By Mark Brock
The casual furniture fabrics industry is one of the most affable you’ll find anywhere. During trade shows everyone is cordial, and an expression you often hear is that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” implying that as the casual furniture fabrics marketplace thrives, everyone benefits equally.
Beneath this calm exterior, however, there is fierce competition among the leading competitors for market share. This competition is reflected in aggressive business strategies and through impassioned sales pitches occurring in venues as varied as the Chicago Casual Market and the sales floors of specialty retailers.
Every casual furniture fabrics company faces challenges that are both push and pull in nature – push fabrics through the channel by increasing placements with casual furniture manufacturers, and pull those fabrics through with consumers and specialty retailers. Further complicating the picture is the continuing growth of e-commerce and the market strength of mass merchants.
It’s an interesting time in the life of casual furniture fabrics companies and the specialty retailers who depend on them. Here’s a look at four of the major players.
Sunbrella – The Leader
Undisputed market leader in premium casual fabrics
Brand recognition and continuing investments
Specialized support for specialty retailers
The Sunbrella brand continues to dominate the casual furniture fabrics market, and for good reason.
Glen Raven Custom Fabrics launched the Sunbrella brand in 1961 and has continually invested in that brand through consumer and trade advertising, marketing and public relations, along with technical and design innovation. In many ways, the Sunbrella brand has helped to propel the casual furniture industry into new generations of products that are as durable and easy care as they are stylish. Glen Raven demonstrates staying power when it comes to the invention, marketing and eventual market acceptance of new applications for Sunbrella fabrics.
Glen Raven’s primary U.S. manufacturing center in Anderson, South Carolina, is a showplace for the latest in fabric technology, all within a culture intensely focused on associate safety, product quality and productivity. Glen Raven’s commitment to continuing industry leadership was recently reinforced with its purchase of Sunbury Textile Mills, a long-time trade partner that pioneered the expansion of Sunbrella fabrics into intricately decorative styles. This purchase further solidifies Sunbrella’s market position of “Design + Performance.”
An essential part of Glen Raven’s strategy for the Sunbrella brand is contained in the “Sunbrella brand promise.” This promise encompasses not only the brand’s well-known performance story, but also includes other aspects of the Sunbrella experience, including customer service, warranty protection, brand support, styling leadership and product innovation.
Well-informed and highly motivated homeowners recognize the Sunbrella brand by name and often equate it with outdoor performance fabrics in general. Glen Raven’s opportunity is to continue providing marketing support and unique products for specialty retailers as the brand’s popularity grows globally and as Glen Raven continues to extend Sunbrella fabrics across additional products and channels. Sunbrella fabrics have been the gold standard for the outdoors for decades, and inspired competition from many different quarters.
Outdura – Renewed Investments
Second largest producer of solution-dyed acrylic fabrics
Loyal customer base, weaving expertise
Leverage recent investments, build the brand
The second largest supplier of solution-dyed acrylic fabrics in the U.S. is the Outdura brand, which has attracted a loyal customer base since its introduction in the late 1990s.
Outdura fabrics are produced in a plant that opened in Hudson, North Carolina, in 1904; it has been continually updated and expanded over many years. The future of the Outdura brand in the casual furniture market was reassured in 2011 when it was purchased by Austria-based Sattler AG, an international leader in solution-dyed acrylic fabrics. Sattler has made essential investments in plant, equipment, people and processes in Hudson, which serves as the North American headquarters for Sattler’s global portfolio of products. Sattler has even purchased additional land next to the Hudson plant, but has yet to announce plans for the site.
Outdura management, sales, marketing and customer service teams have been enhanced for brand support and the creation of an in-house design organization. The in-house design team, including support from Austria, is charged with advancing the Outdura design aesthetic while fostering stronger collaborations among marketing, sales, manufacturing and customers. For 2018, Outdura leadership has committed to investments in brand building and expanded communications within the specialty retail channel.
The greatest opportunity for the Outdura brand organization is to leverage financial investments, management processes and technical expertise from Sattler AG in building upon its customer base. The Outdura brand is well positioned to capitalize on the industry’s desire for multiple fabric resources that are financially strong and focused on market-conscious design and responsive customer service.
The Outdura brand has enjoyed industry accolades for styling over the years, and its customer service team prides itself on being large enough to deliver quality fabrics on time, but small enough to bring a personal touch to its customer relationships. Industry observers will watch closely how the Outdura team continues to advance under Sattler’s ownership and investment.
|L to R: Riga Pari from Tempotest, and Return to Eden – Malibu Spruce from Phifer.|
Tempotest Home – Italian Flare
Italian-based producer of premium fabrics
Advanced manufacturing, Italian design panache
Combined strengths of American and Italian design
Textile industry observers are generally familiar with the Parà Group of Italy, a company founded nearly 100 years ago and a leader in interior fabrics. These same industry observers are taking greater notice these days of Parà’s Tempotest brand of performance fabrics as the company targets growth in the U.S.
Parà has made substantial investments to overcome its greatest challenge of improving Tempotest product availability in the U.S. with the opening of a Tempotest Home distribution center in Dallas for casual furniture fabrics, and creation of a distribution partnership with The Miami Corporation of Ohio for awning and marine fabrics. Additionally, the Tempotest Home design team in Italy has begun collaborating with the U.S. design firm D2, formerly associated with the Outdura brand.
Manufacturing facilities in Italy for Tempotest awning, marine and casual fabrics are among the most advanced worldwide. The Tempotest Home brand for casual furniture also has the advantage of a design team that encompasses not only European styling, but also insights for the U.S. market from proven design leaders. The brand’s point of view is Italian-influenced designs styled for the American market.
With its supply chain challenges largely addressed through investments in U.S. distribution, the Tempotest team is focused on increasing brand recognition among specialty retailers. One of its greatest opportunities is to offer unique styling unlike other competitors in the U.S., a distinction that has already captured the attention of some U.S. casual furniture manufacturers. Creative minds are no doubt at work on how to create a mystique for consumers around this brand’s Italian heritage styled for Americans.
Phifer – New Generations of Sling
Leading producer of sling fabrics
Technically advanced, innovative design
Coordinated fabrics encompassing sling and woven
When it comes to outdoor fabrics that are quick to dry after a summer shower, it’s hard to imagine a material superior to sling. It’s this practical advantage along with styling innovation and technical strengths that have made the Phifertex brand a leader among sling fabrics.
The strength of the Phifertex brand is based on technology and design innovation. Phifer has been a leader in weaving engineered materials since the early 1950s,and is applying this expertise to continued innovations in performance, look and feel for the Phifertex brand. Headquartered in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the company has pushed the boundaries on how sling fabrics look, feel and perform.
At the same time, Phifer has diversified its offerings with the GeoBella brand of fabrics woven from recycled Olefin fibers. GeoBella conveys a Green story and offers a value price point in comparison to solution-dyed acrylics. For consumers, the Green story encourages purchase intent when all other things, including price and styling, are compelling.
Phifer offers specialty retailers an opportunity to provide coordinated furniture sets featuring both sling and deep seating options, along with unexpected applications for sling materials, such as fully upholstered pieces.
The company is increasing its investment in brand support, sampling materials and marketing collateral for specialty retailers. Some of the greatest opportunities for Phifer include educating consumers about the advances in look and feel for engineered sling fabrics, and the value-to-performance position of Olefin fibers.
Are Casual Fabrics Competitive? – You Bet They Are!
Sunbrella, Outdura, Tempotest Home and Phifertex – these are four of the industry’s leaders in fabrics for casual furniture, and there are certainly others vying for a slice of the market. Competition among these and other brands continues to raise the bar for casual furniture fabrics in durability, comfort, styling and customer service. Innovations in fiber technology and fabric construction are not only enhancing performance, but also giving designers a free hand in bringing beautiful designs to life with virtually no limits on creative look and feel. Each manufacturer is vying for a unique and compelling brand position with increasing budgets for marketing support.
Who are the beneficiaries of this competition? Certainly consumers are benefitting from fabrics that are as comfortable and beautiful as they are long lasting. But so are specialty retailers who can use these fabric innovations to compete with Internet sellers and mass merchants. The winners will be retailers who can merchandise their showrooms to the fullest effect, select fabrics that match the tastes of their customers, capitalize on marketing support from manufacturers, and effectively tell the unique stories of each of the fabric brands they represent.