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When Times Change We Need To Change The Way We Do Business

February 9, 2009

Years ago when the very first patio stores opened for business, I am certain that life was very different. Considering how advanced technology has become over the past years, our lives have changed in many many ways. To continue to do business as usual is a mistake. Many casual furniture dealers have changed along the way, improved the way they do business but some dealers have stayed the course.

When technology can connect us the way that it does, when you can talk to someone real time clear across the country, and purchase products from all over the world, you have to take a step back and consider what changes are appropriate to make in the way that you conduct business.

Take for example my family as a case study. Growing up in Northern New Jersey we had a nice backyard and a small patio, however, I do not recall any patio furniture. In the summertime we would drive down to the New Jersey shore, that is what we call the beach in the northeast. We would spend the entire day sitting in the sand, covered in baby oil trying to get a tan, but ultimately we got burned to a crisp. Now of course, we are paying for those times in the sun 30 years later with the onset of skin cancer. I just had my first positive skin cancer removed from my hand this past Friday, a squamous cell carcinoma. Thankfully, it was small and with a new technique called the Mohs procedure, it was all carefully removed and has a very high prognosis of never returning. Take my advice, apply sun tan lotion to your kids, otherwise they will pay the price later in life. But I digress, lets get back to the way things were.

After college, I lived in Florida, a premier location to spend time outdoors in backyards and patios. My very first patio furniture was made out of white PVC pipe. We loved it back then, we thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. We even had cushions in coordinating colors, solid brown and brown and white striped sling material. The furniture was indestructible and lasted forever. When it was time for my husband and I to move to Texas for his job, we left the PVC behind. We noticed in Texas that patios and backyards did not have to be screened in, as in Florida, apparently they did not have a bug, mosquito problem like we did in the Southeast. We only spent one year in Texas, not long enough to purchase patio furniture, but our next move brought us to Southern California.

Here in CA we purchased aluminum patio furniture with vinyl straps that held very cushy fabric cushions.  We moved 4 more times in Ca with this furniture, we spent many days and nights enjoying the comfort of the swivel rocker dining chairs, chaise lounges and our motion love seat. When we purchased this furniture we simply went to our local casual furniture retailer and chose our selection from many different items loosely scattered on the showroom floor. They were all spread out in no particular pattern.

Our next move to the desert of Arizona created another opportunity for change. The white aluminum with burgundy cushions did not go with the sand colored decor of the desert lifestyle. So again we went to a local retailer and chose neutral colored patio furniture. Since then we have moved back to California and have once again changed our outdoor room to accommodate the way that we live.

Now 30 years since that first patio set in southern Florida, we have embraced our outdoor lifestyle. We created an entire outdoor haven that allows us to enjoy life outside. We have an outdoor living area with a fire pit, deep seating, sofa, love seat and club chairs as well as outdoor drapes, an outdoor rug, a fabric ottoman, plenty of plush colorful outdoor throw pillows and a cozy outdoor throw blanket, some outdoor lighting, umbrellas and beautiful pots with plants. Music flows through outdoor speakers that helps to create a perfect setting.

This lifestyle outside is very different from times past, that is why it is essential for dealers to stay up to date and offer the customers the ability to create a complete outdoor living space.

Last week I visited a beautiful store north of Los Angeles, that provides the products needed to create this sort of outdoor room, yet has not fully embraced the way the indoor furniture stores present their wares. For example, step into an Ethan Allen or Thomasville furniture store and you will see partitions, walls and completely decked out rooms with all of the products, furniture pieces and accessories that complete the setting. This is what the casual furniture retailers need to adopt, a realization that business as usual has to change, you need to create room settings that are finished so that the customer of 2009 can fully visualize what they can create in their enclave.

To simply offer products and space them throughout your store for the customer to walk through to see is no longer enough. Visual Merchanidising is an essential element to today’s consumer. Try this theory out, start small, create one complete setting including all of the accessories to finish a space, include an outdoor TV and see how the customer of today will respond positively to the space. Most likely you will find that one completed room will grow into many.

If you want more ideas on visual merchandising simply write a comment or email me at

These are my outside views…what are yours? Marcia Blake