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Showroom Showcase

Seizing Opportunities in Today’s Marketplace

For Georgia-based Erwin & Sons Direct Imports, Inc., a challenging economy might very well be a great opportunity: the chance to win new customers in tough times. This 25–year-old company, founded by Jim and Judy Erwin, has grown, through numerous market changes, to become one of the most trusted direct importers of outdoor furniture in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

For more than 30 years, Jim has traveled throughout Europe and Asia, building business relationships along the way that have allowed Erwin & Sons to grow and thrive. In the early days, the company imported indoor accessory furniture in wrought iron and handpainted wood, as well as seating and bedroom furniture in natural wicker and rattan. Some years later, Jim’s sons, Erik Dych (now vice president) and Jake Erwin (now chief operating officer), joined the business; with Jim, they have guided the company expertly into its next generation. Around 1998, when consumer demand changed, the company slowly turned its focus to outdoor furniture. “We were one of the pioneers in outdoor wicker and helped shape the market,” Erik says.

Now, it’s the majority of our business.” Today, Erwin & Sons sells outdoor wicker—in seating, dining, lounging, and accessory items—under the Bahama Winds™ label. The company also manufactures cast- and extruded-aluminum furniture, loomed pieces, and lightweight stone tabletops. Its custom-cushion program is nationally recognized; its Asian factory manufactures high-end cushions in over 100 fabrics from Sunbrella®, Outdura®, Cone Jacquards, and others. The company sells to both single- and multiple-store specialty retailers, patio shops, and garden centers, but does not sell to mass merchants.

Erwin & Sons is a direct-container importer, and it prides itself on its solid personal relationships with both customers and manufacturers. “We have worked with our main supplier for over a decade,” Erik says. “In our 10 years of working through every design and delivery challenge, we are far beyond the learning curve, unlike many new competitors who are just getting into the business.”

An important key to this business, Jake notes, is the ability to offer a variety of goods (outdoor wicker, cast aluminum, extruded aluminum, stone tabletops, and cushions) in a wide selection of styles, finishes, and fabrics—all loaded into one container. “No one else in the industry can offer customers that kind of flexibility,” he says.

The company also keeps its eye on the future. The design team works 8 to 12 months ahead, planning new concepts and product lines, manufacturing samples, and constantly refreshing the fabric line. Erik and Jake frequently visit the factory, reviewing new lines and checking on quality and production efficiencies to ensure that Erwin & Sons’ rigid standards are met. “We also spend time talking with our customers. Right now, we’re seeing lots of interest in motion items, and we’re working to satisfy demand,” Jim says.

Erwin & Sons is not feeling the squeeze of the economy as much as many other manufacturers are. It has chosen not to rent costly permanent showrooms or large wholesale facilities or warehouses, and this has paid off well. These strategies help keep overhead low and allow the company to concentrate on the areas of quality and personalized customer service. “We can’t be all things to all people, so we’ve eliminated external areas that would take away from our focus,” Erik says. “That is the strategy that has built Erwin & Sons into what it is today.”

Jim, Erik, and Jake agree that the company’s greatest challenge, today, is helping its customers through tough economic times. “Customers turn to us in both good and bad times because we consistently deliver high-quality, strong-demand items at affordable prices,” Jim says. “Our products offer a much higher perceived value in relation to cost, and that helps our retailers move product.”

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