Today’s topic is taken from the pages of Furniture Today, a trade publication that is read by nearly everyone in the furniture industry. The title says it all but it doesn’t say anything new to those of us in the casual, aka outdoor, furniture industry.
Furniture Today, with sister publication Casual Living, conducted a survey in 2014 among Apartment Therapy readers. The results are heart-warming: outdoor dining is popular and continues to be on a trajectory path. According to the survey, “more than seven out of ten consumers own an outdoor dining set”, twenty-one percent “plan to replace their current dining set this year” and thirty-eight percent responded that “they’ll buy a new one in 2016 or 2017.” Comments from respondents indicate that outdoor dining is an important feature of their home, with responses as effervescent as, “eating outside makes all food taste better” to the notion that alfresco dining “enhances my enjoyment of great food and conversations.”
In October, Furniture Today/Casual Living reported that more than half of responding consumers indicated that they either have an outdoor room or are in the process of creating one. Eighty-three percent said that their outdoor room was important to them. Unwinding after a long day, connecting with nature, entertaining, and socializing are common themes that run throughout the responses. Only two percent of those responding said that an outdoor room was not important to them.
Manufacturers of outdoor products are reporting sales increases that are making them smile and, here and there, I hear of brick and mortar retailers who are experiencing the same growth. However, it is worth noting that a 2013 study done by Casual Living Magazine found that only thirteen percent of all outdoor furniture is sold through specialty stores. That leaves eighty-seven percent of all outdoor furniture sold going to the consumer through an alternate distribution channel. What about expert advice? Professional, dedicated experts? Supporting the local economy? Forming relationships?
It is important for the consumer to know that their local specialty casual (outdoor) furniture store is an excellent source of information, expertise, and, more often than not, great value. While there are certainly times when what the specialty retailer has to offer may not fit the desired budget at hand (and the choice between price and value can be a difficult choice in these instances), for those who are not locked into a tight budget, you may find that you can get a lot more value for your money if you can spend a little more and shop with experts in the industry.
Regardless of where the consumer ultimately makes their purchase, taking the time to be educated both in terms of what is available and in what to look for and expect in the performance of outdoor furniture, is a value in and of itself. I am perpetually amazed when people automatically go online, to a catalog, or to a big box discount store to make a purchase without ever having visited an expert first.
My message is simple. When purchasing outdoor furniture (and, from the results of the aforementioned survey, it looks like an increasing number of people have the intention of doing so), visit a brick and mortar specialty store from whom you can arm yourself with information before making a purchase. Regardless of where your outdoor furniture is purchased, it is an investment. Knowing what choices are available, how different materials will weather, what the differences are in qualities, what recourse the buyer has should the product fail, and whether the selection made by the customer is suitable for the intended location can all be answered by an expert. You may be quite surprised at the prices, as well, when you compare apples to apples. Many times those apples cost less when they come from your own backyard.