California importer Patio Renaissance defies a weak global economy by keeping expenses down and helping dealers thrive
Chris Gigley -- Casual Living, 8/12/2011 5:01:32 AM
THEIR DESKS FACE ONE ANOTHER IN A SMALL OFFICE in a nondescript warehouse at the end of an industrial park in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. But in those modest surroundings, Albert Lord, VP of marketing of Sunlord Leisure Products, and his national sales manager, Mike Anzelde, have grown Patio Renaissance in one of the toughest economic climates in recent history.
"We've been really busy," Anzelde said. "It started in September and hasn't stopped since. Our direct-container program is up 20% and special orders are up at least 20%."
Business has been good for Patio Renaissance for several reasons. For one thing, the company is relatively young. The parent company, Sunlord Leisure Products, has been producing custom furniture out of its vast factory in China since 1992, but it introduced Patio Renaissance in 2006. The first Patio Renaissance catalog had a mere six furniture groups. Now, it offers about 20.
Gradually, the company has expanded its reach across the country.
"We're lucky to have a very experienced and aggressive group of sales reps," Lord said.
The company also opened its permanent showroom at the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market last September and has already expanded its presence there in time for the 2011 market.
The furniture itself is another reason. Lord spends half the year at the company's vast manufacturing facility in China, overseeing production and working on product development.
"I spend a lot of time designing the products, and usually I design backwards," Lord said. "We try to balance the design and the price. We want to bring dealers the greatest value. At a time of difficulty like this, dealers are looking for things like that."
Once he knows the price points he wants to hit for a new furniture line, he starts sketching.
"Whenever I go out I pay attention to the furniture I see both indoors and outdoors," he said. "That gives me the inspiration. When I go to the office or home, I make a lot of drawings. After a time, I'll go through all those drawings and share them with our reps to see what they think."
Lord's decisions often hit the mark. Patio Renaissance will be launching three new groups and adding four new weaves in 2012, Anzelde said.
Currently, the three bestselling Patio Renaissance collections are its latest, Catalina, Monterey and Naples, which launched last year. Catalina and Monterey are deep-seating, all-weather wicker collections, while Naples features tubular aluminum frames finished to look like wood.
"We are a trendsetter right now," Anzelde said. "We introduced the crescent sofa to the market four years ago, and now everyone has it. We introduced several weave finishes last season and we expect to see the same thing this coming market."
The key to staying ahead of the competition is staying flexible when it comes to developing furniture that performs for dealers, Anzelde added.
John Benner, a regional sales manager for Patio Renaissance, said his clients enjoy knowing they can always work with Lord on their orders. "[Patio Renaissance] is not as dogmatic as other importers have to be," Benner said. "It's probably easier to get a ‘yes' from [Lord] than a ‘no.'"
Lord will continue to keep his business nimble as he juggles uncertain economic conditions on two fronts. In China, the company has managed to avoid the shipping delays and labor shortages that have plagued other importers. Lord said he is still keeping an eye on those issues.
"The shortage of labor supply is a big problem in the provinces along the shore," Lord said. "But we're lucky because we have a lot of workers, supervisors and senior managers who have been with us for 10 to 15 years and are loyal to us."
Because of its stability in China, Patio Renaissance has been able to work with dealers on the business side. It offers an early-buy program, for instance, that allows customers who receive their orders in December through March to pay in the May/June time frame.
At the same time, Lord said he has watched inflation handcuff the Chinese economy. Prices for staples such as pork have jumped 20% in a matter of weeks, a phenomenon he said wouldn't happen in the United States.
That gives him some perspective when he discusses the U.S. economy. He sees reminders of the downturn every day in California, which continues to have one of the highest foreclosure rates in America. Still, he said he thinks the worst is over.
"Everything has come up from the bottom," Lord said. "I don't know how long it will take us to get back to where we were, but I think things will be very stable as we move forward."
"Obviously, Southern California has been hurt by the decline in housing values, and it's going to take a while to recover," added Benner, whose territory includes Southern California. "California had escalating realestate values, and people were using their homes as a checkbook to spend more money."
Benner agreed the situation is better now. Consumers who are shopping for casual furniture actually have the money to buy it. The problem is there aren't as many of them as there used to be.
"I think the more topical problem right now is the price of gas," Benner said. "Consumers think about the cost of vacationing and realize that staying home is a necessity. The problem is that even though they find themselves at home, they lack the discretionary income to invest in their homes."
Until they do and the economy comes all the way back, Lord sees no reason to upgrade the small office he and Anzelde currently share. They are both too busy growing the company and helping their dealers prosper right along with them.
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