As small businesses shake off the cold weather sales slumps, and welcome sunnier temperatures, it’s time to consider capitalizing on the outdoor earning potential of patio furniture. Expanding your patio furniture offerings could drive profits and set your garden center apart from the big-box stores. We talked to three retail garden centers that are successful in selling outdoor furniture for their best-practice tips, along with the latest trends and display tricks.
Jessica Salisbury, CEO and creative director at Village Green Home & Garden in Rockford, Illinois, says that her IGC started selling patio furniture more than 30 years and hasn’t looked back since. In fact, patio furniture makes up 51% of Village Green’s business.
Kate Terrell, general manager of Wallace’s Garden Center in Bettendorf, Iowa, says Wallace’s has sold outdoor furniture for nearly 20 years, and it contributes to a decent chunk of profits.
“Last year I think it was probably 10-15% [of profits], which sounds low, but when you add in all those accessory pieces, it’s really a big part of our center and it’s a big part of our merchandising,” she says.
Similarly, AJ Petitti, president of Petitti Garden Centers in the Cleveland, Ohio, area shares that they have been selling patio furniture for more than 15 years, and about 10% of their sales come from this category.
Salisbury says the latest trends she’s noticed are that customers are drawn to neutral tones while accessories provide pops of color. “Pillows, rugs, pottery — that’s where they’re drawing in all of the color, but the base fabric on a lot of the furniture is still in that neutral tone,” she says.
Petitti also says that neural tones are popular with consumers. “Traditional pieces do really well, and accent pillows are still going really strong,” he says. “Cantilever umbrellas have really been picking up steam, too.”
Terrell notes that there is an uptick in sales from furniture made of recycled plastics. People like the fact that it’s made from post-consumer recyclables and, while it is expensive, the materials are durable and weather resistant. Terrell says they’ve experienced a resurgence in natural materials too, such as eucalyptus and teak.
“A lot of people lose their price resistance once they realize, ‘Oh my gosh, I can sit this on my deck and never move it again,’” Terrell says.
Traditionally, Wallace’s best-selling colors are neutral slate gray, chocolate or lighter neutral shades in between. However, a lot of people shy away from white because of the dirt, Terrell says. People with swimming pools tend to buy bright-colored pub set chairs to go around the pool and offering tropical colors like lime green or turquoise are a good way to cater to those people, she says.
Both Salisbury and Terrell agree that fire pits are huge sellers in the Midwest. They help extend the seasons because consumers use them earlier in the spring and later on in the fall.
“People are doing outdoor seating groups, whether it’s sofas, sectionals, chat groups,” Salisbury says. “It’s about cocktailing and conversations and having fun, and that’s usually done around a fire pit.”
To ensure your patio furniture offerings are getting the right exposure, it’s crucial to show them off properly. Salisbury, Terrell and Petitti recommend carving out large areas of indoor floorspace specifically set aside for outdoor furniture.
“This is a category that we believe a lot more people should be involved in, but we think it’s definitely a category that people are doing wrong,” Salisbury says. “To make this a category a profitable one, you have to dedicate indoor space to it, rather than outdoor. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, let’s do this outside.’ And it’s not always the best case.”
IGC retailers should dedicate a lot of space to it if it’s a category they want to pursue, which means putting money towards this department. However, the return is worth it, according to these IGCs. Salisbury recommends that retailers focus on creating lifestyle displays so consumers can easily envision how it will look in their yards.
Petitti agrees. “Just bringing in two or three sets isn’t going to do anything for you. It takes some square footage, so you need some room to do the category and do it well,” he says.
At Wallace’s, they focus on what they have in stock, which provides the customer with immediacy. This also provides the customer with incentive to shop small instead of online, which can take weeks of waiting. “We do it differently than a lot of stores in that we sell floor models and we sell stock. We don’t like to special order,” Terrell says.
Offering outdoor furniture at an array of pricing can help with various budgets.
“We offer everything for every pocketbook. We offer an opening price point, which for us — for like a dining set — would be $1,000. And then our most expensive set is $15,000. That sweet spot is the middle price range, that $2,500 to $3,000 price,” Salisbury says.
For a long time, Terrell says they tried to stick in the middle price points, but had a hard time doing so.
“When we would kind of sacrifice quality for cheaper price points, we personally had a hard time selling it to people because there’s a lot of middle of the road out there in the market,” Terrell says.
She says their real wood or recycled plastic furniture tends to be on the high end of the price point, while their outdoor interiors tend to be middle-of-the-road. They also offer low price point options such as benches. At Petitti, they offer selections between $999 and $7,999, and try not to stray from those points.
Events and sales are a good way to promote the category. At Village Green, Salisbury says they promote primarily through events. They host two grilling events, but their biggest promotional event is their spring kick-off sale, where customers can come in and customize all of their furniture.
“They get that at a discount, and that’s a one-time of year sale,” Salisbury says.
Petitti says that they find the most success through discounts, where they start the season at 25% off and then 40% off as the season progress.
“The way our market works, it’s promotionally driven, so we have to start off the season by promoting.” Petitti says.
If you’re thinking about selling this category, Salisbury and Terrell both recommend buying outdoor furniture at Casual Market Chicago, a furniture show in Illinois.
“It is the hub of where all the outdoor furniture comes from. And there are price categories in there for everybody’s budget, there’s opening price points and there is really, really high ticket,” Salisbury says.
To make the category work, Salisbury, Terrell and Petitti recommend going all-in. Dedication and commitment to the category is key to making it a profitable category. “Ambiance is an important part of selling the category, you’ve got to have it in the right place. If you’re going to get in the category, be serious about it,” Petitti says.