Elevating your outdoor furniture department can be an investment that boosts sales and caters to shoppers’ increasing desire to maximize their outdoor spaces.
According to the Home Improvement Research Institute, outdoor living sales rose steadily in the last decade, with nearly one-third of home improvement customers buying outdoor furniture products in 2018.
“Outdoor furniture is gaining momentum,” says Mariah Maydew, president and CEO of Fruehauf’s, a 40,000-square-foot outdoor furniture business in Westminster, Colorado. “People are prioritizing spending time outside and they’re thinking of outdoor spaces as extensions of their houses. It’s truly another room to furnish.”
For many hardware retailers, outdoor furniture remains a reliable part of their inventory. Customer service specialist Michael Gricus oversees the outdoor furniture department of Palm Springs Ace in California. He says understanding shoppers’ needs and combining that knowledge with creative merchandising is key to capturing category sales.
“Our team is part of the community,” he says. “That connection lets us know exactly what our customers want for their outdoor spaces.”
Learn how each retailer is adapting their inventory to meet customers’ needs and using in-depth training, community insight and creative merchandising to grow sales in a blooming category.
Want to see more merchandising marvels from Palm Springs Ace and Fruehauf’s? Head over to TheRedT.com/outdoor-ideas to view stunning photos from the companies’ robust outdoor furniture departments.
Creating a Merchandising Oasis
A walk into Palm Springs Ace is an invitation to explore. From every angle, shoppers see new possibilities for outdoor spaces.
Gricus oversees the outdoor furniture department alongside his husband Jay Jones. They both agree merchandising is key in this highly visual category.
“Merchandising is inherent to Jay,” Gricus says. “He’s worked for different designers and furniture companies through the years and his work always gets compliments from our customers. He’s our secret weapon.”
Under their oversight, every corner of the salesfloor feels considered. Black and white vases coordinate with matching pillows to complement a neutral-color couch, delivering a complete decor package for shoppers. Outdoor dining tables are topped with place settings, tableware and unique accent pieces to inspire shoppers to think about their outdoor spaces in a new light.
The pair’s commitment to merchandising is paying off. Gricus says the outdoor furniture section covers roughly 20 percent of the store, but accounts for nearly 40 percent of its overall sales.
At Fruehauf’s, Maydew also prioritizes creative merchandising to boost sales and engage shoppers. Her company uses artificial flowers and plastic food to place atop grills and plates to bring shoppers one step closer to a purchase.
“Set up your products like you would use them at home,” she says. “We want to help the customer imagine using these pieces. Plus, merchandising with accessories and the giftware we carry makes the shopping experience more fun.”
Fruehauf’s also features an exposed brick facade, giving sections of the salesfloor a comfortable, backyard atmosphere. The wall is also an opportunity for the team to showcase home accents and decorations vertically, saving space for larger furniture on the salesfloor.
Both retailers agree strong merchandising not only boosts sales in outdoor furniture, but also in related categories, benefiting the entire operation.
“It’s important for retailers to not only carry outdoor furniture, but also items that complement those pieces,” Gricus says. He says his store’s comprehensive merchandising approach has also delivered higher sales in other categories.
As Goes California: Outdoor Furniture Trends
In his role as customer service specialist and outdoor furniture manager, Michael Gricus says staying on top of upcoming trends is vital. Check out a few of his predictions for new outdoor furniture trends in 2020.
- Play the blues. Pantone named Classic Blue as its 2020 color of the year, but Gricus didn’t expect the coastal color to play well in Palm Springs, where locals favor hues like lime and orange. He’s ordering blue cushions and shades to seize the trend.
- Have a soft spot for fabrics. One of the major trends Gricus sees is a shift from heavy mesh cushions to softer, breathable textiles. Gricus says these cushions can make a huge difference for customers’ outside comfort and should be part of your inventory.
- Show shoppers the ropes. Rope furniture is making inroads in Palm Springs. These pieces use cords for support, instead of blocky, heavy components. This design allows more air to circulate, which in turn helps customers beat the desert heat.
All Set to Sell
Fruehauf’s president and CEO Mariah Maydew says encouraging salespeople to learn about shoppers’ budgets and lifestyles is paramount for success. Review some of her basic selling tips with your staff.
1. Ask open-ended questions. When greeting customers, have a few ready-to-go icebreaker questions in mind. Steer clear of questions with ‘yes/no’ answers and give shoppers time to explain how they want to improve their outdoor space. You’ll learn about their budget and end goal in the first moments of meeting.
2. Assemble products in your mind. Take a hyper-realistic approach to selling. Imagine you’re putting together every purchase. If a customer buys an umbrella, did they also pick up a stand? Envisioning the final setup can help you suggest items for add-on sales and display your product authority to customers.
3. Let customers feel at home. Maydew says clever merchandising is critical for outdoor furniture. Her team places realistic plastic food like steaks and fish on grills and full dinners on place settings to help customers imagine the possibilities to entertain guests at their homes.
Gricus also recommends retailers utilize strong cross-merchandising strategies. Being able to lead customers shopping for outdoor dining sets for the pool area to pool cleaning supplies, inflatables and grills improves the customer experience and spurs add-on sales.
Any Budget for Success
Because Fruehauf’s focuses exclusively on outdoor furniture, Maydew says her customers are usually seeking high-end items. She says because people don’t shop for patio furniture every day, some of her staff’s work includes educating them on the ways different prices reflect varying levels of quality.
“All our products are high-end, but it’s important to explain what that really means to a customer,” she says.
Her team knows that when customers initially balk at a price point, explaining information about the product’s durability, design and warranty is crucial.
Maydew says all sales associates complete an off-site sales training program. In addition, sales representatives visit the store weekly to introduce the Fruehauf team to new choices in the category.
Those weekly sessions are a good opportunity to refresh all employees’ selling skills with helpful pointers.
“A lot of our salespeople have been here for many years,” she says. “We have a high retention rate, so finding ways to remind people about the basics of selling is really important to me.”
Gricus says Palm Springs’ shifting weather gives his team the opportunity to stock a range of items and cater to customers at all price points.
With Palm Springs’ desert climate, Gricus is always able to sell outdoor furniture, but the main selling season runs from mid-November to late spring.
Temperatures rise above 100 degrees F by early spring, and many long-term Palm Springs residents head to cooler climates. In turn, renters and event-goers arrive in the area for major conventions and festivals. Gricus says that changeover is a prime opportunity to serve a new customer base at a lower price point.
“When summer arrives, a lot of people from out of town rent homes and want to furnish them into their own style,” he says. Gricus understands these visitors may not be interested in making expensive purchases, so he adjusts to meet their needs.
“There are some basics any renter wants: outdoor seating, umbrellas and a dining table,” he says.
Gricus says retailers should also be on the lookout for sales outside residential spaces. In the past, his team has provided furniture for local businesses.
Those projects then led to a sales milestone for the company. They provided the furnishings for a historic local estate which now serves as a museum. Purchases made for that project totaled close to $70,000, the single highest transaction in the store’s history.
Setting the Stores Apart
Both Palm Springs Ace and Fruehauf’s have big-box rivals, but Gricus and Maydew say they don’t feel threatened by the chains. Instead, they say their commitment to merchandising, training and community insight gives them a competitive edge.
“It all comes back to knowing your customers and understanding what they want,” he says. “At the big boxes, their inventory is decided by a corporate committee and doesn’t have the same pull as our what we choose to stock.”
Maydew says one defining feature of her business is its focus on stocking durable products, another point of departure from her business and national chains.
“We don’t compete with big boxes,” she says. “Their focus is on getting the price point as low as possible. Our manufacturers focus on getting quality, comfort and design as high as possible. We’re operating on different ends of the spectrum.”
Maydew and Gricus have both seen customers cycle through outdoor furniture sets from big-box chains and come to them when they’re ready to spend more for items designed to last.
Gricus says one extra way to set your store apart is to seek product ideas from local and national markets. He visits design events around Palm Springs and he and his team have also visited major product showcases, including the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and hospitality design event HD Expo + Conference.
“Make your outdoor furniture department your own,” Gricus says. “Don’t try to replicate what others are doing exactly, your inventory should reflect your local market and the people you serve.”