With the economy still on the bumpy ride that began a year and a half ago, vendors of outdoor home furnishings are intensifying their focus on the strengths that they bring to this increasingly important segment.
That the outdoor niche continues to be important is beyond a doubt. Consumers who are strapped for the cash they would normally use for big-ticket purchases still view their homes as havens. The outdoor “room”—where they gather with their families to relax, and where they often entertain their friends—remains a key focal point in creating the home environment that provides a relief from the stresses of everyday life.
Growth in Hard Times
Vendors are pursuing several creative strategies to lure consumers to their outdoor offerings.
Some vendors of outdoor furnishings have striven to increase consumers’ options in decorating their outdoor spaces. One example of this trend is Capel’s recently launched Customer’s Own Material program. This effort “allows consumers to create a unique, one-of-a-kind indoor-outdoor rug to perfectly complement their home’s existing decor,” said Bud Young, Capel’s vice president of marketing. “Consumers can choose from two rug bases and provide the yardage to complete a single-, double- or triple-bordered rug of their own design.”
A separate tactic is celebrity product lines. Capel’s Jane Seymour line is a prime example. This includes outdoor rugs that feature custom borders.
Another celebrity collection, the Paula Deen Home & Porch rug collection, was Kaleen’s best-selling product line over the past year, according to company president Joe Barkley.
“We design Home & Porch to be a collection that is suited for any area, beautiful enough to go in any roo m, but durable enough to go outdoors,” Barkley said. He also noted Deen’s “natural eye for color and design. Paula looks at rug designs as a consumer, and what she likes is what most Americans seem to like as well.”
Quality and value, of course, remain prime selling points for many outdoor products. Rick Seidman, president of Quoizel, said the company’s best-selling outdoor lanterns represent four styles: mission, traditional copper gas, contemporary and transitional.
“In all cases, the quality of the lantern is a key factor due to the fact that the fixture has to endure the weather,” Seidman said. “Our lanterns must be priced so that the consumer appreciates the high-perceived value.”
Along the same lines are licensed products, which have provided some extra juice to Tervis Tumbler’s sales over the past year. The company has expanded its licensed offerings with new designs in its Margaritaville line, and now offers tumblers featuring all of the teams in Major League Baseball.
The MLB license has “created quite a buzz around Tervis,” said Jennifer Bement, the company’s media marketing manager. “All 30 teams are represented in these intricately embroidered authentic emblems that are placed within the walls of Tervis’ celebrated tumblers and ice buckets.”
Innovation also creates sales growth in outdoor furnishings. Extra Weave USA said it has scored big with the slip-resistant backing it included on its coir-fiber doormat collection. “The slip-resistant backing helps keep the doormat firmly in place on all surfaces, even marble,” said Larry Traverso, Extra Weave’s general manager. “Made of all-natural rubber, the slip-resistant backing is free from the environmentally damaging PVC found in the typical vinyl-backed doormats on the market.” Traverso added that Extra Weave is the only manufacturer of doormats in the U.S. market that tufts its coir mats onto a natural rubber backing.
Being innovative has also helped push Agio’s sales growth. As an example, Bob Gaylord, the casual furniture manufacturer’s president, cited Raffles Firelight, with a swirling flame encased in a tempered-glass cylinder on a tabletop. The company “is always on the cusp innovating pieces that complement big selling items,” Gaylord said. He also mentioned the innovative banana-leaf weave that serves as the design focus in the Calypso Deep Seating line.
Although the signs are that the recession is ending, retailers are still struggling to boost shopper traffic—and vendors of outdoor furnishings have taken a hands-on approach to help get consumers into the stores.
Capel works closely with its retail partners to provide guidance and support for sales associates on the company’s complete line of rugs. “Our Web site, capelrugs.com, is a resource for retailers and consumers, and includes over 10,000 rugs and new introductions throughout the year,” Young said. “We also provide every dealer a full-color, 250-page retail catalog every year. Capel also maintains a proactive public-relations program that reaches out to consumer magazines nationwide to promote the Capel brand.”
Some vendors use traditional tools still prove to be effective.
“We have point-of-purchase merchandising displays and in-store signage,” Seidman said of Quoizel’s retailer-assistance efforts. “We produce circulars, in-store flyers and oversized post-card advertisements featuring our outdoor products. Quoizel also has a training video for the retail sales personnel to give them the ammunition needed to sell this product category.”
Tervis Tumbler conducts a highly flexible point-of-sale effort focused on its products’ features and benefits.
“We have artwork available to retailers for any advertising needs they may have, and our sales team is always available to provide insight into our top-selling items and creative ways to market them,” Bement said. “Additionally, we gave our catalog a complete overhaul recently, and it can be easily used as a selling tool when working with customers.”
With a celebrity collection such as Kaleen’s Paula Deen line, the celebrity often becomes the centerpiece of the vendor’s point-of-sale efforts. “Kaleen has a point-of-purchase package that offers posters, a life-size banner of Paula Deen, hang tags and excitement cards,” Barkley said. “We offer at times Paula Deen tie-ins, such as autographed books, restaurant visits and trips.”
There are some even more innovative strategies in use from outdoor-products vendors. Extra Weave has adopted what Traverso termed a “low-inventory, high-assortment strategy. By keeping our minimums low and providing decorative doormats in assorted prepackaged sets designed around classic themes, we help our retailers maintain a broad assortment of product with the least amount of risk.” This strategy also helps the stores keep their floor displays bright, colorful and interesting to shoppers, Traverso added.
Agio’s programs for retailers are designed to increase the flexibility of their product offerings, and thus their return on investment.
“We’ve developed Agio Signature collections, which exemplify the ultimate in high-end, luxury designs, as illustrated with collections like Calypso,” Gaylord said. “To support a more value-savvy consumer and the retailers who aim to satisfy that clientele, we’ve also added Agio Select, elegant designs offered at price points sure to move off most showroom floors.”
Apart From the Rest
Just as important as programs to help their retailer customers are the efforts these outdoor-products manufacturers undertake to distinguish themselves from their competition.
These campaigns revolve around the vendors’ self-awareness of their place in the market. Capel, for example, sees itself as a trailblazer.
“We pioneered the outdoor-rug category in 1982 with the introduction of our reversible outdoor braided rugs,” Young said. “We remain committed to ongoing product development in the outdoor category, as evidenced by our first-ever loop-hooked outdoor rug collection, Chateau, introduced this year.”
Experience combined with new approaches and quality assurance provide the keynote for Quoizel.
“We have been designing outdoor lanterns for decades,” Seidman said. “We have been very successful bringing fresh designs at a value price point. We test all of our new items using a salt-spray test to ensure their durability to the outside elements.”
Tervis Tumbler considers its status as a U.S. manufacturer as an important distinction. “Our company philosophy is to provide our consumers with USA-made quality, customizable product that is designed to last a lifetime,” Bement said. “Our company has stood apart from other drinkware manufacturers since 1946 by offering such a wide variety of options in a product that has been built to stand the test of time. All of our tumblers are made right here in the USA, and we back them with a comprehensive lifetime guarantee.”
The quality and function in Extra Weave’s products serves as a point of distinction. “Our product team approaches the development of our outdoor coir mats from the same dual point of view—design and functionality,” Traverso said. “We also believe our outdoor products should always enhance the environment they are placed in, even as their decorative usefulness plays out.”
Agio has enjoyed success with furniture that works in both indoor and outdoor settings, and Gaylord views this as what makes the company stand out. “Each year, as we continue our foray into new and exciting looks, we’re finding that the lines between indoor and outdoor furnishings are beginning to blur,” he said. “We are continually working to blur the margins between indoor and outdoor furnishings. Putting that level of beauty and functionality into every Agio collection is what our retailers and their customers expect.”