Young, first-time homeowners are looking to create their own backyard oases.
By Seth Weisblatt, AVB
With cabin fever spurring an increased investment in making the home a destination, the outdoor space has been a blazing segment of the home industry this year and does not appear to be slowing down as we head into 2021.
Manufacturers are quickly adapting to the increased demand by ensuring inventory levels will be strong in the spring months. Data from AVB members points to May as the peak month for outdoor furniture purchases, preceded by a steady buildup in late February through April.
Due to the nature of COVID-related supply-chain constraints, AVB is suggesting retailers start planning today for Memorial Day merchandising. Never in my career would I start thinking about Memorial Day before Christmas, but these are unusual times and increased forecasting must be performed to remain competitive.
Other trends affecting the outdoor category are the flight of urban dwellers to more open spaces, as reflected in housing market trends that remain very strong. Indeed, September marked a 14-year high of home resales, largely driven by millennials who are shedding their reluctance to enter the housing market. September also saw, for the first time, 50 percent of home loan applications coming from … millennials!
As furniture industry analyst Jerry Epperson of Mann, Armistead & Epperson observed, the obvious downstream benefits of the housing boom are flowing to home-related categories. And with such a young demographic joining the ranks of home ownership, there are more opportunities than ever for outdoor furniture to take center stage.
One of the largest growth trends in the outdoor category is heating. Advancements in technology and smokeless fire tables have created a wealth of options to keep warm while entertaining outdoors.
Also driving the segment is the ongoing pandemic, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other health experts agreeing that outdoor gatherings tend to be safer than indoor get-togethers due to airborne nature of the virus. Given the uncertainties of COVID and no hard and fast timetable for when a “return to normal” might occur, homeowners are seizing the opportunity to improve their outdoor spaces and family assemblage spots.
And it’s not all fire pits and fire tables. As veteran landscape designer Susan Cohan told Forbes, consumers are also seeking greater privacy and greenery, with younger, first-time homeowners looking to establish gardens and multi-function greenery areas.
Perhaps the hottest outdoor trend, though, might be all wet. With many consumers unable to visit lakes or beaches last summer, pool builders and installers throughout the country were reporting record queues to provide above and in-ground swimming holes. As one New Jersey pool manufacturer described to The New York Times last June, his company was “under siege. It’s like the toilet paper and the water and the masks” at the outset of the pandemic, he said.
All told, the demand trend for outdoor furniture appears to be strong not just for 2021, but for the next several years beyond. While maybe — hopefully! — business will be not as chaotic or unpredictable as this past year, expect a bright and sunny market for outdoor living as millennials continue to pursue home ownership and suburbia assumes a renewed luster.
Seth Weisblatt is Director of Merchandising /Home Furnishings for BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc. He previously served as Executive Vice President at Sam’s Appliance & Furniture and Vice President of Digital Marketing at Ashley Furniture Industries.