 catalog. We did discontinue our Verandah Wrought Iron Collection for 2008. This group had been in our line for over 10 years.

The product is competing against cast aluminum, which eliminates the rust problem that you find with wrought aluminum. You are also limited in your designs since cast aluminum can be molded into many shapes and designs that you cannot reproduce in iron. Outdoor wicker in deep seating has also taken market share from wrought iron.

I expect wrought iron to continue to decrease in total dollars with Summer Classics for 2008.

Rory Rehmert

Vice president of sales and marketing Meadowcraft

Our business was good (in 2007). We saw additional floor placements and added a number of new accounts for the year. We experienced about a 10% gain over the prior year.

We had a very positive reaction to several of our new products. Athens, which features dining, chat, bar and accessories as well as a crescent-shaped sofa and loveseat got a great reaction. Charleston, a full collection, in a traditional design features deep seating, chat, high dining, cafe, dining and accessories was very well-received. Customers found the collection to be very comfortable. Meridian, a micro-mesh dining set with a wide array of accessory items is transitional in design and at a price point that customers found attractive. Last but not least, Durango has a unique rustic frame design that features a saddle leather seat and back. This collection is unusual and was a hit geographically.

New product that is innovative, full of style and comfort, yet maintaining value, is a significant challenge. Rampant increases in raw materials are a challenge that we have little control over and this can have a dramatic effect on our category.

We are projecting an increase for the 2008 season. Our customers had good sell through during the ’07 season and are committing to larger early buys for ’08. Wrought iron has always done well at retail when there is economic uncertainty.

Terri Lee Rogers

Co-president O.W. Lee

We saw about a 2% decline in iron (in 2007). It is difficult to compete in the mesh category due to the perceived value of both the retailer and the consumer. A quality mesh piece of wrought iron furniture is one of the best values you can purchase, with very minimal maintenance and will virtually last a lifetime. However, look-a-likes seen in the mass retailers make it difficult for us to get the quality story to the consumer. Dealers are always requesting a price point mesh group with O.W. Lee quality, and it is very difficult to deliver domestic quality at an import price point.

We have seen some real success in 2007 with our new wrought iron intro, Monterra. Monterra is all about the cushion, using an iron eco-skeleton allowing a more favorable price point that some aluminum and/or woven competition.

This season, we went back to basics with a very traditional ornate design that was very well received by our retailers. So I believe design will drive the category.

We introduced a wrought aluminum collection and a wrought iron collection (at the Casual Market), and both were very well received. We see strong placement of both collections, with our San Cristobal wrought iron line getting a lot of attention in the West, Southwest and Midwest.

We are expecting growth in the category. We are very pleased with initial reaction and placement of our three new intros, San Cristobal (wrought iron), Montrachet (wrought aluminum) and Outdoor Couture (a new line of outdoor drapes, pillows, table runners and throws). Our on order is up over 50% from the same time last year, so we are really excited about the sales potential for 2008.

Heidi Ford

Vice president of marketing Woodard

Overall we saw moderate growth in iron. No homeruns in it, but still hanging in there.

A challenge I see is (iron versus) cast aluminum because it is still so prevalent in the market. It does still affect the iron category; iron is still somewhat of a regional medium.

We actually had three strong introductions – Deauville, Reston and Torino. We got back to Woodard’s roots. They feature ornate scrollwork, hammered accents. But we also, with Torino, went more contemporary. We offer everything from traditional to transitional or contemporary design, which we find very important, especially with the hospitality industry.

I think we’ll continue moderate growth next year especially since we do have the new introductions.

Hudson

Rehmert

Rogers

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