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As I See It

Gensun Casual Living: A Rising Star

In just five years, Gensun Casual Living (based in Ontario, Calif.) has skillfully taken its business to an unheard-of level by providing specialty retailers across the nation with high-design, cast-aluminum furniture that appeals to a variety of consumer tastes. Patio & Hearth Products Report recently sat down with Jan Trinkley, executive vice president of Gensun, to find out what the company is doing to carve out a niche for itself as a manufacturer that dealers want to do business with and that consumers love.

PHPR: Being a relatively new player in the outdoor-furniture market, how has Gensun made a name for itself?
A: There are many manufacturers that offer outdoor furniture, but we try to give our dealers more than that: we give them what they need to survive. I call it the complete package. We manufacture our furniture in our own factory; offer beautiful designs, top quality and a competitive price point; and back up our products with great service. We see our dealers as our partners, and we’re always looking for ways to support—and help them grow—their businesses.
Chat seating has grown in popularity as people spend more time relaxing in their outdoor rooms. Pictured: Gensun’s Marquesa collection

PHPR: What is unique about Gensun, compared with the competition?
A: We offer our dealers choice. Choice is what gives independent retailers an advantage over mass merchants. We offer choice not only when it comes to selection of frames, finishes and fabrics, but when it comes to delivery, as well. We manufacture our products in our own factory in China, but maintain a fully-stocked U.S. warehouse (filled with all of our top-selling pieces), which gives dealers the flexibility to bring in whatever quantity or mix of furniture they need.

Another thing that separates us from the competition is that we don’t sell any of our products to mass merchants. Gensun concentrates 100 percent of its efforts on serving independent retailers, making sure that they get products how they want them and when they want them.

I don’t believe a manufacturer can offer, from one facility, two levels of quality or two price-point levels to satisfy both mass market and specialty retailers. To produce a high-quality product, you have to train your manufacturing people to produce quality products and do it consistently.

PHPR: How are people using outdoor furniture differently today than they did in the past?
A: In the past, people didn’t look at furniture outdoors as more than patio furniture. They would just drag a metal chair over to sit by the pool or eat at an unstable plastic dining set. Today, people want to create sophisticated outdoor rooms that have it all: indoor-quality furniture, outdoor fireplaces, lighting, all-weather rugs and accessories.

When consumers are ready to purchase high-end outdoor products, they also expect to be able to get them right away, as they can from mass merchants. That’s part of the equation a dealer needs to consider. For dealers to differentiate themselves from mass merchants, they must offer choice and they need to offer quick delivery.

PHPR: As consumers’ tastes become more soph­isticated, how does Gen­sun plan to continue to meet their expectations?
A: We’re going to continue to concentrate on what we do best: design and create beautiful cast-aluminum furniture. I don’t believe you can be all things to all people. There are companies that offer all-weather wicker products; there are others that do an excellent job with extruded tubular aluminum or wrought iron. You have to focus on what you know. When dealers need top-quality cast-aluminum furniture, we want Gensun to be their first choice.

PHPR: What Gensun pieces and collections have consistently been favorites with consumers?
A: Although we are still a relatively new company, we already have some standouts based on the way people are using their outdoor spaces. The outdoor room has become an entertaining and relaxation room (versus a dining area). Our top-selling collections are those with chat pieces, bar seating, deep seating and any kind of swiveling/rocking chairs and lounges.

Grand Terrace has been our most popular collection because it not only has broad style appeal and many frame-finish choices, but has all the pieces needed to create a complete outdoor room. Other collections that are selling well include Florence, San Marino and Corona; all of them create the relaxed environment consumers are looking for now.

PHPR: How are you partnering with retailers in 2008 to help them grow their businesses?
A: We’re doing one thing that I don’t see a lot of companies doing, which is trying to help our dealers keep the size of their inventories down. We don’t want our dealers to sit on products they can’t sell.

We don’t expect them to make large early buys because we know that furniture is fashion driven, and that it’s hard to predict what’s going to be popular for the next season. We give them the flexibility to buy what they want, when they need it. We give them discounts related to the quantity they buy for the year, not based on their early buys.

PHPR: What do you see as specialty retailers’ biggest opportunities and challenges?
A: With baby boomers just starting to retire, I see a huge opportunity for specialty retailers to help them create outdoor rooms so they can enjoy retirement. Boomers represent a very discriminating generation that demands high quality and great design, which is something retailers can capitalize on now. As far as the biggest challenge is concerned, specialty retailers need to resist the temptation to offer lower-priced products to compete with mass merchants.

Many retailers think they need a price point to appeal to the people who walked in their store and then walked out again, but I don’t think so. In the end, it costs specialty retailers more to offer that product, from the warehouse space to store it to more staff to sell it. I don’t believe they will ever sell enough product to make up the dollars they could have made by selling products at higher price points.

PHPR: What has changed the most in the outdoor-living industry over the past six years?
A: Style is more sophisticated because of the increasing popularity and visibility of the outdoor room. From beautiful frame finishes to luxurious fabrics, manufacturers are offering more choices to dealers, getting customers more excited about creating personal spaces outdoors.

Retailers are also making their showroom floors more of an environment—not just a sea of patio furniture—and furniture vignettes have become inspirational for customers, giving them ideas of what they can do. Another big change is the trend toward offshore manufacturing, which keeps production costs down; I think mass merchants have been able to step up their furniture-design offerings because manufacturers are now able to offer them at price points mass merchants can sell.

PHPR: What emerging trends do you see?
A: There is an increasing interest in functional furniture. Outdoor rooms are odd sizes, compared with the standard indoor family and living rooms of 20x20 feet, so people are looking for furniture that works well in their available spaces. Many manufacturers, including Gensun, have added furniture that can be adapted to fit into any space.

Over the past few years, sectionals have risen in popularity because they are so adaptable. For example, you can take a sectional that is 20 feet long and curve it around a corner, break it up into several pieces to form conversation areas or use it in one piece as a room divider. Furniture like this is what consumers want.

PHPR: What does the future hold for Gensun?
A: We have grown 50 percent each of the past four years, and we are anticipating that this growth will continue. We are building a new 500,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Tianjin, China, that will be completed in the fall of 2008. We are excited about this because we know we’re doing what we need to do, moving forward, to satisfy our dealers. This is our investment and commitment to a long-term future for Gensun Casual Living and our customers.

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