48th Annual Apollo Awards
David Perry -- Casual Living, September 1, 2007
Fresh displays, fresh ideas and fresh energy ... this year's Apollo Award nominees are experts at drawing on their experience to bring new excitement and the occasional wow factor to their showrooms. Many remodeled, some added new lines and, for a few, it was a matter of creatively responding to challenges. In all cases, they consistently delivered more than their customers ever imagined.
Winners will be announced at the Apollo Awards banquet on Sept. 20, at Navy Pier during the International Casual Furniture and Accessories Market in Chicago, co-sponsored by the SCFMA and Merchandise Mart Properties. While top awards will be well earned, given this group of specialty dealers, it really is an honor just to be nominated.
Single Store Category
Dodds & Eder, Oyster Bay, N.Y.
A combination of classic staples and big statement pieces kept Long Island's elite coming back for more at Dodds & Eder this season.
"It's been a great season. Everything is up quite a bit from last year," said Carrie Leopold, manager of the furniture department.
The company has been serving the Gold Coast since opening as a feed store in 1897. With a customer base that demands high quality and stellar service, Dodds & Eder operates on the philosophy that more is better when it comes to catering to customer wishes. This season that often meant providing what customers were seeing at hotels and spas, such as outdoor beds from Veneman, changing cabanas from TUUCI and outdoor showers from Alfresco Home.
"We didn't put the outdoor beds on the floor because they are so big, but we've sold bunches of them from the catalog, all sizes and shapes, to people who come in and ask for them, having seen them at hotels," Leopold said.
Over the last year, Dodds & Eder also became an industry partner with the American Society of Interior Designers, significantly increasing its referrals from interior designers. In addition, although Dodds & Eder has its own landscaping division, it also developed relationships with two other landscape companies in the area that prefer to refer their customers to Dodds & Eder rather than get into the outdoor furniture business themselves.
This is the third consecutive Apollo nomination for Dodds & Eder under the leadership of Joe McLaughlin and General Manager Dorothy "Dottie" Simons.
Fruehauf's Patio and Garden, Boulder, Colo.
One of the few constants at Fruehauf's Patio and Garden is the element of fun people can expect to have when they visit.
"We want people to come and spend the day here," said Mary Fruehauf, co-owner with David Daum of the business, which was established in 1977. "There's lots to see and every day is different. We try to be the Disneyland of patio with something for everyone."
Hundreds of sets of outdoor furniture are displayed throughout the 2-acre site, which also includes nursery and gift businesses. Top-drawing themed tent displays this year included a rustic lodge; a lawn party complete with wicker outdoor furniture, a putting green, and the always-favorite pirate/tropical display.
Throughout the multi-leveled showroom are six different vignettes displaying how to make the most of your outdoor furniture at various times throughout the day. One area is set up for breakfast, another displayed an Asian-style sushi meal, another a conversation group with afternoon drinks and appetizers and a fourth a formal dining setting. While the themes remained, sets and manufacturers were frequently changed to show a wide range of product.
"We get people thinking about what direction they want to go in," Fruehauf said. "The more ideas we can give people through our different displays showing them what to do with their outdoor spaces, the more it helps all of us."
Fruehauf's top vendors include Brown Jordan, Gloster, Hanamint, Homecrest, Kingsley-Bate, Lloyd/Flanders, Meadowcraft, O.W. Lee, Pride Family Brands and Telescope Casual. This is the specialty dealer's second Apollo nomination.
Kolo Collection, Atlanta
Following up on the previous year's remodel, the Kolo Collection added another 2,500 square feet to its showroom in 2006. The now 7,000-sq.-ft. space includes a chair wall to display dining and lounge chairs as well as a small 350-sq.-ft. room where customers can meet with designers.
"We added that to help people visualize furniture in a smaller setting, like a screened-in porch or all-season room," said Greg Martin.
Martin and his wife, Michelle, founded the business in 2003 and quickly built a reputation for offering its urban clientele high design and unique customization.
That expertise grew this past year when they added Greg Morgan, a designer who worked with the largest Atlanta Decorative Arts Center showroom for nearly 18 years, to the staff.
With Morgan's help and a change up in the mix with the addition of three new lines, sales were up this season by 50%.
Since opening, the three-time Apollo Award nominee has received numerous awards, including Casual Living's Best Store Front Single Store, and has been featured in many publications including Southern Accents, Cottage Living, Southern Living and The New York Times.
Known for their special customer events, the Martins entered the realm of fund-raising this year by partnering with Atlanta Pet Rescue. Not only did the event raise $4,000, several needy dogs also found homes.
Roger's Gardens, Corona Del Mar, Calif.
With an emphasis on lifestyle statements rather than product groups, Roger's Gardens stepped up its commitment to outdoor furniture this year with an increased display area and more upscale lines.
"We now have well over 5,000 square feet for outdoor furniture so we are able to show 17 assorted product lines in full vignettes," said Christopher Nichols, lifestyle and production manager for the 7-acre home and garden center.
One of the hottest successes this season has been Cast Classics' continuous container program, which allows Roger's Gardens to offer container prices and still maintain its margins.
"We've increased our Cast Classics sales by 50 percent with the program. In the past, we brought in just one or two containers, now we are bringing in five, making Cast Classics one of our largest lines this season," Nichols said, adding that he intends to continue the program for 2008.
Other top lines for Roger's Gardens include Ancient Mosaics, Gloster, Kingsley-Bate, Laneventure, O.W. Lee, Treasure Garden, TUUCI and Veneman. A custom pillow program with Laurie Bell also was a huge hit this year.
Nichols makes the most of the cross-merchandising opportunities available at Roger's Gardens, drawing on home decor accessories, live plants and indoor floral arrangements to set off the outdoor furnishings. In fact, a high percentage of the merchandise bought for the other departments is selected specifically with the outdoor furniture in mind.
"The way we are able to present the furniture in a Roger's mindset rather than just putting it our there and hoping it will sell," he said. "We are actually creating outdoor rooms and lifestyles using all of our indoor and outdoor accessories."
Gavin Herbert Jr. is currently president of the business, which has been at its current location since 1974.
Williams Patio Furniture, Highland Park, Ill.
Following a natural evolution from canvas manufacturer to awning manufacturer to outdoor furniture specialty dealer, Williams Patio Furniture has been providing excellent customer service since opening its doors in 1875. The latest update of the family business, which also includes a Bernhardt gallery and Williams Ski Haus, was a remodel of the main building's exterior.
"The remodel was completed by the end of December, and it's definitely been an asset for us," said Mark Williams. "We've always spent our money on the inside of the building to make our displays better, but now the exterior looks good, too."
Williams had a handful of strategic reasons for the remodel. Not only does it increase visibility of signage from a major highway, it also added about 2,000 square feet of showroom to the building's second story. In addition, a three-story tower added to the building became the exterior focal point as well as made room for an elevator. While keeping some of the historical features, the overall appearance of the building is now more inviting.
The additional floorspace gives more room for displays of wicker and other deep seating, a hot ticket item at Williams Patio Furniture. The company's top outdoor vendors include Ancient Mosaics, Brown Jordan International, Castelle/Pride, Gloster, Hanamint, Hatteras, Kessler, Lloyd/Flanders, Meadowcraft, O.W. Lee, Summer Classics, Treasure Garden, Tropitone, Weber,Winston, Woodard and Woodard/Landgrave.
Winner of the 2003 Apollo Award, the company employs about 35 people.
Sunnyland Furniture, Dallas
Winner of the Apollo Award for the single store category in both 2005 and 2006, Sunnyland Furniture earned its fourth consecutive nomination this season by staying the course.
"We've haven't made any dramatic changes," said David Schweig, who started the business in 1977 with his wife, Debbie. "We've been very successful the last few years by following our business plan, and this has been another great year for us so we're very pleased."
Sunnyland's move to the leading edge of the outdoor industry started five years ago when the Schweigs launched a major transformation of their store. The final stage of that transformation occurred this year with the remodeling of their largest showroom, an area of about 23,000 square feet. Sunnyland also has a 10,000-sq.-ft showroom featuring various distinct outdoor lifestyle experiences and a 2,000-sq.-ft. fantasy backyard display area.
Proud of their back-to-back Apollo awards, the Schweigs leverage the recognition by using it in their marketing. Sunnyland also won Casual Living's top Merchandising Award as Most Fashionable Retailer and Best Overall Merchandising in June 2005.
"The national recognition gives us more credibility in our customers' minds, and it gives the salespeople the confidence that they are doing something right," Schweig said. "Product, presentation, consumer acceptance — all of the pieces are in place."
Sunnyland has 23 employees. Among its vendors are Ancient Mosaics, Arlington House, Brown Jordan, The HammockSource, Hanamint, Homecrest, Jensen Jarrah, Laneventure, Lloyd/Flanders, Mallin, O.W. Lee, Olympia Lighting, Outdoor Lifestyle, Telescope Casual, Tropitone, Winston and Woodard.
Anaheim Patio and Fireside, Brea, Calif.
Earlier this summer, when an older couple walked into the Irvine, Calif., location of Anaheim Patio and saw Kurt Lorig hard at work, they asked the 80-year-old, "You still here?" His reply, "Where else would I be?"
One of the industry's pioneers, Lorig and his wife, Phyllis, opened their business 51 years ago. Today, it's as fresh as ever — as is Lorig.
"How do you keep it fresh? First, you have to enjoy what you are doing and being out there in front of the customer," he said. "I love selling."
The Lorig family also keeps the business fresh by approaching each season anew. "Just because something does well one season doesn't mean that we will carry it over to the next," said Bonnie Richins, general manager of the company and one of the Lorigs two daughters. "We are very big on going to the markets and shows to see what is new."
Although this season wasn't the best given the weather and the housing market slump, there have been some bright spots. Sling remains a strong category for the business, while outdoor woven deep seating is on the upswing, particularly collections from Brown Jordan, Lloyd/Flanders and Mallin. Cantilever umbrellas also spiked this season after introduction of one from Wanda Technology.
In addition to its Irvine location, Anaheim Patio and Fireside stores can be found in Brea and Huntington Beach, all in the increasingly competitive Orange County. But after 51 years, the Lorig family isn't worried.
"We keep up with what is going on, have good displays, the right merchandise, the right pricing ... all of the things that make a business successful," Richens said.
Carls Patio, Coconut Creek, Fla.
With two new locations scheduled to open this fall, Gary Ecoff is philosophical about economic indicators, natural disasters and other forces beyond his control that have the potential to affect his day-to-day operations.
"We are holding our own in a land of uncertainty," said Ecoff, the president of Carls Patio, which first opened in 1992 in Palm Beach, Fla.
A Carls Patio showroom is set to open in early fall in Fort Myers. The company's second location on Florida's west coast, the new store will be the 13th Carls Patio location.
"It's been a long time coming. We've been looking for a location here for more than two years," said Ecoff, adding that despite the residential housing slump, Florida's commercial real estate market remains tight.
"We are as much real estate people as we are furniture people and both things need to be considered," he said. "We ended up with a little smaller building than we might like, but if you have to adjust to make the numbers work, that's what you do."
The other new store will be the company's third Berk's location. Scheduled to open in November, the 17,000-sq.-ft. showroom will be part of a new furniture center in Agoura Hills, just north of Malibu, Calif.
"It is really a terrific location," Ecoff said. "The center is comprised of three new buildings totaling about 100,000 square feet, housing eight different furniture-related businesses. Beck's will be the only outdoor furniture retailer."
The company will be able to leverage its marketing dollars in both locations with media buys supported by more than one store in each area.
Patio & Hearth Shoppes, Centerville, Ohio
When Tom and Deborah Stegman opened their first Patio & Hearth Shoppe on the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio, in 1987, they didn't realize the potential that they were tapping into. Now with four under their belts and more in the planning stages, neither the Stegmans nor their markets show signs of slowing down.
The existing locations include Patio & Hearth Shoppes in Centerville, Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, and an Elegant Outdoors showroom in Indianapolis.
The Stegmans are currently looking for additional sites for Elegant Outdoors showrooms in that market as well as more Patio & Hearth Shoppe locations in the Ohio markets.
This season started off with a bang thanks to the new Tommy Bahama galleries in each of the four locations. "People just love them," Debbie Stegman said.
Although Midwesterners are typically slower to take up the latest trends than their coastal counterparts, Stegman reports that deep seating and conversation groups are now of great interest to her customers. Color is also more in demand, in particular blues and greens, pastels more than brights.
While the markets are more conservative than some in other parts of the country, Stegman's stores can in no way be described as bland. She is known for her superb merchandising and ability to leverage the wow factor.
To that end, none of the showrooms are larger than 10,000 square feet, ensuring an inviting and intimate setting for customers.
This is Patio & Hearth Shoppes' seventh Apollo Award nomination.
Patios Plus, Rancho Mirage, Calif.
A true indication of how well managed a business is how it does in an off year. At Patios Plus, which ends its season in the desert just as other specialty dealers start to hit their stride, 2007 was a challenging year with a dip in sales. That said, the company's profits were up.
"We found that we didn't get the traffic this year that we've had in the past although our average sale was large. But we like challenges," said Jim Schultz who owns the business with his sister, Kristine Schultz Hutchinson, and their parents, Les and Janice Schultz.
Patios Plus, which opened in 1978, has two locations: a 30,000-sq.-ft. showroom in Rancho Mirage and a 6,000-sq.-ft. showroom in La Quinto. It limits its number of vendors but shows a depth of product.
"We will show 13 sets of Brown Jordan and five or six sets of O.W. Lee, for example," Schultz said. "We want to be one of our vendors' better clients so that we get better discounts, which helps our margins. We are very margin-oriented."
In addition to Brown Jordan and O.W. Lee, Patios Plus vendors include Winston, Gloster, Kingsley-Bate and Lloyd/Flanders. Wrought iron continues to be the company's top seller. Aluminum also does well, while woven has decreased over the last two years.
Schultz realized by the middle of the season that this would be a tough year for the business. Then, ironically, Patios Plus had its best March on record only to slip back down in April. Going forward, he plans on being conservative without making any major changes overall.
"We'll stay attuned to what is happening in the economy and try to make educated decisions," he said. "We want to be proactive instead of reactive."
Robb & Stucky Patio, Fort Myers, Fla.
Happy on the fast track, Robb & Stucky Patio has doubled its number of stores in the last three years with no signs of slowing down.
"We have another store scheduled to open in Las Vegas the end of this year, and we continue to evaluate other locations," said Jon Rubinstein, vice president of outdoor living, Robb & Stucky, Ltd.
The nine existing Robb & Stucky Patio locations are in Florida and Arizona. The markets offer similar demographics with nuanced differences. For example, Arizona consumers appreciate larger scale outdoor furniture and prefer cushion over sling. But outdoor wicker, cast aluminum and teak are leading categories in both places.
Given Robb & Stucky Patio's pace of growth, its biggest challenge is finding the best site for the next new showroom. Once that is in place, the process goes smoothly.
"We have a very efficient and streamlined infrastructure in place now. Everything is consistent and standardized across all of the stores," Rubinstein said.
Being able to leverage corporate resources also helps. The patio division benefits from its parent company's sourcing, purchasing and delivery capabilities as well as from such corporate functions such as IT, marketing and human resources.
The collaboration between the two has significantly increased over the last year and will only get stronger in the months to come. For example, in addition to overseeing outdoor living, Rubinstein also heads up the new corporate direct marketing division and is working on initiatives for reaching customers that will benefit both the patio and traditional furniture stores.
Robb & Stucky Patio won the Apollo Award in 1998 after its first year in business. This is its third nomination.
Waterloo Gardens, Exton, Pa.
Since Waterloo Gardens opened its third location on Memorial Day, patio director Carol Christensen has spent a lot of time on the road traveling between the new Wilmington, Del., location and the garden center's two showrooms in Devon and Exton, Pa. Her road trips will grow even longer in the coming months after the fourth Waterloo Gardens location opens in Warminster, Pa., late this year.
"It will be interesting," Christensen said. "The [original] two stores have the same kind of customer, but we don't know if that will hold true in the new locations. It will be a learning experience but fortunately we are pretty flexible."
That flexibility served them well this spring when an exceptionally wet spring delayed the start of the patio season well into mid-April. Typically, it is off and running with the preseason sale in February.
Despite the slow start, hard work and the continued growth of special orders kept Waterloo Gardens' outdoor furniture sales in the black.
"We've been very successful with the mid- and high-end special orders," Christensen said. "We're very good at realizing that people want what they want. And that they are willing to wait to get it ... so our percentage of special orders has skyrocketed."
Believing that the abysmal spring weather was an aberration, Christensen doesn't plan to dramatically change her strategy for next season.
"I don't think our buying pattern will be any different," she said. "We will be going for color, we still sell a lot of earth tones and I don't think that business will go away, but you have to be very clever in adding bright spots of color to make it look more imaginative."
Key vendors for the company include Brown Jordan, Castelle by Pride Family Brands, Gloster, Hanamint, Kingsley-Bate, Lloyd/Flanders, Meadowcraft, Outdoor Lifestyle, Winston, Treasure Garden and Zip Jack. This is Waterloo Gardens' second Apollo nomination.