Interview with Cinde Ingram of Casual Living
Air-n-Water: For those who are unfamiliar, would you just briefly describe Casual Living Magazine?
Cinde Ingram: Casual Living has two main facets: a print magazine that is over 50-years-old as well as an e-newsletter that reaches about 15,000 industry subscribers. Our tag line is, "The Voice of a Leisure Marketplace" and we cover outdoor furniture and accessories such as BBQ grills, spas and water features.
AnW: Are you primarily business to business?
AnW: And what about you? How did you become involved with CLM?
CI: I got involved with CL at the end of 2001 and my background prior to that was journalism, writing to the consumer for newspapers, some magazines before that.
AnW: Anything we might have read?
CI: (laughingly) I don't know. Probably not because it's in North Carolina. I covered the indoor furniture industry so wrote to the consumer from that angle. When I joined CLM 10 years ago I learned about the outdoor furniture world.
AnW: What kind of market was out in North Carolina?
CI: The High Point market, the main, number one market for selling indoor furnishings. The International Outdoor Furnishing Market in Chicago, is the primary market for most casual furnishings as well as accessories. Most buyers will gather there so that they can meet other players and sub-markets where products are sold. The Atlanta, Dallas, and to a smaller extent, Las Vegas, markets cover accessories and furniture.
AnW: Does anything exist on the west coast?
CI: Not as much as there used to be. High Point has more of the staying power and has joined with Las Vegas groups and now International Market Centers is in charge of those now.
AnW: With businesses being your particular focus, what kind of partners do you have? What sort of unique needs exist for that segment?
CI: We have some coverage of the contract market through another trade show, the HD Expo in Las Vegas. A smaller one, formerly known as HD Boutique but now known as HD Americas which is centered around smaller chains and restaurants that get most of their products through that. We cover those and we have seen growth and evolution in the outdoor part of that over the last 10 or so years.
AnW: Now, you just came back from a conference that CLM hosted. What was going on there? What was most exciting that you saw?
CI: A lot of what we were seeing were retailers combining "Click-and-Brick" shopping and using social media to drive more traffic. "Click-and-Brick" refers to mixing both online and conventional brick-and-mortar shopping. Somewhere where people can see and feel products before buying. There seems to be a lot of discussion with that. And there are some who are entirely online.
AnW: How have industry manufacturers moved to meet the needs of businesses?
CI: They are providing new product, and as far as outdoors it needs to be product that can sustain intense UV light and heavy wind. For instance, a lot of aluminum is powder coated for a better chance to withstand rain, hail and other forces out there. Certain areas of the country are more prone to rust as well as wind damage, so they have to be cognizant of the weight of the furniture so that it won't fly off and cause property damage.
AnW: Air-n-Water is a retailer that deals almost exclusively in the US. Are you seeing a lot of movement as far as American made products coming back?
CI: Some. There has been increased interest in it. I did a 3-part series in 2011 about consumers starting to ask for it again. Some materials, such as teak, are not available in the US because they aren't available here and has to be imported. Where labor is concerned, products like woven pieces usually come from overseas.
We keep up with the import rates every year and see which countries are exporting to US the most. China, of course, has been the leader for the last 10 years and they've got about 85% of outdoor imports. The in line would be Canada, Indonesia and Mexico.
AnW: Is that an issue of scale? We have seen a lot of custom pieces that promote American made.
CI: Yes, some consumers are asking for it. Usually the case is that price is a common concern. If the price is appreciably more consumers are less likely to buy.
AnW: How are you seeing design reflective of the consumer market? For instance, a hotel would have a very clear identity and would want all of their products to be similar; their bedding, fixtures would offer a similar experience. How are the manufacturers trying to appeal to a customer that wants something a little more representative of themselves?
CI: Manufacturers are absolutely designing around a more individualistic feel. How we hear it more is that the consumer doesn't want their outdoor living areas to look like their neighbors. They want their own style or personality to be apparent. Some of it is to carry over what they have inside their house: if they have a southwestern style inside the house they want that reflected outside.
AnW: Regarding do-it-yourselfers, are they purchasing manufactured products to bring home to work on it? Are they mixing the prefabricated with their own creations?
CI: I'm sure there's some of the DIY influence but what we're seeing is that homeowners want less maintenance. They want to buy the product that is going to be more-or-less set up for them and not have to worry about doing any kind of refinishing or maintenance. Take grills for example. You may go to a country club and their grills are shiny stainless steel. That's because someone has to do the work to keep it that way.
On the other hand, the homeowner is more likely to use it in their off time but is less likely to want to maintain it. Even with the teak, a high-end and expensive product, it requires a certain amount of maintenance to prevent it from degrading over time, but others may like that aesthetic and won't want to maintain it. With prefabricated products such as woven seating, to keep cushions clean usually you can just brush off leaves and take a hose to them but some consumers are reluctant to go that far.
AnW: I've seen a lot of push with recycled materials such as plastics and products that are safer for the environment. How much interest exists there?
CI: It's got some interest. Again, it comes down to balancing cost-benefit for consumers to where they decide how much they want to invest in order to have something with those qualities.
AnW: Even though you don't specifically focus on consumers. How much of an overlap is there between the commercial and consumer markets?
CI: Quite a lot, actually. For instance, the contract and hospitality part of the market is much more attuned to the green issue. They were one of the first to really push for it. But it isn't all over. Unless it is the message of the businesses or chain, I don't know that they would actively look for those types of products.
I've noticed at European shows, there has been lots of interest in Green products, environmentally safe products. Now, some of the companies have been promoting that they are made in the US. Like Telescope Casual in Upstate New York. They definitely produce in the US, they may bring in a few components from else where. And OW LEE they make their furniture in the US and advertize it. But, then again, they may bring in a couple of components. Tropitone, in CA and FL, they are big on the bandwagon but may not be exclusively so.
AnW: Are you seeing anything trending as far as specific seating or dining?
CI: Dining continues to be important. Outdoor kitchens are still something that consumers want such as refrigerators, prep-stations. We're also seeing more fire features in demand beyond just fire pits, tiki torches or outdoor fireplaces. More lighting options like fire tables that have been introduced and even more fixtures that are portable.
AnW: What else have you seen?
CI: In line with outdoor entertainment, some companies that are making outdoor TVs and stereos. While you may have seen them at restaurants and the like, they are now being built into high-end outdoor kitchens as well as more affordable products. That's an opportunity I see on the horizon that people can do more with.
AnW: Are there regional differences that customers follow?
CI: What we've seen through our research is that different parts of the country gravitate towards different outdoor fabrics and colors. What I see is that the eastern part of the country moves towards the greens and blues where the western part of the country looks for desert tones like taupe and rust colors. And that's held true over the years, they want their spaces to reflect their environments. As far as materials, consumers want different materials such as white frames that are in higher demand on the coats. Those are not commonly seen in the interior of the US where they want something more traditional. We frequently hearing about contemporary coming back versus transitional themes.
AnW: In urban areas or other compact spaces, some consumers may have limited or shared outdoor areas. How are they being accommodated?
CI: We have seen some movement toward smaller scale product for urban areas or even senior living areas. You may have a small bistro instead of a 10 person outdoor table, for example. But at the same time if someone has a larger area they may have 3, 4 or 5 outdoor living areas. The outdoor entertaining trend still has legs to it. It's still a popular thing now that people aren't vacationing as much. They want to have a casual lifestyle and entertain friends and family at home.
AnW: Thanks for your time, Cinde!
About Cinde Ingram
Cinde is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Home Accents Today staff as business editor in September 2001. Promoted to Managing Editor of Casual Living in November 2001. In 2007, promoted to editor-in-chief of Casual Living and stepped away from Home Accents Today to focus on the outdoor part of the home furnishings industry. In October 2012, won an honorable mention from the American Home Furnishings Alliance in the trade media category.
About Casual Living Magazine
Casual Living celebrated its 50th year of as the voice of the leisure marketplace in 2010 and is the only trade magazine that exclusively covers the casual furniture industry. It serves all retailers, designers and contract hospitality buyers that sell or buy casual furnishings and accessories as well as the manufacturers and suppliers to the industry.