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Oxford Garden: Experts in Wood Furniture

Teak has been a popular choice for outdoor furniture since the late 1800s. As the availability of teak has begun to dwindle and prices have risen steadily, alternative woods have been gaining more visibility in the outdoor-furniture market. Woods such as eucalyptus, ipe, shorea and other varieties from Southeast Asia are quickly becoming alternative choices for consumers who like the look of teak, but are not willing or able to pay the price.

Companies like Oxford Garden, based in Louisville, Ky., are offering wood furniture that is not only stylish and durable, but affordable as well. “Retailers can take advantage of alternative woods to add another price point to their wood-furniture offerings,” Randy Meek, president of Oxford Garden, explains.

Oxford Garden saw a need in the marketplace for an alternative to teak and began selling furniture made from 100-percent shorea in 1997. Shorea is a tropical hardwood grown in Southeast Asia, most commonly in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is extremely strong, has a fine grain and is renowned for its excellent resistance to weather and everyday use.

“There are many woods coming to the market now that were not used in furniture as abundantly, or not as widely marketed, as they are today,” Meek says. Oxford Garden primarily sells high-end, English–garden-style benches, armchairs, lounges, dining and patio tables and planters using mortise-and-tenon joinery, the strongest joint construction available.

Based on experience, Meek encourages retailers who sell wood furniture to carry both a teak line and an alternative-wood line. “Retailers who are most successful with our line are showing both teak and shorea,” Meek says. Carrying both gives customers the ability to compare prices and aesthetics. Shorea is very similar in color and appearance to teak. In fact, most people, even those with wood experience, can’t tell the difference, and shorea is typically half the price.

“That’s why we’ve been so successful with this particular wood,” Meek says. It looks and behaves like teak for a lot less money. The biggest difference between the two woods is that teak has a higher oil content, which gives it a smooth, buttery feel. Both equally withstand the outdoor elements.

Meek says that alternative woods are a good choice for retailers who have never carried wood before because the price point is palatable and the quality is outstanding. Many retailers shy away from wood because it’s a natural product that has variation, and their customers aren’t used to that fact (not all chairs looks exactly the same, and color can vary slightly from piece to piece).

“It’s a matter of educating your customers,” Meek explains. Wood mixes well with other materials and furniture styles, adding personality and an heirloom feel. One can pair wrought-iron chairs with a wooden table, or intermingle a wooden bench in a chat group made of all-weather wicker. “I think, from a style standpoint, if everything doesn’t match, it looks like it’s been collected over time,” he says. “That is very appealing to customers.”

Meek believes that the popularity of alternative woods will continue to grow; not only is the teak supply going to continue to diminish, but consumers are doing their wood-furniture homework. “Alternative woods don’t scare consumers as much as they used to because they are doing their own research to find out the value,” Meek says. “Of course, there is no comparison to the feeling you get when you sit on a nicely made wooden bench,” he says. “That will always be the best selling point.”


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