Opportunities worth checking out abound for retailers looking to capture a piece of the over five billion dollar industry focused on furnishings for outdoor spaces.
Creating outdoor rooms and decorating outdoor spaces with furnishings built for the out-of-doors actually has been around for decades. However, today this popular consumer trend has reached a level of sophistication beyond anything consumers or retailers could have imagined. Estimated at over 5 billion dollars in retail sales, the casual marketplace offers a prime opportunity for traditional furnishings retailers. “Traditional furniture stores are benefitting through the introduction of casual furnishings not only with individual sales; but also as they are able to provide a complete living experience,” said Tami Newton, sales and marketing manager for wicker / rattan designer and manufacturer, Palm Springs Rattan and Garden Classics, Largo, Fla. As the line between interior and exterior living continues to blur; those retailers that embrace this concept could find themselves emerging as the destination for the total home.
Trends for taking advantage of the opportunities the outdoor category holds span from construction to presentation. While known for taking a cue from the indoor category; casual furnishings also include a selection of trends that are uniquely “Out” there.
Construction Trends. From cast aluminum to wicker to wood, the prevailing trend in all outdoor construction relates to greater durability and maintaining lasting looks. Ranking just behind comfort, durability and ease of maintenance scored high in a 2010 outdoor living survey co-sponsored by HGTV that asked consumers what would entice them to spend more on outdoor furnishings. For the traditional furnishings retailer selecting the highest construction quality is key to success. High end options are available with durability and low maintenance features throughout.
All-weather wicker construction is well known for delivering durability and ease of care in traditional pieces as well as the growing number of contemporary styles. A recent trend includes frosted colorations. Although natural and bright white pieces exist, oyster or frosted sea glass colored wicker currently are capturing attention.
In metals, cast aluminum continues to provide superior outdoor life. However, with the rise in raw material costs, this category is being challenged. Options to attract today’s homeowners are being offered through the crafting of slender wrought aluminum designs as well as combining extruded aluminum and wood components resulting in attractive price points.
In wood, teak continues to be a luxury choice; but today’s excitement is found in looks that mirror fine interior furnishings. With elegantly carved details and all-weather wicker seat insets, pieces are being crafted for decor inside or out.
As a trend in outdoor, ironically, sustainability has a ways to go. Ranked 11th in the consumer survey, just below the ability for furnishings to rock or glide, sustainability has not quite reached the point at which consumers are willing to pay more for it. That is not to say that eco-friendly materials and manufacturing processes are not available in casual products. Across the industry, green products and practices can be found. Examples include unique resin designs from recycled materials and reuse furnishings from wood components.
Design Trends. Trends in outdoor design styles that are garnering attention encompass old world to ultra contemporary. Yet, as with interior offerings, the ability to mix things up also is growing in popularity. Collections are being introduced featuring a depth of dining and conversation seating options prime for creating eclectic groupings.
Among dining seating, formal styling with single seat cushioning and decorative backs is continuing as a trend. In deep seating selections, curves rule. Crescent shaped sofas and love seats providing more convenient conversation are definitely hot.
Although color gurus may see a pink as the color for 2011; nothing sells better in outdoor than neutral and natural colorations in finishes and fabrics. Whether for conversational deep seating or dining, research shows that brown encompasses 57 percent of all finishes sold. Black comes in second at 33 percent. In cushion fabrics, green ranks highest with brown taking second place for those who replaced fabric in 2010. Adding splashes of color to outdoor decor is done in the same way as within interior rooms; through pillows and floor coverings. Both of which are available in unending design options for outdoor living with the use of fade resistant and stain resistant solution dyed fabrics and yarns.
Sales Trends. Today’s marketplace for casual furnishings does exhibit a wide pricing divide with the median dining set falling around $400. The good news for specialty casual furnishings retailers is that the affluent buyers whose purchases far exceed the median continue to be a receptive audience. In 2010, 29 percent of dining set buyers were from households with incomes of $100,000 or more. As this segment comprises 50 percent of all dining set sales, it equates to a viable and growing market.
Additional research by industry trade publication, Casual Living, and New York based Easty Analytic Software, Inc. published earlier in 2011 noted positive sales growth forecasted nationwide with regard to the number of households looking to buy casual furnishings in 2011.
Per the survey, the South is forecasted to see 2.5 percent growth, with 2.3 percent for the Northeast, and the Midwest, although at the lowest percentage, can look forward to a 2.2 percent increase. Casual furnishings are realizing positive growth across the nation as 2.7 million households planned to purchase a dining set this year.
In response to this forecasted growth, casual furnishing manufacturers are not only putting on their “A” game with regard to products and performance; but many also are incorporating practices that answer the challenges of seasonality inherent in the segment. Increasing numbers of manufacturers, especially those with domestic or semi domestic manufacturing, are offering Express Shipping programs with delivery in as little as 15-20 working days.
One such program is offered by casual furniture manufacturer, Pride Family Brands, Hollywood, Fla. “In a seasonal business, reacting quickly to consumer requests may mean the difference between making a sale or not for many of our retailers,” said Rory Rehmert, vice president of sales and marketing for Pride Family Brands and chairman of the board of the International Casual Furnishings Association. “Express shipment programs are recognized by retailers as an opportunity to bring in products with proven sales history quickly in anticipation of sales promotions or to fulfill direct customer requests.”
Presentation Trends. Keeping things fresh is not news to furnishings retailers; but with decor for outdoor spaces and the limited sales timeframe, the importance cannot be underestimated. Retailers investing in the casual furnishings segment are finding greater success in not only making these items the focus during the prime selling season; but remerchandising often.
Casual retailers have found that on average customers shop a single store three to four times before making a casual furniture purchase. Enticing these shoppers by keeping displays fresh is a tip they share. “By re-merchandising each of our casual furniture selling floors a minimum of four times in-season, it gives the customer the feeling they are seeing something new and fresh, and can regenerate their enthusiasm for shopping Laacke & Joys ,” said Mary Mann, vice president, purchasing for the Wisconsin retailer.
With accessories built for the outdoors, personalizing living spaces is no longer only the option of interior rooms. These durable additions can add function and excitement to showroom floors. Traditional furniture stores also can incorporate exterior accessories into interior displays to illustrate the versatility and multi-use possibilities available.
Out is in. Capturing the potential of the growing outdoor room marketplace is an opportunity perfectly suited for the traditional furniture retailer. From casual manufacturing partners offering education and sales assistance to products creating consumer excitement and demand, the retail world of outdoor, as never before, is truly in.
By Laurie Rudd, casual industry veteran and owner of Laurie Rudd Public Relations and Marketing, Winterville, NC. www.laurieruddpr.com