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Marketing Maneuvers

A Stronger, Better Homecrest

Homecrest Outdoor Living has a lot to look forward to as it enters the new decade. After almost closing its doors two years ago, the 53–year-old Wadena, Minnesota-based outdoor-furniture manufacturer has found its footing again and is making some strategic changes to regain its reputation in the industry.

A Fresh Start

In January 2008, Bullinger Enterprises of Fargo, North Dakota, purchased the struggling company (which had gone through two bankruptcies) and gave it the cash infusion needed to bring it back to life. The owner of Bullinger Enterprises, Michael Bullinger, is in the business of helping struggling companies financially so that they can move forward, helping them assemble new management teams while allowing them, at the same time, to stay in their hometowns.

Homecrest was fortunate to be one of those companies. “I think many people in the industry wrote us off, and rightly so,” Mark Fillhouer says. Fillhouer is chief operating officer; he left Homecrest prior to the first bankruptcy and then came back, at the urging of Bullinger. “After everything we’ve gone through, we now have a company with a great heritage that is really a new startup company,” he says. “We lost our way for a little while, but we’re back and ready to move forward with a fresh outlook.”

Better Products and Better Service

Homecrest Outdoor Living is proud to have its original spark back and is taking full advantage of its newfound financial strength to move forward. In the early days, Homecrest was known as an innovative company that built its products to a different standard than that of other manufacturers.

In the 1970s, founder Mert Bottemiller invented the first swivel rocker in an effort to raise the bar on comfort for outdoor furniture. “Innovations like this are what set Homecrest apart,” Fillhouer says, adding that his goal is to get the company back to that place. He admits that over the years, Homecrest stopped innovating and let its style get stale. “We did not keep up with what we should have in terms of investing in new designs and new product introductions; we will never be in that place again,” he says.

He explains that after getting two strong selling seasons under its belt, Homecrest is regaining dealers’ confidence. Its newest collections—which include the Havenhill and Wescott sling groups and the Trenton deep seating collection—are getting good placement on showroom floors. “We have some really exciting things coming out later this year as well,” he says.

From a service standpoint, Homecrest is doing things that it hasn’t done before to help dealers meet today’s market challenges. One program that Fillhouer is particularly excited about is its in-season Quick Ship. “We don’t expect retailers to do early buys like they used to,” Fillhouer says, adding that it’s just not smart, in today’s business environment, to put 50% of a whole year’s sales in a warehouse and hope that customers buy it.

The Quick Ship program gives dealers the flexibility of purchasing in-season merchandise when they need it. The company started the program last year with a short list of merchandise, and it has expanded the plan for 2010 to include best sellers and new releases. “What we are trying to do is build a program that a dealer can make money on,” Fillhouer explains.

Because the company is financed well, it doesn’t have to go through a factor to finance early buys and give dealers terms. This makes it possible to pass those savings on—in the form of better deals for at-once business. “Down the road, we are going to be able to offer some other services that bigger companies can’t offer,” Fillhouer says.

Opportunities on the Horizon

Homecrest sees nothing but opportunity ahead as it moves forward with its new business model focused on the dealer. It plans to continue to manufacture high-end casual furniture with an eye toward innovation.

Fillhouer explains that it’s a feeling of freedom to know that Homcrest is once again operating on a solid financial footing. “We are taking this freedom seriously and investing in our dealer programs and products. We’re going to come up with ways to give consumers furniture with comfort, durability, and easy maintenance that they’ve never seen before,” he says. “All I can say about 2010 and beyond is this: Expect the unexpected.”

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