Experience & vision keep Kaufman Allied moving ahead
Staff Staff -- Casual Living, April 1, 2010
In the last few months, Kaufman Allied has opened a new seasonal showroom, jumped into the hearth business and added a new 4,000-sq.-ft. outdoor room to its largest showroom, complete with fire pit and waterfall.
Obviously, the 71-year-old family business isn’t resting on its laurels.
“We have a core philosophy and know who we are, but we are always looking for ways to improve,” said Edward Delaney Jr., vice president and general manager of Kaufman Allied’s Riverhead, N.Y., showroom.
Delaney manages the company along with his father, Edward Delaney Sr.; his brothers, Dan and John; and their mother, Gerianne Reilly.
The company was founded in 1939 by Delaney’s grandfather Nathan Kaufman in Central Islip, N.Y. Initially, a redwood fence manufacturer/retailer, Kaufman Allied soon began making a line of redwood outdoor furniture that drew customers from throughout Long Island.
As the outdoor furniture market grew, so did Kaufman Allied.
In the 1960s, Telescope became its first external supplier. By the 1970s, Kaufman Allied was manufacturing and retailing its own line of PVC outdoor furniture as well as making its own cushions.
“At the peak of our PVC business, we were selling 4,000 to 5,000 PVC chairs a season,” Delaney said.
Although the company still manufactures a limited amount of redwood outdoor furniture, in the early 2000s the company closed its PVC and cushion divisions and strengthened its commitment to retail with the launch of its Riverhead showroom.
Kaufman Allied’s ability to leverage its history as it changes with the times gives the company a stability that serves it well in tough times. In fact, despite last season’s not-so-great weather and worse economy, the specialty dealer’s sales were up 15%.
“We had expected to be flat or down, so it was exciting,” Delaney said. “We feel like the things we are doing to be different are working.”
The new seasonal store is a prime example of Kaufman Allied’s efforts to differentiate itself. Slated to be open from April through December, the 10,000-sq.-ft. showroom is located in a busy mall in Massapequa, N.Y., within 50 miles of the two other Kaufman Allied stores.
The family had tested the concept in past years, but in a smaller location for a shorter period of time. The new store gives the company great visibility in a target market and, by extending the lease through the fall, provides another opportunity to test the hearth lines introduced last year.
Adding hearth was a natural next step for the business, Delaney said. Not only was there an inviting market opportunity for hearth on Long Island, the category fits the company’s guiding philosophy of being the expert and go-to resource for its customers.
“It takes a lot of work to become knowledgeable about gas, wood and pellet stoves and inserts, and it takes effort to educate the customer so a lot of people don’t want to get into the hearth business,” Delaney said. “We knew it would be hard initially, but we felt that it would pay off in the long run.”
Although it’s too early for Delaney to project how big the category will become for Kaufman Allied, so far it’s been better than good.
“Last fall it did really well,” he said. “We were pleasantly surprised.”
The addition of hearth also opened up opportunities to promote the resin wicker lines during the off-season. For example, over the holidays Kaufman Allied created a seating area around an electric fireplace in a local mall and invited shoppers to take a few minutes to “Rest Your Weary Legs.”
The new 4,000-sq.-ft. display area in the Central Islip showroom is another good example of how Kaufman Allied keeps pushing forward. A spectacular example of an outdoor room, the area helps prevent the 30,000-sq.-ft. showroom from looking like a warehouse as well as showcases the company’s strategic alliances with other local businesses such as an architectural landscape business and a decking company.
“We’re very careful about who we partner with [but] we’ve had good success and, as long as they fit with our philosophy, we are open to doing just about anything,” Delaney said.
Given its age, Kaufman Allied’s loyal customer base includes generations of families.
“It’s amazing how often we hear customers say that they still have our redwood furniture from 20, 30 or even 50 years ago,” Delaney said.
These days resin wicker, cast aluminum and sling each account for about 15% of outdoor furniture sales, although sling is declining somewhat and the wicker keeps growing.
Fast-growing categories for Kaufman Allied are recycled plastic and Jensen Leisure’s ipe wood.
“We added recycled plastic about four years ago and it has always done well,” Delaney said. “The ipe wood was new last year. We were stunned at how much of it we sold.”
He credits the good sales in part to the eco-friendly appeal of each of the materials but cautions that it still depends on the customer.
“More and more people are asking about green products, but it still isn’t important to a lot of people,” he said. “Some people come in wanting domestically made product, others are more concerned about price; it just depends on the customer. But we definitely point out the green features.”
Although customers tend to be Baby Boomers, the company is taking steps to reach out to a younger crowd as well. Recent radio advertising targeted a 30- to 40-year-old demographic, for example.
The retailer also is exploring social media and incorporating other technology opportunities that by their very nature appeal to a younger customer. A customer DVD, for instance, is in the works that will include warranty information.
While some retailers might shy away from blogs and other social media that open the door to negative feedback or image slashing, Delaney isn’t worried.
“At the end of the day, people are going to have nice things to say about our company,” he said.
His confidence stems from the family’s tradition of service — his dad will still do deliveries himself if that’s what it takes to meet a customer’s need, and all of their employees are empowered to ensure that the customers are taken care.
“The fact that we are a third-generation business makes a difference, too,” Delaney said. “People like that we are here and that we go out of our way to take care of them.”