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From Home Furnishing Business

Counting on the Great Outdoors

By Home Furnishings Business in Casual Furniture on March 2007 Outdoor furniture and cross-pollinated goods that blur the line between patio and living room are a growing opportunity for furniture stores. That€™s especially true for some of the higher-end looks in the category that bring high-quality fabrics and all-weather construction to outdoor living. The result is extra ammunition for furniture retailers looking to offset the inroads of other channels eating away at their share of home furnishings.

It€™s not exactly a brand new trend: Ethan Allen made casual furniture a cornerstone of yearly introductions years ago to support its now-international network of franchised and corporately owned stores. The last couple of years, though, have seen a host of new outdoor/casual product with more appeal to a furniture store setting, said Joe Logan, executive director of the Summer & Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association, a part of the American Home Furnishings Alliance.

€œThe most exciting thing on the scene is the explosion of outdoor fabrics that have come on the market in the past few years, the variety of color combinations and offerings,€ he said. €œThey are very hard to distinguish from indoor residential fabrics.€

Those fabrics have engendered another major trend in more luxurious outdoor goods: deep seating.

€œYou think of outdoor product in years past, and the resin or sling goods come to mind, but this newer seating allows much more comfort,€ Logan noted, adding that the timing is right in terms of consumer attitudes. €œThere€™s so much more interest on the part of the consumer in using their €˜outdoor room,€™ their outdoor living area.€

He said that vendors are paying attention: €œI think you€™re seeing greater expansion of branded lines in the outdoor industry.€

In this year alone, branded outdoor goods are on the way for La-Z-Boy through Brown Jordan; and for Woolrich through Whitecraft Inds. Century Furniture offers a Richard Frinier-designed outdoor line, and there€™s a strong outdoor component to the company€™s licensed collection with Oscar de la Renta. With the new Agassi Graf Collection Kreiss unveiled at the recent Las Vegas market, the designer-oriented vendor€™s high-visibility approach to the retail channel also caters to consumers looking for go-anywhere furniture.

Natural Look, Unnatural Durability

Dave Hill, Whitecraft€™s vice president of sales and marketing, said fabrics aren€™t the only improved materials upping outdoor goods€™ style quotient. Specifically, high-density polyesters have given manufacturers the ability to create the look of true wicker for incredibly long-lasting, durable frames for chairs, sofas and tables.

€œIt looks so much like natural product that we€™re seeing a lot of retailers putting this on their floors and selling it for indoor as well as outdoor use,€ Hill said. €œIt€™s really crossing the line between the indoor and outdoor categories. The outdoor fabrics are so good today that they cross that line, too. The materials have all the beauty of a natural product without any of the headaches of maintaining a natural product.€

Whitecraft counts on its Woolrich license, which debuts this fall at the Casual Show in Chicago and in High Point, to broaden its line€™s style appeal.

€œThe traditional styles are still very strong in our East Coast and Midwest markets, and we also have a strong selection of contemporary modern styles that do well in markets such as Southern California,€ Hill said. €œWoolrich is more of a lodge look, and we believe that will help us in the mountain states and desert regions, as well as the market for lakeside homes.€

Laneventure, which has long had a focus on blending indoor and outdoor furniture, incorporates separate finishes on natural wicker product to take allow the same item to meet the consumer€™s choice of using it in the living room or on the patio.

While La-Z-Boy€™s new outdoor line designed and supplied by Brown Jordan is scheduled for a retail debut at Sam€™s Clubs in January, La-Z-Boy has plans to extend distribution moving ahead. HFB

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