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Is It Really Market Time Again?!!!

September 9, 2008

BloJust finished reading the Market issue of one of our trade mags. I came away with the feeling that the specialty market has changed a lot since last year. Meadowcraft wants to be O. W. Lee. Casual Creations wants to be Pride. Telescope wants to be Tropitone. Cast Classics wants to be Veneman. Agio wants to be Summer Classics. The low end of the specialty market has disappeared as manufacturers see demand at the high end and are developing their lines accordingly.

The most dramatic turn around happened at Pride several years ago. Gone were the PVC pipe chairs, the cheap cast chairs, and inexpensive aluminum/sling products. They were replaced in one fell swoop by high-end, well-designed collections. It was a sea change for the company that paid off in spades.

Then about two or three years ago Woodard reinvented their Landgrave offerings. The $79 to $89 cast chair disappeared from their line and was replaced by the $125 cast chair. Even that price point represented a small part of the line. The reason, profit margins were too low with these products and demand was greater for the more expensive groups.

Then at this year’s pre-market, I noticed it at Agio. Although we never carried the low end of their line, I found more high-end offerings from them at Pre-market than I expected. Agio has always been known for their good designs at low prices. Their designs are still great, but they have more high end pricing than ever. This is not just because of increased costs, they are offering more complicated product.

The trend continues at spaces like Telescope. Time was you could easily find inexpensive, well-made aluminum and sling furniture with middle of the road design at their showroom. Now they have high end, very well designed outdoor wicker and cast aluminum. They might have some low-end entry level stuff, but it isn’t prominently displayed any more.  Casual Creations has taken then same route. With the exception of their Ergo design products, their line used to consist of bread and butter aluminum sling furniture. At pre-market in July, their presentation was as different as any line could be. Again, they have made a conscious decision to appeal to a different segment of the market; one they think will be more profitable for them.

In the same issue of  the trade mag, many retailers said the low and high ends of their stores did well this year. The bottom fell out of the middle, though.This leads to the question, “What should we be looking for at market?”  Do I need quality low end, and, if so, where do I find it? Sure, I can still find some entry level wrought iron at Woodard and Meadowcraft, but the rest of their catalog is certainly up there with O. W. Lee in pricing and I don’t have room for two O. W. Lee’s on my floor? If I carry two lines on my floor, one is usually entry level and the other is high end. If most of Woodard’s line is priced at the same level as O. W. Lee or has many of the same looks. I can’t carry both of them. Of course, I could order some designs from one and entirely different designs from the other, but then my buying power with both is diluted. No . . .  one would have to replace the other and I still wouldn’t have a good entry level!

Has it come to the point where there are no well-designed, well crafted, and well-priced American-made products for us to carry? Am I the only one who sees the need for this category? Follow me here; I don’t want to commit to lots of containers of offshore product in the face of a slowing economy. But if I don’t, I won’t have an attractive entry-level program. And, if the survey in our trade magazine is to be believed, this category is still viable.

Every market I go to presents its own set of dilemmas. If they didn’t, it would be easy and everyone would open an outdoor specialty furniture store. As professional buyers, we understand the pragmatics of the market and respond to them. This market is no exception; the economy, erratic weather patterns, larger than usual price increases are just a few of the dilemmas we have to face in a week. Good luck to us all!

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce