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Hearth & Home February 2014

Weekend Retreat dining from Lloyd Flanders.

Still A Winner

By Tom Lassiter

Sales of woven products are still on a roll; innovation in design could keep them there.

Resin wicker furniture has become the casual furniture industry’s darling over the last decade. One by one, more and more manufacturers have succumbed to resin wicker’s charm. Companies once exclusively dedicated to teak products have expanded into outdoor wicker. So have makers of traditional aluminum outdoor furniture, transitioning to wrapping extruded aluminum frames in durable vinyl fiber.

The results of this still-fresh love affair are nothing short of dramatic.

Resin wicker, as a rule, has been a rousing success. Manufacturers such as Ratana and NorthCape International have focused almost exclusively on the category. Resin wicker has been fundamental to the growth of companies such as Ebel, Inc. and Summer Classics. Add to that list Agio, Gloster, Kingsley-Bate, Telescope Casual Furniture, and Lane Venture.

Are we leaving anyone out? Of course. The list goes on and on, with industry stalwarts joined by newcomers in temporary spaces at each fall’s Casual Furniture Market. The constant appearance of new resin wicker providers is reminiscent of the deluge of teak importers that assaulted the North American market several years ago. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the resin wicker action.

The public’s appetite for this ground-breaking category so far has proven insatiable. As Agio President Bob Gaylord says, “Consumers love wicker. They understand it is virtually weatherproof and that the costs are justifiable.”

Resin wicker has something for every taste, from the most conservative designs (similar to the wicker on grandma’s porch) to wildly avant garde looks. The furniture works at poolside, around a fire pit, as the focal point of an Outdoor Room, and even indoors, in the den or family room. Resin wicker, paired with durable solution-dyed acrylic fabrics with the hand of fine upholstery, has become the gold standard for deep seating.

“The category continues to experience remarkable growth,” says Mark Bottemiller, national sales manager for Ebel, Inc. Resin wicker helped that company’s sales soar by more than 20 percent in 2012. Last year Ebel’s sales jumped again, this time by more than 40 percent. Understandably, Bottemiller says, “We’re very happy.”

Mark Gorr, vice president for operations at Patio Renaissance, says his company enjoyed growth in excess of 20 percent in 2013, continuing a five-year trend of double-digit expansion. “The category,” Gorr says, “does not show signs of slowing down. We anticipate that growth will be over 10 percent for the 2014 season.”

With the U.S. economy showing continuing signs of revived health, Gorr’s prediction may be quite conservative.

Retailers share in the affection for resin wicker.

“Sectionals this year (2013) went through the roof,” says Steve Boutin, a sales person at Sun & Ski in Avon, Connecticut. The 30-store group, based in Houston, formerly was known as Tennis & Ski Warehouse. Several locations (some of which are rebranded acquisitions) offer patio furniture.

Boutin says the popularity of deep-seating resin wicker significantly overshadows that of dining furniture, a theme often heard from retailers. But that’s not an abiding concern. Consumer desire for matchy-matchy home decor has diminished, and resin wicker easily mingles with other materials, from solid wood to cast aluminum. Manufacturers including Gloster, Summer Classics and Kingsley-Bate have exploited vinyl’s adaptability with mixed-media collections that combine resin wicker with wood accents or exposed aluminum frames, polished or painted.

Innovation in fiber texture and color, especially at the upper end of the category, continues (though not at a breakneck pace). Fiber (also called spline) that mimics the look of water hyacinth introduced new looks for several manufacturers in recent seasons.

“I’m seeing as much innovation in outdoor wicker as we were seeing in cast aluminum when it was really hot,” says Bruce Aronson of Pool & Patio Center in Metairie, Louisiana. He notes that most innovation is from higher-end manufacturers such as Ebel. He attributes much of his shop’s success with Ebel to that company’s design leadership. “Ebel has tried to stay on the cutting edge,” Aronson says, “and I think some of their designs achieve that. At the lower end, there isn’t much innovation.”

Aronson says consumer awareness about the category is strong, with customers frequently asking to see outdoor wicker. The category, he says, “has got legs. I think it will be strong for at least a couple more years.”

Particular groups also have market staying power. Grand Traverse, which was Lloyd Flanders’ first resin wicker group, remains the company’s best-selling resin product after seven seasons on the market. “The category is still extremely viable,” says Lou Rosebrock, senior vice president for sales and marketing.

Some retailers, however, see the love affair cooling.

“I don’t think (consumers) are as crazy about it as they once were,” says Barbara Holliman, co-owner of Outside Inspirations in Wexford, Pennsylvania. She says the category suffers from a lack of innovation. Fiber colors and weaves, she says, are too samey. There’s also a perception among her customers, she says, that woven furniture “is a little more difficult to clean, in between all the wicker on the piece.”

On the other hand, Holliman says, shoppers show no resistance to price. “We’re an upper-end store,” she says, carrying resin wicker by Lane Venture, Summer Classics, Century Furniture and Gloster.

The resin wicker category “is definitely slowing down,” says Garrett Wallace, co-owner at Yard Art Patio & Fireplace in Plano, Texas. His shop once displayed upwards of 15 groups, but in recent years has “cut back to the winners. This year, we have only about seven styles.”

Wallace says his customers lean toward traditional design, and the majority of new resin wicker introductions tend to be more contemporary. For customers interested in traditional styles, he says, the designs “all start looking the same.”

Design uniformity across the category in certain contemporary styles confronts consumers and retailers. From 15 feet, one manufacturer’s resin wicker cubist deep-seating group can look much like another’s. It’s up to the retailer to educate the shopper about the value present in higher-priced products. Comfort, too, becomes a deciding factor when shoppers compare better deep seating with promotionally priced goods.

“Once you actually see, touch, feel and sit on the furniture, you can tell that there are huge differences in terms of workmanship, quality and comfort,” says Winnie Ng, U.S. sales manager for Ratana.

Getting consumers across that hurdle will continue to be a challenge, especially with growing numbers of shoppers buying furniture over the Internet without the benefit of a sit test. For those shoppers, price usually becomes the deciding factor. They go with low.

It’s those “crazy price points” that concern Bew White, president of Summer Classics. “Resin wicker is the best category for the near future and possibly the long term, unless ‘the race to the bottom’ kills it. The square block frame is headed to the lowest price possible. I fear the ‘race to the bottom’ in the square frame will hurt the whole category.”

White’s concerns call to mind a prior “race to the bottom” in the casual furniture industry. Overheated competition and cheaply produced knock-offs effectively decimated an extremely successful category. Those were the days when injection-molded furniture, not woven wicker, was the industry darling.

The category’s generic name? Resin.

Not Woven Resin Furniture

Moraya Bay lounge chair from Lane Venture.

Consumers who prefer loom wicker and hand-woven rattan furniture usually fall into one of two groups. Sometimes they straddle both. These shoppers typically favor natural materials over synthetics, or they associate traditionally-styled and constructed porch furniture with generations past. Having furniture similar to that enjoyed by a beloved relative imbues the home with a nostalgic warmth.

That’s the analysis of Dudley Flanders, president of Lloyd Flanders, and a perspective shared by Zac Bryant, vice president of Design and Development for Lane Venture. Their companies are North America’s premier providers of loom wicker and hand-woven rattan casual furniture.

“There is a certain customer who looks for it,” Bryant says. Flanders agrees. “There is that customer who is kind of anti-plastic,” he says “Loom has a more natural feel than most vinyl. If people are really paying attention, they like it.”

Flanders says his company saw growth in its loom business in 2013.

“We do very well in the design trade and in the upper-end, special-order business,” he explains. Customers in that market want personalization, he says, which loom wicker and rattan offer through a wide variety of choices in colors and finishes.

Unlike resin wicker furniture, which typically is limited to one or two fiber colors per collection, natural materials are “available in a multitude of colors,” Flanders says. Lloyd Flanders’ loom furniture is produced in the United States, allowing swift customization for special orders. The company offers more than 20 colors and a 12-day manufacturing turnaround.

Lane Venture’s rattan furniture is constructed in Asia but finished at its facilities in North Carolina. The company’s rattan business “is what brought us to the dance in the outdoor business,” Bryant says. “It’s at the core of what we do” and accounts for about a third of Lane Venture’s business.

Lane Venture will introduce a new palette of finishes this year (for 2015 products), Bryant says, “plus new accent pieces designed for the porch.”

Lloyd Flanders’ range of loom products includes furniture for traditionalists as well as for those with more modern tastes. “We will bring out a new contemporary collection this season, but we still have in our line up quite a few traditional loom groups,” Flanders says.

He anticipates increased demand for what he calls “nostalgic looks,” with a new generation of customers who prefer loom wicker. They associate it with the lifestyles of their parents, grandparents or other loved ones.

“Our Reflections collection continues to stay strong, and that’s our oldest full-line collection,” Flanders says.

Tradition Meets Beauty

Inspired by the sedimentary lines of the Southwest deserts, the Sierra collection’s wide stance and mid-century modern design sets a plateau for bold and beautiful outdoor wicker furniture design. Sierra stacks wide layers of ultra-UV resistant, seven mm woven, N-dura resin and Resysta, an environmentally friendly material made of rice hulls, oil and salt. The collection is finished in Sandalwood Resysta and Mahogany resin.
From Summer Classics; visit

High and Plush

Havana Club has two finishes – Espresso Country ESC (a dark tone) and Taupe Country TAC (a lighter tone) and is constructed with double layers combining flat and core durable resin weaving. The high-back group has deep plush cushions for total comfort and is available in living room, dining room and accessory pieces for a variety of outdoor settings.
From Ratana Home & Floral; visit

Sierra Collection

Inspired by the sedimentary lines of the Southwest deserts, the Sierra collection’s wide stance and mid-century modern design sets a plateau for bold and beautiful outdoor wicker furniture design. Sierra stacks wide layers of ultra-UV resistant, seven mm woven, N-dura resin and Resysta, an environmentally friendly material made of rice hulls, oil and salt. The collection is finished in Sandalwood Resysta and Mahogany resin.
From Summer Classics; visit

Classic Wicker

The Southampton Dining collection is an updated version of classic, open-weave wicker furniture. All pieces are hand-woven using extra large fiber, making the furniture heavier and more substantial. The collection includes a dining armchair, dining side chair, sofa, settee, lounge chair, ottoman, chaise, rocker and occasional tables. Southampton comes in an Oyster wicker color or can be special ordered in additional colors.
From Kingsley-Bate; visit

Pelican Reef/Panama Jack Outdoor

The St. Barths collection offers corner, armless chair, coffee table and ottoman pieces for a variety of setups from modular sectional to sofa or loveseat. Constructed with extruded aluminum frames, the collection will not rust. An upgrade to Sunbrella cushion fabrics is available; throw pillows are sold separately.
From Pelican Reef/Panama Jack Outdoor; visit

Unique Style

The Topaz Collection has unique style and durability. Viro fiber cushions sit on a lightweight aluminum frame. Homeowners can configure a sectional or just an armchair lounge sofa with matching coffee table or ottoman for a variety of seating options. Topaz outdoor furniture brings a sophisticated, unique look to any outdoor space.
From Skyline Design; visit

Versatile Modular Seating

The Banyan Bay Modular Seating Collection offers style and individual comfort. Each segment can be attached to another with special nylon clips, giving the preferred sectional configuration stability front to back and side to side. Exposed bases and stamped aluminum tabletops can be finished in a choice of 11 colors; the weathered weave color coordinates with a choice of fabrics.
From Winston Furniture; visit

Palisades Deep Seating Collection

Modern outdoor entertaining takes on a hint of tradition with the Palisades Deep Seating Collection. Handcrafted all-weather wicker is woven around rust-free aluminum frames, giving long-lasting beauty for outdoor entertaining. With attractive coordinating accessories, comfortable weather-resistant cushions and accent pillows, Palisades fits any outdoor space where friends and family gather.
From Agio; visit

Rich Weave

The Tisdale Collection includes seating, dining and chat configurations in hand-woven, weather and UV-resistant HDPE resin in a rich mahogany weave finish over a sturdy, commercial-grade aluminum frame, with plush cushions available in a choice of fabrics. A traditional rounded arm design adds further style to the collection.
From North Cape International; visit

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