Outdoor Is In

Aq 904 58pg 0001

Years ago, the perfect poolside patio might have included a black Weber grill, a RustOleum-coated table and chairs from a hardware store and maybe a swing set or a bug zapper. Backyards were more of an afterthought than anything else. Well, times have certainly changed. Today's discerning homeowner wants more. Much more. The Weber's been sold at a garage sale and in its place is a 30,000-Btu, stainless-steel monster grill with a refrigerator and an attached fireplace. The old furniture is in landfill, replaced by a wicker-wrapped aluminum dining set complete with high-back chairs and a mosaic tabletop. Yes, backyards are big business.

This back-to-the-backyard trend means pool and spa dealers have an opportunity to position themselves as one-stop backyard shops by selling everything customers need to maximize their outdoor enjoyment, and casual furniture fits well into that model.

"It works for our dealers because it's a natural extension of the home-resort concept they're encouraging," says Nicole Lasorda, a spokesperson for Cal Spas, a Pomona, Calif., spa-maker that recently added furniture to its offerings. "Additionally, their customers aren't going anywhere else; they can purchase the furniture from right there along with the spa or pool."

The popularity of combining quality casual furniture with spas and pools is evident at industry shows, according to Rick Mouw, president of Holland, Mich.-based Great Lakes Home & Resort, another hot tub company that's selling its own line of furniture. "If you go to trade shows, particularly AQUA and the International Pool & Spa Expo, you see more and more additional products that didn't used to be carried in a lot of hot tub and pool stores," he says. "You're seeing a greater variety, casual furniture being one of the more successful ones. It can enhance the purchase of the hot tub."

Dare To Differentiate

As is the case with hot tubs and, to a lesser extent, above-ground pools, consumers have nearly limitless options when shopping for casual furniture. Home Depot's got dining sets. Stacked chairs line the aisles at K-Marts and Kroger's. You can even get a tete-a-tete from Target. Retailers would be foolish to compete with those stores by selling the same lines. Instead, they need to differentiate themselves, and they do that by selling what those bigger stores don't have.

"There will always be buyers for cheap stuff at Home Depot and places like that, but dealers that offer high-quality products will have the edge with more-discerning customers," says Mouw. "You'll pay more for our furniture, but once you buy it you'll never need to buy another set. That's where our dealers need to fall. All dealers, actually."

But what, aside from higher quality, are spa and pool customers looking for in casual furniture.

A year ago, sling was the thing, and while that's still selling well, today the buzz is about mixed media and bigger dining sets. Some manufacturers are also making smaller pieces that fit into tight backyards that already may have a pool or spa. Materials, too, vary from company to company, but all offer good design and a way to set yourself apart from the stores selling what one manufacturer dismissively referred to as "stackers," which is what discounters typically carry.

"One trend I've seen related to the outdoor living room is that in the past, spa and pool stores mostly only sold resin and brushed aluminum for around the pool," says Bernadette Carroll, president of Creative Woodwork International in Minneapolis. "So the trend of the outdoor living room is really significant because it changes the types of furniture you, as a dealer, would like to offer, and that goes back to wood."

Carroll points out that while many consumers are obviously drawn to teak furniture, the price scares some away. To combat this, her company sells furniture made of plantation-grown eucalyptus, which is less expensive while offering many of the same benefits as teak.

"Eucalyptus hardwood is denser than teak and has the same weatherresistance properties, so you can leave it outdoors," she says. In addition, the wood is eco-friendly, and comes with the endorsement of the Forest Stewardship Council, an international nonprofit association that identifies products that contain wood from well-managed forests. Carroll says that can be an important marketing edge for retailers.

"Many people want to see that FSC tag, and the FSC is very strict about giving it out. You have to go through a lot to get the certification and to use that information in marketing to consumers."

The wood weathers to a classic gray, just like teak does, which Carroll points out helps it blend in with its natural surroundings. "I like that because it matches the environment," she says. "It looks just like tree bark."

Like many manufacturers, CWI also sees a strong market for mixedmedia furniture, so it's coming out with the Vienna Collection. The new collection, which mixes eucalyptus with stainless steel and will be unveiled at the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago this month, includes a dining table and four armchairs.

Gloster Furniture also makes mixed-media furniture, combining everything from stainless steel to synthetic wicker with teak.

"We've even mixed traditional sling chairs with teak," says Ginger Johnson, national sales and marketing manager for the South Boston, Va., manufacturer. "We've tried to stick with the heritage of our teak while still seeing what fits the needs of our customers." While teak is among the more expensive types of furniture, Johnson says the company has been very successful marketing to pool and spa buyers, who are typically willing to spend more for backyard furniture than most homeowners.

"We look at anyone going with the concept of the outdoor room — anyone who's looking for high-end outdoor furniture — and obviously that includes people with pools and spas. Everybody that has a pool or spa needs a lounger, at least."

Gloster's Riviera line combines teak with stainless steel and durable vinyl slings and is especially well-suited to poolside placement, Johnson says. In addition to the requisite lounger, it includes a folding chair and stool, a dining chair with arms, a deck chair and a steamer chair.


Whether a dealer chooses to carry teak or eucalyptus, stainless steel or synthetic wicker, being able to offer customers more than what they see on the floor is another key factor in luring them away from competitors.

"To us the outdoor living trend means making sure we have a variety of products people are looking for for the outdoor living room," says Courtland Carter, president of Carter Grandle, Sarasota, Fla. "We do primarily sling, but I think cushion furniture is coming around again. In the last couple of years, deep seating is really taking off — and we're seeing that in our wicker products, too."

Carter Grandle's variety is especially evident in the number of fabrics it stocks — over 220, according to Carter — which, when combined with the company's many SKUs, gives customers nearly endless options.

"I'd say people are wanting to bring the indoors out," he says. "And they want to basically design the furniture the way they want it. If you go to a mass merchandiser you have to take what they have, whereas we can give them exactly what they want to match anything in their backyards."


Being in the spa and pool business gives you another advantage in attracting furniture customers. Unlike the wandering and basically helpless helpers at the chain stores, you know backyards like the back of your hand and can steer customers toward pieces that will complement their pools and spas. And just as with pools and spas, furniture isn't a onesize-fits-all commodity.

"It depends on location, but people in Arizona and other desert areas seem to have a lot of land, so they're able to do the big pool, spa and dining set," says Johnson. "In other areas, where they've got smaller yards, they compromise and still get everything, but scale it down to fit their space."

Manufacturers point to recent popularity of folding pieces and smaller items such as bistro sets that accommodate spa and pool owners with limited space for furniture.

Gloster's Riviera collection, which features pieces that fold, is one example. Another is CWI's Tofino Collection, which includes the Quayside Lounger, an updated version of the classic steamer style. Made of eucalyptus with a lattice back and brass fittings, the piece folds for easy storage.

"You want to be able to fold the furniture up, because if you have a spa environment there's not always room for a big dining set," says Carroll. "So we've made folding chairs and folding tables so there's more flexibility."

Carroll's company and other manufacturers are of one mind when it comes to flexibility for backyard retailers. Mega-Marts don't offer it. But you should. Consider carrying a variety of items: furniture that can be folded, dining sets and bistro collections for yards both big and small, materials that coordinate with an existing spa skirt, and the ability to customize pieces to satisfy even the most demanding customer.

"Furniture is another opportunity to help dealers help their customers outfit their backyards," says Mouw. "I think that's the future."

Hot Tub Makers See A Future In Furniture

The outdoor living room. The backyard oasis. The home resort. Whatever you want to call it, one thing is certain: People are spending more time in and money on furnishing their backyards. That's good news for spa and pool dealers, which have seen sales of their core products — and ancillary items like casual furniture — boom during a relative economic bust.

Two hot tub manufacturers, Cal Spas and Great Lakes Home & Resort, see such potential in the furniture side of the backyard living room they decided to get into the action themselves.

Cal Spas, which makes wrought-iron furniture, has long been among the industry leaders in displaying its spas with complementary products, with furniture among the most prominent.

"When they were setting up their booth at shows, the dealers were expressing interest in the furniture that was displayed with the spa," says Nicole Lasorda, a spokesperson for the company. "So they decided to start offering it.

"It's really a marketing thing — to set up furniture and make the whole grouping look attractive."

Rick Mouw, president of Great Lakes, which makes stainless-steel furniture, says his company decided to get into the furniture business after it purchased a sauna company five years ago and saw what a nice fit that was.

"From the sauna idea the whole backyard resort concept took root," he says. "We were so successful, we decided to add furniture. They both contribute to the trend toward people spending more time in their backyards."

Mouw says he'd also like to see more hot tubs in casual furniture stores, and feels selling its own furniture gives Great Lakes "a foot in the door" at some furniture dealers.

"The buyers are very similar," he says. "In fact, they're the same buyers." —B.K.

Page 1 of 155
Next Page
Buyer's Guide
Find manufacturers and suppliers in the most extensive searchable database in the industry.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide
Content Library
Dig through our best stories from the magazine, all sorted by category for easy surfing.
Read More
Content Library