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A manufacturing dichotomy is going on in outdoor furniture: New combinations of materials in the construction of products to make them less expensive are produced alongside the use of pricier, more-weather-resistant fabrics.
Size, cost and durability represent a tenuous balance that manufacturers of every type of product have to achieve when they develop their product. Outdoor-furniture manufacturers are walking a tightrope in 2015.
Although trends show that consumers lean toward bigger outdoor tables and plusher outdoor seating options, heavier furniture is more expensive to ship, so manufacturers are bringing more lightweight options to market. However, “lightweight” and “durable” typically aren’t synonymous, so product lineups are rounded out with bigger, heavier and more-durable options, which carry a hefty price for the consumer.
The good news for shoppers is that more options exist than ever before when it comes to outdoor furniture. The bad news is that prices continue to climb in all segments.
LIGHT WEIGHT. Retailers with which we spoke tell us that prices for outdoor furniture continue to rise in 2015—more in some categories than in others. A variety of reasons accounts for these increases, including jumps in the cost of materials to always-climbing shipping costs.
In fact, shipping costs were cited as the reason why the tiki-bar market is all but nonexistent in 2015. Jerome Coudrier, who is the CEO of manufacturer TikiMaster, tells us that shipping costs accounted for as much as 50 percent of the cost of the product, and the average weight of 300 pounds per tiki bar simply put too much financial stress on the company. Further, Coudrier tells us that the company found consumer interest waning. Consequently, the company now makes tiki-themed décor but no longer produces tiki bars.
To keep shipping costs and prices in general down, manufacturers turned a sharper eye toward the materials that they use in their outdoor furniture. We found examples of manufacturers moving from stone and concrete tabletops, for example, to lighter materials, such as porcelain. Although aluminum long has been a frame option for outdoor dining sets, its presence in the marketplace now is dominant. Of the 217 metal outdoor dining sets and woven outdoor dining sets that we found, only 17 percent use a frame material that isn’t aluminum.
Even Barlow Tyrie, which makes predominantly premium and midrange outdoor furniture and long has been known for its teak pieces, shifted its selection to incorporate more of a mixture of teak and aluminum in the past
4 years, Executive Vice President Charles Hessler says. According to a 2014 store operations survey by Casual Living magazine, teak accounted for only 4 percent of outdoor furniture sales.
“It brings the price down,” Hessler says of mixing teak and aluminum. He adds that previously, the company typically mixed teak with stainless steel. Barlow Tyrie still produces such products, but Hessler says the cost difference between aluminum and stainless steel is substantial, and because stainless steel is heavier, it typically leads to higher shipping costs, which can affect prices further. Hessler says a 59-inch table from the company that’s made of teak and aluminum costs $1,379; the same-size table that’s constructed of teak and stainless steel costs $2,399.
In comparing the quality of the two metal options, we couldn’t find anyone who would say that aluminum is a lesser choice than is any type of steel. Cinde Ingram, who is the editor-in-chief of Casual Living magazine, simply reiterates that weight is the main point to consider when you look at outdoor furniture that includes aluminum. Typically, aluminum pieces are about one-fourth of the weight of similar iron or steel pieces, so lightweight aluminum pieces, such as dining chairs or four-seat tables, can present problems in a strong wind.
She says that on high-rise or rooftop patios, which typically have space only for smaller pieces, the wind could take hold of an aluminum piece and create a bigger problem than just having a piece of furniture that’s knocked over.