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  • Cinde Ingram

Wood niche stays steady, but some add woven options

Cinde Ingram, Staff Staff -- Casual Living, September 1, 2007

Although it's a relatively small portion of the overall outdoor furniture industry, the look of wood can't be ignored. Sustainable forests and mixed materials continue to be buzz words for major players, which include Barlow Tyrie, Gloster, Kingsley-Bate, Oxford Garden, Laneventure, Rock Wood, Terra and Uwharrie Chair. The list goes on and while some names have disappeared, others like SCHOU have entered the U.S. market. Read on for observations from wood manufacturers.

Michael Mettendorf, Vice president, sales and marketing, New River Furniture Company

We think the wood category is alive and well. I see a good number of people trying to simulate wood. A lot of the aluminum, wicker and even resin manufacturers are trying to mimic natural materials and achieve a wood look. From New River's perspective, being in the wood category is a good thing because it is a natural, reproducible source.

The only thing standing in the way for the wood category is the need to keep the product looking the way it did in the showroom. We've addressed that in several ways. First, we're the only ones now using Brazilian cherry; iGarden and Tyndall Creek are no longer. Our factory is Brazilian based, and we've partnered with a factory in Vietnam that is already using some Brazilian cherry.

We really searched the world over to find a coating that would take away the stigma of wood needing to be hosed down, sanded and re-done, and I think we've achieved it with our new finish, which comes from Europe and is eco-friendly, water-based and helps us maintain the color.

Bill Linn, Vice president, Great American Woodies/Richey Industries

It's a wider market than we've ever experienced before so we're broadening our appeal. In the last four or five years, we've had to come to grips with answering the demand for wild colors, like electric blue. We got into Cottage Classics, which is cyprus dipped into acrylic stains for a simple, different cottage look. We sell them in gift stores, some furniture stores and casual specialty stores. We ship more than 200 SKUs regularly in 12 days or less.

We had been dismissing resin for two or three years, but about six months ago we started offering polyresin with good designs, and we execute them and price them well. We're the last kid on the block to get into this. The big line for us still is red cedar, including swings and gliders.

Frederick Raffene, CEO, Les Jardins

The wood category is mature. The number of players in this category is going down; it is not expanding. What we can really see is a shrinkage of sources for wood products. We've seen Alexander Rose, Werner Woods and Botanic disappear. We have been expanding when these guys are retreating so that means our products are suitable for the market. But as a whole, the category for teak is definitely not expanding. It's like a war between a few key players.

Most of the serious players in the teak business are going toward the woven business at the same time. There's diversification. To grow, we have to grow through other materials as opposed to growth through more teak products. We have added resin wicker, but our teak collection didn't shrink. We are developing new bars, tables and seating arrangements in teak. So, for us it's a diversification but it's not a replacement of teak for something else.

Janet Wansor, Vice president, sales and marketing, Jensen Jarrah

One challenge is finding the most valuable resources for jarrah timber, which is native only to Southwestern Australia, so the government has taken an active role to evaluate how their resource is used and what manufacturers and mills are involved. There are very strict requirements and Max (Jensen) has been involved with those government and environmental agencies since the beginning of the company more than 20 years ago. In the United States, it began in 1991.

When I started with Jensen Jarrah, wood was about 2% of the overall patio market. Then I saw it climb and reach in many cases 10% or 12%. I think everything cycles, so it's taken a turn. Four years ago we looked at the trends to cushions, comfort, staying at home to relax, not traveling and the Outdoor Room concept. We thought in order to grow, as beautiful as the all-jarrah wood furniture is, we needed to be open to start designing to include cushions. That has helped keep us in the market and grow.

Every year, we're evaluating what the consumer is buying and what they are wanting. To partner with Gold Coast is one of the best decisions we've made.

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