Is a Breakthrough on the Horizon?

As we begin the New Year, the big question on my mind is: Will 2016 mark the tipping point in consumer spending on outdoor living?

We’ve all heard that this is the fastest growing category in the home furnishings industry. Even though that’s true, statistics show that sales in the multi‐billion‐dollar outdoor living market have increased incrementally rather than skyrocketing each year since 2010. But so far, the quantum leap many of us have been expecting has yet to materialize.

Published first in Patio & Hearth.

Still, all the indicators are there. For the past two years, forecasters have predicted that consumers will soon regard an outdoor space whether it’s a patio, deck, terrace, courtyard or screened porch—as an indispensable sixth “room” in the home. And since these exterior spaces are often used to entertain, as well as provide a place where the homeowners can relax and enjoy the outdoors, consumers want them to reflect not only their personality and style, but also be practical and able to stand up to the elements.

Home decor and lifestyle magazines, style blogs, Pinterest and other online sites provide a steady stream of inspirational style ideas that whet consumers’ appetite for unique, personalized outdoor spaces. Even mens’ and sports magazines are featuring outdoor entertaining, with men playing a pivotal role as experts in grilling and mixing drinks.

Add to that, new, easy care, weatherproof products, such as faux wicker, which doesn’t degrade, and waterproof performance fabrics so fashion‐forward they blur the line between what’s intended for indoors and outdoors. Also capturing homeowners’ attention are brands like Wolf and Sub‐Zero, creating top‐of‐the‐line outdoors appliances. And since most of the country experiences months of cooler weather, consumers now see fire pits, outdoor fireplaces and heating elements that extend the use of outdoor rooms as worthy investments to prolong the pleasure of enjoying the outdoors.

While we’re on the cusp of what may soon become a tsunami of demand, what can retailers do to keep sales steady now and also fire the imagination of prospective buyers? My answer: Tell stories on your showroom floor and in your window displays like those your customers see in the media, and tell them well. There’s nothing new about creating vignettes, but there’s a big difference between placing a few generic props as an afterthought and creating displays that sing ‘Summertime, when the livin’ is easy.’

Here are tips for styling your outdoors displays:

Make sure you allot sufficient space for your room set size to conjure up the feeling of outdoor openness.

If your store has architectural details that lend themselves to serving as a courtyard or patio, capitalize on what the space has to offer. Otherwise, situate one or more of your outdoor display groupings close to windows that drench the vignettes in sunlight.

Anchor your displays with an outdoor rug. To suggest height, introduce a trellis or a large freestanding sun umbrella to tie the display together. Also place urns topped with topiaries or tall plants at the corners of the display to delineate space.

For a daytime dining look, introduce a bright color story and lay one or more complete table settings, so it feels as though guests are ready to sit down and take their first sip of wine. Use colored stem glassware and bright prints or solids for place mats and runners. Comfy padded seat covers on the chairs.

To suggest evening dining, you can add Moroccan lanterns or hurricane lamp‐style glass covers for pillar candles. Use a rustic candle chandelier above the table and a string of white fairy lights encircling a tree can add a little nighttime magic.

For outdoor living rooms, make sure to include wood or ceramic occasional tables (and study ottomans) that can also serve as extra seating. A drink tray or a bar cart with stylish glasses and decanters can suggest cocktail hour or simply a lazy lemonade and sweet tea afternoon on a summer’s day.

With so many external factors affecting attitude and lifestyle changes among consumers and creating new buying habits, merchants are poised to capitalize on the momentum of what’s happening in the zeitgeist. To brand your store as a destination for outdoor, as well as indoor, living, and to respond to consumers’ growing needs and desires, retailers must present seamless solutions that make it easy for customers to embrace style‐conscious outdoor living and dining products.