Consumers and interior design clients usually choose outdoor furniture based on look and comfort. Whether resin, aluminum or natural wood, the story behind the materials the furniture is made of can be what closes the sale. By understanding more about the construction materials, retailers can ensure customers select the right products for their lifestyle.
One Word: Polyethelene Weather endurance is always an issue with outdoor furniture so materials that are durable, easily cleaned and include a UV-inhibited color to prevent fading is a popular choice. POLYWOOD's line, as example, is made from lumber manufactured in-house using recycled high-density polyethelene plastics. It;s the same stuff milk jugs are made from.
"The largest factor we see playing a role in a shopper's decision comes down to maintenance and longevity," says Jenni Owens, vice president of business development. "POLYWOOD furniture is built to withstand all four seasons and a range of climates including hot sun, snowy winters, salt spray and heavy winds."
Into the Woods Teak has long been a popular medium for outdoor furniture for a reason, says Tad Varga of Three Birds Casual. He keeps a set of his company's teak furniture outside his northern Indiana home year round. Occasionally, he'll show a photo of the dining set buried under a few feet of snow to emphasize its durability.
Because teak grows in hot, humid climates in the Southern Hemisphere, the wood has a naturally high density of oil that keeps it supple in even the worst conditions. As a result, it can last untreated for decades. "Cruise ships use teak for their decks because they don't want to replace all their flooring every few years," says Varga. "They know teak will last for a long time in extremely hot and cold climates. It doesn't crack or splinter or rot like a typical wood."
Varga adds that some consumers use a teak protector, but only for looks and not durability. More people, he says, are eschewing protectors and allowing the wood to age naturally into a gray shade.
The same holds true for Ipe, the type of wood Jensen Leisure Furniture features in many of its collections. "Ipe is really prominent in the outdoor decking industry because of the density of the wood," says Jensen's Todd Crandall. "Ipe is about twice the density of teak and almost twice as heavy. It's impervious to insects and other things that can damage the wood, and it's very smooth." That look and durability matters to consumers, he says.
The Ipe wood Jensen uses is Forest Stewardship Council certified, meaning the timber is selectively harvested in an environmentally safe way. Crandall says the company knows the chain of custody of each piece of wood it uses, going all the way back to the forest.
Not Your Grandpa's Aluminum Man-made materials continue to make strides to compete in durability and overall look with natural resources. Like POLYWOOD's recycled high-density polyethelene plastic, the latest aluminum and marine-grade polymers (MGP) are nearly indestructible. Telescope Causal is known for its aluminum furniture and uses MGP in several of its latest collections.
Telescope's Lew Tucker warns of significant variance in the quality of aluminum used in outdoor furniture. The more you can tell the customer or client about the line you're selling, the better. "Consumers assume all aluminum furniture frames are hollow," says Tucker. "But Telescope has additional barriers inside that add extra durability."
Ratana also uses aluminum frames in many of its furniture lines. "The best part about aluminum is how versatile and low maintenance it is," says Ratana's vice president of business development, Joanna Leung. "It's very easy to clean relative to other materials. All you really need to do is hose it down."
Leung agrees that the more detail a customer or client hears about the materials, the better the odds of getting the sale. She says designers and retailers should also tout finishes. Ratana offers high-quality powder coated aluminum and aluminum that is hand-brushed, a labor intensive texturing process that makes it look like wood.
Learning about these and other details can take time. But manufacturers agree that once clients and customers learn that a set of outdoor furniture is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, they're ready to buy.
Images courtesy of Telescope Casual, POLYWOOD, Jensen Leisure Furniture and Ratana.