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What A Difference A Decade Makes, Or Does It?

December 29, 2009

Will you walk with me down memory lane at least back to 1999 to see how my  floor will look in 2010 compared to 2009?


Today, as I was I looked through my purchase orders from late 1999, not one was for outdoor carpets. The outdoor lighting I ordered was limited to just one company that made lamps out of PVC pipe, usually in white, with one large globe, several smaller globes, or a Sunbrella© lamp shade. The only wall art we ordered were terracotta clocks and thermometers. Outdoor drapes didn’t exist then and none of my sales staff knew the difference between a throw and a kidney pillow. In other words, the outdoor room concept hadn’t hit.


Another thing I noticed was while we did do a few conversation groups that included either a glider or settee, two motion chairs, and two end tables, most of my orders were for dining groups. That has changed for 2010 with dining taking a back seat to conversation groups that include everything from four comfortable motion chairs along with a cocktail table to multifunctional sectionals.


In 2000 our floor was a “sea of green.” If a frame wasn’t verde, it was multi-step Pompeii Green (we called it Verdi Gris). Either way, it ended up looking green from one end of the store to the other. Of course, we carried some sets in black and even had a few sets in white or beige. In 2010, the floor will look more brown or walnut with a lot of faux wood. Again, I think we can chalk that up to customers wanting to bring the inside out.


We had a lot more strapped furniture then: Magnolia and Laredo from Winston, Ravenna from Carter Grandle, and Ramsgate from Woodard. For some reason, we did do a lot more cushioned dining that we do now. But, we did very little in the way of cushioned deep-seated pieces. For 2010, much of our floor is covered in sectionals and sofa/settee groups with thick, comfy cushions. I think these changes reflect are because at the beginning of the century, our customer base lived in older homes that didn’t have covered patios. In 2010, many of our clients will be buying furniture for new or newer homes built in the burbs with amenities like large covered patios along with fully exposed decks.


Since we serve New Orleans where all of our architecture is influenced by the wrought and cast iron balconies in the French Quarter, wrought iron has always been important to us. In 2000, our main wrought iron suppliers were Woodard and O. W. Lee. We bought across Woodard’s wrought iron line, carrying dining and bench/glider groups in at least four or five different designs. We used O. W. Lee as our high-end wrought iron and only bought one design, Old World.  However, we bought the entire line including dining, deep seating, bars, and bench groups.


While wrought iron is still important as we go into the next decade, we are only buying Woodard’s Windflower and Aurora designs. We use Windflower as our entry level and Aurora for our contract business. We have expanded what we buy from O. W. Lee. Old World was been replaced, first with Classico, and, this year, with Classic. And, we aren’t carrying dining in that design, just deep seating. We have expanded our upper end mesh wrought iron category with O. W. Lee to carry Avalon in dining and deep seating. We are also experimenting with some of their new cast aluminum groups.


As I said, wrought iron is very important to us. In 2000 we carried Homecrest’s Excalibur and Florida, both of which looked like mesh wrought iron but were done in aluminum. It was more expensive than wrought iron, but the fact that it was aluminum made it a good seller. With the changes that Homecrest went through, we stopped carrying them. We have no substitute for that category.  


If our customers didn’t buy wrought iron in 2000, then they bought cast aluminum. Our high end was Woodard’s Athena and Heritage. We did this mostly in dining with glass top tables. In 2010, I think there are only two glass top tables in showroom. One is for a price point and the other is for looks. We also carried a lot of Cast Classics as our introductory cast aluminum. That year we were bringing in a Cast Classic container every two months or so. Each container was made up of about 50% stock and 50% customer orders. For 2010, we aren’t carrying any of Woodard’s aluminum; depending instead on Cast Classics. Until this year, we carried five or six Cast Classic traditional designs in dining with cast seats rather than cushions. We also carried bench groups with swivel chairs and end tables. For 2010, about half of our first container will still be devoted to that. The other half will be in their new value line of deep seating sofa or loveseat groups.


In 2000, we were transitioning from Winston to Carter Grandle as our meat and potatoes aluminum line. At that time, Winston was selling to Home Depot Expo. Although we didn’t have an Expo here, I was afraid we might get one and didn’t want to have to compete with them. That’s why we were trying Carter Grandle. Carter Grandle is gone, of course and, over time, Winston has gone from a low to medium priced line to a medium to high line (although that has changed for 2010, too). Our bread and butter aluminum line is now Suncoast.

In 2000, our Brown Jordan early buy was very big and consisted mostly of traditional designs with a smattering of contemporary. For 2010, our Brown Jordan buy is much smaller although we expect to do at least double what we did with them in 2000. It has become for us what it has been for designers for years, a special order line. Although our early buy was smaller in 2010, the number of designs we are showing has tripled. This has less to do with something I have consciously done to Brown Jordan taking the lead in figuring out an early buy model that works better for me as well as for them.

Teak has never been an important product for us. It is very hard to sell in our climate because no one wants to do the maintenance required keeping it blond. However, we do sell some. In 2000, I didn’t think our clients would pay the price for quality teak; so, I was carrying a lot of shorea from Dayva’s Sterling division. I did carry a little Werner Woods and Rock Wood teak. Werner stopped selling to retailers and is now operating as an OEM. As time went on, the quality of shorea dropped and became too problematic for us to handle. For 2010, the only teak we will have will be from Gloster and Rock Wood. Gloster for high end deep seated and Rock Wood for medium to high dining.


We limited our outdoor wicker to Ebel, Inc in the “good old days” of ought ought. Even so, we did several containers of their traditional looks in the medium price point, all with cushions. Today, we have expanded the number of vendors we use and the outdoor wicker we show on our floor. Ebel is our main source; but, we also carry outdoor wicker from Summer Classics, Suncoast, Brown Jordan, and Pride (their outdoor wicker is made from woven aluminum rather than resin). The price difference between our entry-level outdoor wicker and high end has widened, too.


2000 was the year of barbecues. We carried a lot of the Ducane brand for our entry level medium price point and Lynx for our high end. We even carried some outdoor prefabricated outdoor barbecue islands. I’m afraid barbecue as a category is on its last legs for us and probably many outdoor furniture specialty stores. We don’t even try to carry the medium price point and more. Even if we did, Ducane has been absorbed by Weber and is available in big boxes. For our high end, we carry Fire Magic by R. H. Peterson. A great barbecue pit; but, a hard sell in these economic times. Anyway, I think the category is going to be dominated by kitchen designers and people specializing in constructing outdoor kitchens.


Finally, I noticed that almost everything I ordered in 1999 for 2000 came from factories here in the United States: Woodard’s wrought iron and cast aluminum, Winston and Carter Grandle’s extruded aluminum and Homecrest’s aluminum “mesh wrought iron." Yes, we did have Cast Classics and Ebel, but most of our early buys were “Made in America.” Can’t say the same thing now and am note sure I would even want to if I could. You never would have heard me say that way back in 2000, though.


What an interesting exercise this has been for me. The changes I have seen. Customers are using the Internet in ways Al Gore never imagined when he invented it. The economy has been - - - well, shall we say very different than it was in 2000. Manufacturers who I expected to be around forever and come and gone. It seems a decade has gone by in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee; but, rather than say times have changed, I think a better description would be “times have evolved.”


Yours in confused retailing, Bruce