Shaped in wood
Casual furniture makers adapt to economic changes
Marc Barnes -- Casual Living, 10/25/2011 7:35:08 AM
MANUFACTURERS OF WOODEN FURNITURE are making some changes to their products, both to bring down costs and to attract consumers, to get out in front of improving market conditions.
Emanuel Guerreiro, marketing and communications manager for Gloster Furniture, said that the new direction - to preserve the underlying quality of the product while finding ways to make it accessible to more potential customers - came about because dealers asked for it.
"I think the long and the short of the story is that Gloster was its own worst critic," said Guerreiro. "What we thought consumers valued, they didn't. We were trying to get the wood to be almost too sterile, as devoid of character as possible."
The drive to produce perfection came at a cost. The change is that in some pieces, little seen parts - the inside of a leg, for example - can show more grain than in the past; and chairs can have slings underneath cushions, instead of slats. Tabletops are not as thick as they were. And the factory has cut down the time that it takes to re-tool machines from two hours down to 35 minutes.
The result, Guerreiro said, is that material and manufacturing costs have come down, which has been passed on to retailers in five new collections. The changes have effectively moved the lowest-priced Gloster pieces to 20% less than they were before, which is within range of its closest competitor.
"The effort was successful, and what the perception among retailers and consumers was that, because of the economy, Gloster had become more of an aspirational product," said Guerreiro. "That was a subtle difference. Consumers were saying, ‘I wish I could have it,' but now, they actually can get it. And from the retailer's point of view, they always wanted to carry it but they were afraid their clientele wouldn't pay for it."
The use of wood as a material is also important to Jensen Leisure Furniture. Last year, the firm won the top Design Excellence Award for its ipe wood design.
Janet Wansor, VP of sales and marketing, said the company's main priority is to listen to the consumer for the design - and look to the tree for the production.
"We've always looked at the combination," she said. "We've always looked at the trends in terms of what kinds of furniture that consumers are wanting for outdoor rooms. And we are designing to the best advantage of the resource, so that we are using the entire log."
Jensen purposefully designs tabletops and seating backs to use all of the wood. A sling has been added to provide good lower-back support to deep-seating pieces, which provides more comfort and a better use of wood where it will show.
Wansor said the company's designs are on purpose.
"It is very important to us how the forests are managed and we are 100% FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified," Wansor said. "Part of respecting the resource is from the way the forests are managed all the way through the process of designing the furniture and how it is used."
At Louisville, Ky.-based Oxford Garden, the firm is expanding in two ways - by making what they have larger and by making more of it, in response to customer demand, according to President Randy Meek.
Oxford Garden was already making 4-and 5-ft. benches, so they expanded the collections to include a 6-ft. bench, in the Chadwick, Classic and Essex collections. They've also expanded the line in the Hampton dining collection to five differently sized tables, including some offerings in a counter height.
The longer benches were to satisfy customer demand for commercial seating, and the expansion in dining was to offer more variety in sizes and heights.
"We are very committed to wood and we have been since our beginning," Meek said. "We are continuing to invest more items and design styles to wood."
That's not to say that Oxford Garden is going with wood exclusively. Meek pointed out that the firm has had success with its Travira line of dining furniture, which combines aluminum with wood in some pieces and aluminum with slings for seats and backs in seating in others.
All of the effort, Meek said, has translated into success, as consumers have begun to make their way back into the marketplace after several years of an economic downturn.
"We have had the best August we have had since 1997," said Meek. "It seems as though most of us have figured out how to adapt to the new world order and make the best of it."
We would love your feedback!