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Cinde W. Ingram

The hottest ticket: wicker/outdoor woven

Hot and getting hotter with upscale consumers recognizing the value and look of the product — that's the message and the good news for 2007 in the wicker/woven category according to four major manufacturers.

Gary McCray , vice president of marketing, Laneventure

There is a proliferation of product from a lot of different folks. We're just trying to be better. It really didn't impact our business very much in 2006 or even in early buy, where literally everybody had a synthetic wicker group. Synthetic is where the competition is; we continue to do well with natural, but there are very few folks still doing natural wicker.

When you get that kind of proliferation of product, ultimately you're going to see a downturn. The folks who are the specialists and the people who are confident in selling are going to continue to do a lot of business with wicker and outdoor woven. The market's dynamic; it seems to react to too much product but I don't see it anytime in the near future; I think we've got several more years of real strong growth in wicker.

Dale Campbell , vice president of sales and marketing, Lloyd/Flanders

Probably the biggest challenge is in constantly coming up with innovations for furniture that has a higher value than what you find in mass, which means the artistic design, function, comfort, beauty of the furniture and the materials you use — and part of that is in marketing.

When you look at our woven vinyl that we do in China, the frames are all full-circumference welds — literally, you could sell the aluminum frames as aluminum furniture, just powder-coat them and let them go. And then with the quality of vinyl, the bigger the strands you use, the less weaving labor there is. With some of the wide strands you get nice looks, however when you use the smaller strands like we do, the challenge is getting credit for it.

In synthetic, there's going to be a lot of change in the next five years with what kind of acceptance it has and value it will carry. There are now 76 wicker people; it reminds me of the resin days. There's definitely going to be attrition over the next five years, even though the category's growing. I would say the three most important words to people in this part of the industry are innovation, efficiency and availability.

Bob Gaylord , president, Agio International

Quite honestly, I think the challenges are done. I think it's probably the fastest-growing segment of our market. God bless Lloyd/Flanders and the other guys who paid their dues for 25 years when it was a tough sale. Wicker to most people was that six-piece white set you had in your college dorm that sold for $149 at Kmart. Then all of a sudden, here's this all-weather wicker that costs $4,000 or $5,000 — consumers just couldn't get it.

In the last three to four years, the important element of our society who is going to buy all-weather wicker, knows what it is and understands the cost. That was a great challenge. Mass has been very successful with all-weather wicker in the last three years and it takes the mass side of the industry to make something popular.

Prices are going to go up, prices did go up, but that's all relative. The consumer has no choice but to adapt, and it's not going to affect the all-weather wicker business. To me, it's the strongest category out there. We'll do $100 million in all-weather wicker in 2007; we did just over $75 million in 2006.

Chris Carmicle , president, BJI National Accounts and Direct Imports Division

Our Alliance program, our container program for specialty dealers, has been very successful and we've had a lot of growth over the last two years. We have absolutely no reason to believe there's going to be any cooling down of the woven market. Although it's an old category, it is still in its adolescent phases and it is not near maturity yet. Combine that with the transitional nature of the woven business and we think we're on the front end of the curve of what's going to happen with this category.

No question, the biggest challenge in the woven category is labor. In the Asian market, the weavers behave almost like a union and they really will go to where the business is so there's a lot of bartering and trading for that labor pool.

If you were to take a look at the retailers, right now we're seeing more than 20% of retailers' floors being dedicated to this space and that's growing. We're seeing more seating than dining, which is continuing to be a trend that actually works hand-in-glove with that transitional phase.

The darker weaves continue to drive a lot of the business and everybody's demanding the natural looks. Now the consumer's becoming more sophisticated and really understands that. The all-weather is a standard and because of its nature, it's more difficult getting the authentic look. That's really the biggest challenge now for all manufacturers and that's why our purchase of Sun Isle was so important to us because we felt they really had the market cornered on the authentic looks with all-weather wicker.





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