Retailers still stocking up on outdoor furnishings
The casual industry has always been a unique sector of the furniture industry, and that was abundantly clear at this year’s Casual Market July 19-22 in Chicago.
While many retailers are dealing with piles of inventory because consumer demand for indoor furniture has slowed down, that’s not the case when it comes to outdoor furniture.
A large number of retailers came to market ready to buy, although some manufacturers told Casual News Now that other retailers are “on pause” at the moment, waiting to see what happens with a possible recession and consumer demand.
Retailers go big on early buys
However, many exhibitors said retailers are buying up what they can and warehousing it so they have products in case a recession hits, which could be smart because outdoor furniture sales could increase during a recession like they during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
And because of that, the early buy is back in a new and big way. While it never ended for some, there were industry members who predicted that the early buy might fade out as the category becomes less seasonal.
But Telescope Casual Furniture, based in Granville, New York, is just one of many examples of why that’s not true. “We have over 50% of our early-buy orders in already,” said Henry Vanderminden of Telescope. “And that number is expected to rise by the end of the early-buy period.”
Others, like Barcalounger and Pacific Casual, have product fully stocked in warehouses and available to ship immediately. While there are still delays for some products, most Casual Market exhibitors said their shipping times range from 2-6 weeks.
Investments manufacturers made over the past two years have helped to bring those lead times down. For instance, Syracuse, Indiana-based Polywood added a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to help keep up with demand. Homecrest, with headquarters in Wadena, Minnesota, realized its material partners were having issues and stepped in to help take those processes in-house, alleviating a pain point. Lane Venture, based in Newton, North Carolina, has been tightening its lines and bringing in new, modern looks and finishes, and business is up 60% from 2020, according to Robert Spillman III.
While some manufacturers that are still facing supply chain problems decided not to show new furniture until those issues get sorted out, there were quite a few new introductions.
Plenty of new products
Vanguard Furniture, with headquarters in Conover, North Carolina, was a newcomer to the market, debuting its new line of outdoor furniture with indoor style. While the line soft launched at the High Point Market in April, this was the first time the company introduced its outdoor pieces to the casual industry.
Industry veteran Gary McCray said the response was overwhelmingly positive and that buyers were excited to see the product for the first time at the Casual Market. The 50-plus piece collection, which was designed by Michael Weiss, includes dining, seating, occasional and entertainment pieces, and features materials ranging from concrete to synthetic teak to synthetic wicker weaves to powder-coated aluminum.
Flexsteel, based in Dubuque, Iowa, quietly launched its premier outdoor line this market, showing pieces from both its Homestyles e-commerce line, as well as the upcoming Flexsteel retail collection. Homestyles ships ready-to-assemble and flat-packed directly to consumers. The Flexsteel line, which will have slightly higher price points, will officially launch later this year.
“We’ve been studying the outdoor category and wanted to be judicious about it because it’s so different from indoor,” Tim Newlin said. “We didn’t want to move into anything too quickly.”
Telescope introduced its Wells collection, an updated take on a collection the company launched in 1966. With a teak look, poly arms and a turned leg, the collection offers retro style with fresh features, like cushions with a pocket that slide over the back of the sofa for an upholstered look.
Telescope also highlighted a new padded sling lounger — and there was an abundance of similar padded loungers from exhibitors around the market. Officials at several companies said this trend is happening because it adds more comfort for those who want to sit and linger in the chairs for longer. Pacific Casual upped the ante and added a padded lounger with an air-powered pull lever that makes it easier to adjust the angle of the back of the chair.
Another trend: oversized seating. It was everywhere. From Vanguard to OW Lee to Mamagreen, there was scarcely a company at the show that didn’t have some sort of large sofa or chat set with deep, wide seating.
That makes sense given that more people want to entertain outside. Exhibitors confirmed this was a trend that began before the pandemic and has only grown since then. Cincinnati-based Plank & Hide showed oversized seating, as well, but the star of its show was the P&H Elements line that it soft launched at the High Point Market last spring. P&H Elements offers high style at more affordable prices, and the company said it has been well-received by the industry.
Randall Shorts, Homecrest chief executive officer, said he was thrilled with the traffic at the show, where the company highlighted two design-focused collections, Wren and Mila. Unique to these lines is the ability to change out the fabric on the arms based on the season, location or changing tastes. The lines also feature on-trend deep and wide cushions, and have a sleek, modern design.
The move to Atlanta in 2023
This was the last Casual Market that will be held at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, as the show moves to Atlanta next year. Although show organizer International Casual Furnishings Association has yet to announce 2023 market dates, Bryan Echols, an ICFA board member, confirmed it will overlap with the Atlanta Market for gifts, home furnishings and decor in July.
Many are sad to see the show leaving Chicago, but there’s also excitement about Atlanta and the opportunities the move will bring to the category. It won’t be easy transitioning to a new market center, and some have expressed concern about navigating the floods of new customers that they expect will come as a result of the move. Fortunately for the casual industry, it may be a good problem to have.