Create that WOW factor, and make sure your displays tell a compelling story. This is the best way to generate above average sales in the outdoor furnishings category.
The outdoor furniture category has been gaining momentum over the past few years due to widening product choices, expanded categories, and growing consumer demand. This has attracted increased attention from full line furniture retailers looking to expand beyond indoor spaces in a more meaningful and profitable way.
The problem for many stores who want to ramp up outdoor sales is two-fold. First, furniture stores are not always top-of-mind for shoppers thinking of updating their outdoor spaces. This topic was explored in the July/August 2016 issue of Furniture World (https://www.furninfo.com/furniture-world-articles/3628). Second, retail displays in outdoor furniture departments often fail to impress.
Furniture World asked design experts, Connie Post, Owner and CEO of the well known furniture industry design firm Affordable Design Solutions, and Christi Barbour, founder and partner at the High Point based residential, commercial, and showroom interiors design company Barbour Spangle Design, to share their thoughts about how retailers can get attention and create excitement in their outdoor furnishings departments.
Low Hanging Fruit
Connie Post observed, “There are few retailers who expend much effort on display for the extended living category. It’s a simple fact that outdoor furniture is low hanging fruit for each and every retailer that sells a sofa or dining set. WHY? Because women like to decorate and create the perfect living environments for their families and friends no matter the budget.
“Most retailers treat outdoor furnishings as a commodity category, in it for the fast seasonal buck. No real efforts are made to display it properly. Many do not even stock enough SKUs, or demonstrate the commitment required to WOW their customers. Creating that WOW factor is necessary to generate great sales.
“Outdoor is baffling to many home furnishings retailers, and some have not achieved satisfactory results with outdoor furniture in the past. Well I am here to say that the world of retail has changed!
Christi Barbour generally agrees. “There's always room for improvement, she suggests. “We see some retailers that do an amazing job displaying outdoor furniture, others that do a poor job, and many floating somewhere in the middle.
Targeting is Important
Barbour told us that compelling stories for an outdoor home furnishing store or department can’t be created in a vacuum. “In order to differentiate and target outdoor furniture displays effectively, they must be fine tuned to resonate with target customer groups.” Displays can’t just be a mirror that reflects a general ideal of a typical customer's lifestyle,” she advises. “The story needs to be finely tuned to the lifestyle each shopper who visits wants to live.” Targeted buying and focused display is what’s needed. Retailers must ask themselves, “What’s the setting and lifestyle? Does it address urban, suburban or rural primary residences, or perhaps vacation homes? Are customers looking for functional spaces and/or a little bit of an oasis, an escape? Taking the time to know and consider the desires of customer groups is important. So is developing a working knowledge of the products and categories needed to attract attention and address those desires with a thoughtful display story. Because, if the story isn’t there, it won’t convey the lifestyle that customers are trying to live."
“Retailers who just line up outdoor furniture and expect it to sell on it's own,” adds Post, “are leaving money on the table. They are sending customers somewhere else to complete the setting.
“Retailers should take note,” she emphasized, “The bar has been raised by online retailers and wonderful magazines that come in the mail from Front Gate, Pottery Barn and others. Every photograph is decked out to the nines with decor, shot in perfect REALISTIC settings.
“Imagine this; a husband and wife have been discussing new outdoor furniture for their patio, deck or porch. Believe you me, the lady of the house will look through magazines and surf the web to see what is NEW and get an idea of what will fit her lifestyle. Over coffee in the morning, or after dinner she will share finds with the hubby. Let’s say this Mr. and Mrs. America come to your store, and they walk out of your store because your products and displays fail to measure up to their online research. Their expectations from shopping at home were high. They were seduced by lovely photography that told a story about how they want to live and entertain, one that was beautifully decorated and complete. When retailers set a low bar in terms of product selection and display, shoppers who are looking to fulfill their dreams, will be less likely to buy. Naked furniture says nothing, a completely decorated vignette says; "Take me home, you want to live here!
“Gentleman & Ladies, it starts at the front door, a porch or a landing. That is the first impression made before guests enter a home. Women know this. A beautiful wreath on the front door, or a welcoming doormat is top of mind with most women. What retailers need to know is that she will not only decorate this extended living space with smart looking chairs or rockers, she will add an outdoor area rug, a garden stool, and maybe a piece of pottery to house a beautiful plant.
“Women might not be able to justify redoing the living room upholstery every few years, but will add new decorative details, paint the walls and add a rug to spice it up. But when it comes to that deck, patio, screened porch or back stoop she will update more often simply due to the natural elements of dirt, rain and snow that make everything look tired more quickly.”
She Wants It All?
Post continued, “Here in lies the low hanging fruit; the same woman who decorates and moves her furniture around yearly is the same woman who wants a beautiful outdoor space to live in. From the top to the bottom, she wants perfection, everything to go together in a colorful display which includes, rugs, outdoor lighting, pillows galore, statues, fountains and outdoor wall décor. She wants it ALL! Just like she does for the beautiful spaces inside of her home."
But it’s possible to add too much in the way of accessories," suggests Christi Barbour. “One big problem our designers see is that retailers over-accessorize their outdoor departments. They really miss the mark by over-filling them with grill equipment, fake glasses of lemonade or iced tea, then, on top of that, they add layer upon layer of accessories.
“Sometimes there is just too much going on, but from a design and sales point of view, less is sometimes better. There’s another problem with over-accessorized spaces. It can make it hard for shoppers to understand which products are actually for sale and which ones are just window dressing.
“We've noticed that over accessorizing is a bigger issue at stores that carry lower end goods. Retailers may think that doing this helps create a mood, but it’s not really necessary to telling a compelling story.
“As a retailer,” Barbour continued, “telling a story through display is very important because at the end of the day what retailers need to do is give their consumers a glimpse of their own lives. Whether a store uses an outside designer to bring this story to life or does it internally, displays should give customers a glimpse of what their backyards, patios, porches or deck spaces could be. That has to be the starting point. The presentation doesn't necessarily have to be a product story from the standpoint of a particular manufacturer. The best outdoor departments capture a shopper’s imagination when they're walking through the store. When shoppers see them they should think, ‘We could have that on our patio. That could be our patio!’
“That realization, that excitement, can easily be channeled by sales associates into successful sales presentations because suddenly there’s an engaged buyer who wants to purchase everything there, take it home so they can live that dream.”
Retail Display Ideas
"Last October I had the pleasure of re-branding Oasis Home with a new outdoor furniture showroom and presentation,” Post recalls. This gave me the opportunity to develop ideas about how to treat the category and encourage better presentations.
“These ideas include using oversized murals on the walls of outdoor home furnishings displays. This has a tremendous impact. At Oasis Home vignettes are decorated top to bottom in realistic fashion that include: rugs, wall decor, lights, faux food on tables, beach towels rolled, decorative accents and tons of flowers! A well-done showroom makes products look better and will help differentiate you from the competition.
“I am a big believer in movable walls and displays. In the renovation of FWDG in Beaufort, SC, 4' x 3' high planter boxes from Foster's Point were used to divide the outdoor department from the rest of the indoor showroom. We also added an aisle down the middle of the department with LSI flooring that looks like real grass and stone path (see exhibits).
"Another showroom project in Denver, CO., Incorporated a screened in faux porch along with a faux swimming pool created with LSI vinyl tiles that look like water! Lounge chairs will sit all around the faux pool for customers to test out. This will have a cabana set up against a huge mural of the ocean in the background. There is also a faux outdoor fireplace. It will be worth the trip to see this 178,000 sq ft store once the installation is completed late this summer.
“Point of sale imagery,” Barbour added, “is a great way to create a mood. Add a wall of artificial greenery or use graphics to give your buyer a glimpse of green space. Ikea is doing a really good job of incorporating graphics into its outdoor vignettes, giving the impression that you're sitting outside. It lends just a little bit of lifestyle atmosphere, but isn't over the top. Remember that not every surface has to be covered to convey that this is an outdoor space.
Space and Time
“For some stores obviously,” Barbour continued, “it's going to make sense for them to keep outdoor furnishings displays open year round and for others balancing the product display space from season to season makes more sense. There's really no magical formula. And if there is the opportunity to display the outdoor category in an outdoor environment, we hands down think it's a good idea. This is true even if it's just one setting with the balance of the outdoor items shown inside the store. Some landscaping may be needed to create an outdoor patio. Outdoor displays can be enhanced with the addition of decorative fencing, a wall, fireplace or cooking feature. Any of these elements will help. Again, tell a story that helps customers to see themselves and their own environment. Any time there's an opportunity to do an exterior display in conjunction with retail sales on an interior floor, we highly recommend that. It has a big impact on sales."
Display Focal Points
Barbour also suggested that retailers should create at least one special vignette or one focal point that helps set the outdoor display apart to create a powerful outdoor ambiance. “Consider adding pavers, fencing, the impression of landscaping, outdoor lighting, a water or fire feature, an outdoor kitchen, pergola, gazebo or tall fireplace. This is especially important in a multi-category store where consumers may not be specifically shopping for outdoor furniture. Seeing visual cues of outdoor living will draw them in.
“And, while we are discussing focal points, for retailers that choose to install an outdoor kitchen area, why not host cooking classes, grilling demonstrations and events. Bring in a grill master, and invite customers to come by your store, grab a hot dog, hamburger and learn more about outdoor living or promotions on products from companies X, Y and Z. It’s an excellent way for stores to differentiate their outdoor furniture displays from mass market big box stores."
Barbour again emphasized that it’s not necessary to go over the top with too many focal point areas. “A central focal point,” she notes, “can be surrounded by much less elaborate displays. These will be equally as well received once you’ve already set that tone, set that prominent area apart, and gotten shoppers in the mood.”
Color & Accessories
Many of Barbour Spangle Design's clients choose to add color with accents that are easily changed from season to season. “They choose to show sofas, loveseats or chairs in neutral fabrics, then add pops of colors with pillows, tableware and accents," said Barbour. "This allows them to change the look and feel of their displays at lower cost, and builds in flexibility. Consumers may also choose to buy larger investment pieces in neutral colors so they can change the personality of a space more easily by updating rugs, lighting and umbrellas.
“Aside from adding color to displays, rugs help to anchor seating and dining arrangements. Especially today, consumers are looking to create shaded areas. Using umbrellas also add height to displays, another visual cue to attract attention."
Other Retail Tools
In closing, Furniture World asked Post and Barbour about High Point, Las Vegas and the Chicago Casual Show. Barbour suggested, “Retailers who are serious about the outdoor category need to visit furniture markets. These shows and Chicago in particular have wonderful presentations, great examples of how to present products, and knowledgeable people who can be very helpful."
Post agreed, "The most wonderful thing about making time to attend the Chicago outdoor show is you leave with a sense of the future. By this I mean the evolution of outdoor life. Extended living spaces are the newest trend and low hanging fruit for furniture retailers, another chance to bring customers into the stores. By attending markets you can get the best display ideas for your stores, see the latest styles.
"Simply working with reps in stores doesn't give a good picture of the opportunities that await retailers with outdoor furniture!
About Connie Post: A retail design strategist, author, trend translator and developer of both product and brands, Connie Post has built a career on understanding where consumers are, what they want most, and where they are going next. A standard bearer of visual marketing in the home furnishings industry, she is responsible for the look of more than 20 million square feet of retail and wholesale space. Driven by a design philosophy that emphasizes affordability and return-on-investment, her firm, Connie Post Affordable Design, provides retailers and manufacturers with fresh and innovative environments that elevate the guest experience. For more information, visit www.conniepost.com.
About Christi Barbour: Christi Barbour is a founder and partner at the High Point based residential, commercial, and showroom interiors design company Barbour Spangle Design. Founded by Christi Barbour and Christi Spangle, Barbour Spangle Design believes in offering broader solutions for clients, a bigger playground for creativity and innovation, and productive collaboration. The firm specializes in luxury residential, showroom, commercial, healthcare and educational design, applying best ideas and solutions from each to any project. From materials to technology to aesthetic trends, they offer clients a universe of design possibilities to create spaces that genuinely work for, excite and inspire their users. For more information, visit barbourspangle.com.
Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada. In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.