Outdoor Furniture Trends

May 30, 2006
Written by Brian Minter
At a time when the activity of gardening is on the decline, it’s comforting to see the growth and popularity of outdoor rooms.  Nesting is here to stay in an outside world that’s getting a little crazy. 
 6
TOP: Selling outdoor furniture is very much a niche business.  You either have to be focused and serious about selling it or avoid it
completely.
ABOVE RIGHT:Outdoor rooms offer an inviting place
to host an extravagant dinner party or a secluded spot to rest and relax.
ABOVE LEFT: Various flower and garden shows in the Canada and the U.S. are showcasing outdoor kitchens, including counters, outdoor stoves, and outdoor plasma TVs.
At a time when the activity of gardening is on the decline, it’s comforting to see the growth and popularity of outdoor rooms.  Nesting is here to stay in an outside world that’s getting a little crazy.  The shift, however, is from in-home to outdoor rooms, where the company of family and close friends is now being included.  Instead of creating and working a garden, folks are having it professionally designed and created.

This trend is significant for the landscape design and installation trades, but it is cause for concern in the retail garden centre industry.  While we don’t have Canadian statistics, in the U.S. the average price for a well-designed, professionally installed outdoor room is between $50,000 and $60,000.  If it includes a swimming pool, the price jumps from $70,000 to over $100,000.  It’s important to get a sense of these numbers because a significant portion of these dollars are not being spent in garden centres.

Attending some of the flower and garden shows in the southern U.S. this spring, there was a definite trend towards outdoor living and accessorizing.  At a show in Palm Desert, over half the show was devoted to complete outdoor kitchens, including counters, outdoor stoves (not barbecues), outdoor plasma TVs and the list goes on.  It was actually quite amazing to see the wide variety of outdoor accessories now available.  There was even an outdoor fireplace that was convertible to a barbecue.    As this trend towards outdoor living continues, it is very important that the garden centre industry focuses on the new opportunities it presents.  Outdoor furniture is very much a niche business because so many major boxes and chains do a pretty good job already.  It is, however, one of those categories you either need to be focused on and serious about or avoid completely.  Dabbling doesn’t do it. 

There are many success stories in our industry where garden centres have truly grown their business by identifying and filling a particular niche area.  Part of the reason for their success is their presentations.  Setting the right tone is very important.  Watson’s, just south of the Seattle, Washington area, has used greenhouse space to create furniture vignettes as a series of walk-throughs.  They do an amazing job of display merchandising, raising the level of quality throughout the store because of it.  Their beautifully displayed vignettes have set a tone that creates a feeling of being in a higher end environment.

One of Manitoba’s outdoor furniture success stories is Shelmerdine’s.  Nicole Bent is their Canadian furniture buyer, and she has some good advice.  She sees a great opportunity for higher end outdoor furniture simply because the market is saturated with medium- to low-end quality merchandise, and folks are either looking to upgrade or replace existing sets.  Nicole also has noted that the home renovation trend has created a need for higher end outdoor furniture to match their new décor.  The condominium market too is an opportunity for smaller bistro tables and chairs and end tables.  One thing Nicole really stressed is the importance of truly being ‘in’ the outdoor furniture business.  This means not only selection and dedicated space, but also knowledge. Success in this area means a full-time salesperson in furniture who not only knows the product, but is also able to share that knowledge and advise with clarity.  This person alone can make all the difference.  The other very important aspect is after-sales service.  There will always be flaws and problems, but how they are dealt with and how solutions are provided will differentiate you from everyone else.  Word will spread quickly that your store can be trusted.

More folks today are treating outdoor furniture as an investment, and they expect a 10- to 15-year warranty.  It’s important to not only sell durability, but also timeless style.  Easy care is also in the mix, as is strong, quality materials that can be left outdoors all year and simply covered for the cold winter.

Colour trends have changed as well, according to Nicole.  The more traditional sage and earth tones have given way to brighter colours.  Burgundy, greens and blues are very much in.  Ladies make the final buying decisions nine times out of ten, observed Nicole, so it’s very important to be sensitive to their needs in our selling and presentation techniques.  Nicole believes that it is truly a great opportunity and that it’s a shame more garden stores don’t take advantage of this trend, especially with the arrival of outdoor rooms.

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