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Marketing Maneuvers

So Much More Than Teak

Teak is certainly prominent in AuthenTEAK’s name, but this retailer’s product line goes far beyond wooden furniture. Atlanta-based AuthenTEAK offers a high-end and upscale mix of teak, metal, and woven collections, along with a distinctive assortment of outdoor merchandise, including televisions, rugs, grills, and kitchens.

Eric Brenner and Damon Fogel, AuthenTEAK’s owners (and college friends), originally began their business partnership in the printing industry before deciding to shift gears and enter the outdoor-living market in 2004. They located a 1,200–square-foot space in West Midtown, an up-and-coming industrial area that is transitioning to include condominiums, apartments, restaurants, shops, and an array of home-furnishings showrooms. As a plus, the area is also adjacent to the affluent residential and commercial district of Buckhead.

After a couple of years of primarily selling teak and getting their education in the outdoor-furniture business, the partners signed a lease on a location nearby, remarkably transforming an old space into an 8,500–square-foot showroom with an adjoining warehouse. “Before we took the space over, it was literally a warehouse with no heat or air conditioning. It was dreadful in its appearance,” Brenner says.

In addition to updating the building’s heating, ventilation, and cooling, they completely changed the color scheme, added showroom-style lights, tore down some walls, and evened out and stained the badly damaged concrete floor. Later, they expanded the space again to what is, today, a 15,000–square-foot showroom with a 10,000–square-foot warehouse, making AuthenTEAK one of the largest outdoor-furniture showrooms in Atlanta.

While they offered some mixed materials along with teak at their first location, the partners eventually had the opportunity to expand their product line significantly. Customers drove the company’s diversification by asking about products other than wood. Brenner says that at the time, manufacturers (including Gloster) began expanding their own product lines beyond teak. “It didn’t take very long for us to question why we should limit ourselves,” he recalls.

AuthenTEAK carries a full array of dining and deep seating collections of various kinds—including metal, stone, wood, and woven materials—from high-end manufacturers such as Ancient Mosaics, Century, Gloster, Barlow Tyrie, and Windham. It offers grills from Lynx and Primo, kitchens from Calise, rugs from Couristan, and outdoor LCD television from SunBrite.

“We are definitely still known as a teak company, primarily because of our name, and feel that we dominate the local market in teak—but within that, we have a solid mix of classic to contemporary styles,” Brenner says. “We toyed with changing the name of the business, but we had some hesitation.” Instead, the partners decided that they could keep the company’s name and expand to other products through marketing. For example, visual marketing pieces include the name AuthenTEAK, but show a picture of a dining set in aluminum, wicker, or stone. “Once we were in our new location, it took us about two years to reach the consumer with the message that the company sells much more than teak,” Brenner says.

In developing promotions, Brenner believes that it is helpful to drive a consistent message that evolves on an annual basis. “At one point, the message needed to be that we were not just teak. Over time, the message changed to say that we now had grills, outdoor kitchens, or rugs. The scenario with our message (whether on the home page of our Web site or in a magazine or direct-mail piece) is to hammer home the evolution of the business: We are no longer just furniture,” he says.

Until this year, AuthenTEAK advertised in the Atlanta Journal–Constitution and in local magazines,  including Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles and The Atlantan. Brenner, however, decided to stop newspaper advertising. “We learned the newspaper was only good for promoting specific sales, not branding,” he says.

Although Brenner believes that magazine ads are more helpful for branding and contributing to the overall image of the showroom, he is still undecided about continuing magazine placement for 2009. “All decisions we make are driven by value,” he says.

AuthenTEAK continues to employ other marketing avenues, including a direct-mail catalog that is sent to surrounding ZIP codes and outlying Atlanta suburbs. The company also has a bus-shelter advertisement near the showroom that serves as a directional sign.

AuthenTEAK hosts one large party each year in affiliation with a charitable organization. “This year, we would like to have more functions that are geared toward specific audiences, such as a manufacturer day that is targeted toward designers. We would invite both manufacturers and designers to the showroom for lunch or dinner and have a brief networking and educational seminar,” Brenner says.

The company has a comprehensive Web site, which further communicates the theme that AuthenTEAK carries a host of products beyond wood. “The Internet is a useful tool, and is part of our broad marketing strategy,” Brenner says.

Perhaps AuthenTEAK’s most effective marketing tool is its own customers. “We have a baffling number of return customers,” Brenner says. “Year one, they may have purchased deep seating; year two, dining; and now, they are purchasing for their vacation home—or they come back to add a grill or rug.”

Brenner attributes this customer loyalty to the value-driven, high-quality products that AuthenTEAK offers, along with excellent customer care. “I feel that people appreciate the effort we put forth. We don’t always have the answer at our fingertips, but we work as a team to provide them information,” he says.

While Brenner notes that most of AuthenTEAK’s customers are from a high income bracket, “Our focus is not on the affluent customer, but on a high-quality product. It may be a cliché, but you really do get what you pay for,” he says.

Brenner (who handles sales and marketing) and Fogel (who takes care of operations) are both owner–operators, enabling them to run a lean company, with relatively low overhead. They have only two other employees, both well trained and able to multitask, and this allows them to keep expenses in check. All delivery is outsourced. “We feel that we are able to keep costs in line and still sell the product at value price points,” Brenner says.

In looking toward the future, Brenner notes that he would like to offer more products at two different price points. “We want to offer a little more price diversification, but we won’t sacrifice quality,” he says. He and Fogel would also like to include more outdoor-lighting options for their customers, as well as trying to find other market segments that will extend their season.

“What we do, we do well,” Brenner says. “We get people in the store, offer assistance and education, and make sure the order happens accurately. Very few customers come back because of a problem, which tells us we are selling a high-quality product.”

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