• Cindy W. Hodnett

Furniture stores see growth in outdoor segment

HIGH POINT - The outdoor furniture category is an opportunity for growth, according to several key retailers.

Nebraska Furniture MartNebraska Furniture Mart plans to expand the amount of retail square footage dedicated to outdoor. Product on the floor now includes the Sonoma Collection by World Source.

     From the evolution of a more casual consumer lifestyle to the increased popularity of outdoor living rooms in new construction, outdoor furnishings represent a category that is gaining valuable square footage in traditional furniture retail settings, and the trend is likely to continue.
   "Although our primary business is indoor, the outdoor market is significant," said Martin McMahon, case goods/outdoor buyer for Robb & Stucky International in Fort Myers, Fla. "We have put a lot of time and energy into merchandising the outdoor area and it has really paid off. Having stock is necessary because customers expect to take delivery immediately. We have about 3,000 square feet devoted to outdoor."
     Stephen Riley of Omaha, Neb.-based Nebraska Furniture Mart said consumers are looking for outdoor furniture that complements their home. The store added Lexington's Tommy Bahama outdoor collection this year and will continue to expand outdoor offerings, he said.
     "We have always been committed to the category and are strengthening it by having a good, better, best selection, as we do in furniture," Riley said. "Even our displays are well thought out to give the consumer that ‘at home' feeling. We are always committed to growing all facets of our business."

Consumers prefer outdoor furniture
Consumers prefer outdoor furniture
Source: Casual Living and HGTV Consumer Views Survey, 2012

    At Warren, Mich.-based Art Van Furniture, consumers are looking for style, comfort and function in outdoor furnishings, said Diane Charles, director of corporate communications. She said the category's increased importance corresponds to the continued popularity of outdoor entertaining and recreation and that Art Van is committed to supporting the growth.
     "Art Van looks at the category of outdoor furniture as a growth business and we will continue to expand our assortment and dedicated square footage," Charles said. "Our average is 2,000-2,500 square feet (for outdoor) with 1,500 square feet the smallest space and 6,000 square feet the largest."
      "The outdoor level will definitely increase for the 2013/14 selling season," said Robb & Stucky's McMahon. "We will also be adding a third store in September (in Sarasota, Fla.), which helps with rates of sale and flowing containers - the key to having stock and getting good margins."

Art Van Furniture, which says it will increase its outdoor lines, offers collections like Veranda by Agio.
Art Van Furniture
Robb & Stucky International
Robb & Stucky International has 3,000 square feet dedicated to the outdoor category. This collection is from Patio Renaissance, shown in a Driftwood finish.

     McMahon said there are also product subcategories in outdoor that have strong growth potential, including fire pits, umbrellas, stone tops, heaters, furniture covers and accessories. He added that some outdoor style trends first made an appearance inside.
     "In terms of style categories, woven is the strongest, in both dining and deep seating," he said. "Driftwood (gray) finish is a fresh alternative to the expected brown that sells every day. Whether it is woven or cast aluminum, gray is selling. It's interesting because we had been seeing this trend in the indoor portion of our business, and now, it's translating to outdoor."

Cindy HodnettCindy W. Hodnett | Upholstery/Style Editor

As the Upholstery/Style Editor for Furniture/Today, I spend my work hours studying the sloping curves of sofa frames, the intricacies of fabric and the nail head trim and button accents that function as jewelry on a piece of upholstery. I research the companies that bring these things together for retailers, and ultimately consumers, and interview industry leaders about their business strategies and where they think furniture is heading in the future. And when traveling, I provide a sneak peek at what I'm seeing, whether at international markets or in High Point or Las Vegas.

I look forward to sharing what I see and I hope you'll feel free to do the same. Email me at chodnett@furnituretoday.com or follow me on Twitter @CynthiaWHodnett.

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