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Showroom Showcase

New River Casual: A Leader in the Wood Category

Wooden outdoor furniture has been part of outdoor living since our grandparents swayed in their porch swings, snoozed in their rocking chairs, and enjoyed summer meals at their redwood picnic tables. As outdoor products have evolved with new technology, wood has slowly lost market share to synthetic wood look-alikes and other man-made materials. While there is no doubt the wood category will always be a classic part of the outdoor-furniture industry, it only represents about 11 percent of the market today.

Companies like four–year-old New River Casual Furniture are emerging onto the wood scene with fresh products, new ideas, and contagious enthusiasm that are getting dealers and consumers across the country energized about the next generation of wooden furniture. The Virginia Beach, Va.,-based company specializes in Brazilian cherry (jatobá) furniture that is manufactured by Dabol Furniture Industries in southern Brazil.

For years, Brazilian cherry has been the most recognizable and sought-after exotic wood in the U.S. flooring industry, and it’s known for its durability and beauty. A few years prior to New River Casual’s inception, Dabol introduced Brazilian cherry into the U.S. outdoor-furniture market through two well-known furniture companies, the i-Garden division of DLH Nordisk and the now-defunct Tyndall Creek.

Over the past few years, New River Casual’s internal design and engineering departments and prestigious outdoor-furniture designer Philip Behrens have worked together to fill out the company’s product offerings with deep seating, dining, and high dining; new this season are garden benches, contract tables, and deep seating motion pieces in many colors and finish choices (a first on wooden furniture frames), as well as a choice of over 85 Sunbrella® and Outdura® fabrics. Today, over 650 dealers across the country sell New River Casual’s products.

In 2007, Dabol introduced the first finish created exclusively for outdoor wooden furniture. It’s called Rêve (French for dream) because—according to Michael Mettendorf, vice president of sales and marketing—it is truly a dream finish. Rêve has ushered wooden furniture into the 21st century because it requires a fraction of the maintenance of untreated wood.

The finish is guaranteed by New River Casual for three years in a full-exposure environment, whether that means full, hot sunshine; the dry high desert; a salty, moist oceanfront setting; or an icy winter. It is water-based, nontoxic, and eco-friendly, and it can easily be reapplied. “Rêve has completely changed the look of our company and the outdoor–wood-furniture industry,” he says.

Mettendorf believes that the future growth of the wood category depends on manufacturers offering consumers furniture with value, in terms of price and choice. “We are all competing for the same discretionary and now-shrinking furniture budget from homeowners, so New River is continuing with fashion-forward and comfortable designs and is offering fabric, color, and finish options at strategic price points for a real value,” he says.

Mettendorf emphasizes that the outdoor-furniture industry is not a consumer- or brand-driven industry, but a retail-driven industry. “As manufacturers, we should be partnering with retailers to focus on the retail-driven aspect of selling and promotion, including educating salespeople and customers, merchandising, and sharing the benefits of wood furniture through professional point-of-purchase displays and brochures,” he explains.

New River Casual remains cautiously optimistic about the future upswing of retail sales, in general. Until consumer confidence improves and people feel better about their personal financial futures, they are likely to spend less on items that are not necessities. Because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the gross domestic product, the overall improvement in the economy will probably be slow until there is sustained growth in consumer spending. Experts say that even when the economy starts improving, consumers might not fall back into their old purchasing habits; the changed consumer behaviors that we’ve recently experienced could become the new consumer mindset for years to come.

With this in mind, New River Casual is confident that if it can earn the opportunity to be seen on retail floors, be suggested by well-informed salespeople, and be purchased by value-driven customers, it will not only position itself for the future, but will help grow the wood category as well.

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