Winter 2015
Taking it Outside By Poornima Apte

Mar Jennings credits a confluence of many factors for the increasing popularity of outdoor entertaining. The lifestyle expert, television host and author of many books including “Life on Mar’s: Creating Casual Luxury,” said increasing eco-consciousness among consumers has lead to a rise in the appreciation of the outdoors.

And as retired and healthy baby boomers now have more time on their hands to appreciate these gifts, they’re accelerating the trend with their dollars on a lifestyle that seamlessly blends the outdoors into elegant yet casual entertaining. Television, with glimpses into this aspirational lifestyle, has also done its work, Jennings said. This means more of your consumers are looking for outdoor décor that can withstand the elements, placing emphasis on smaller entertaining details like martini glasses that would work outdoors but look elegant.

SparqHome_TequilaShootersIrv Zakheim, chairman and CEO of Zak Designs, a kitchen and serveware company based in Airway Heights, Washington, pointed to practical concerns that have lead consumers to extend their living spaces to embrace the outdoors.

“Outdoor entertaining gives people more options and more freedom to host the kind of parties they want to have instead of the kinds of parties they’re limited to because of the size of their living or dining room,” Zakheim said.

Renee Ringstad agreed. The vice president of Atlanta-based Homefires Rugs suggested that the focus on outdoor living really took off after the housing crash, which made moving to a larger home out of bounds for many. “People looked for affordable ways to increase their living space,” Ringstad said, and the outdoor entertaining trend allows for just that, to extend and expand the home beyond the rigid confines of four walls.

Digital Detox

StudioM_summer-funKate Naylor, marketing and PR coordinator for SPARQ Home based in Denver, said that your customers are looking for some time away from their screens. “I think for a while there we were okay with spending all our time on a screen and being so dedicated to being digital but now more than ever, we’re seeing more ‘social media detoxes’ and people wanting to get off their computers and into their backyards and nature.”

Mike Todd, marketing manager at Studio M by Magnet Works in Fenton, Missouri, agreed. “It’s hard to have your own thoughts when you’re constantly bombarded by media. More and more people have realized that they can create a space in their own backyard that offers peace and tranquility,” he said.

Entertain Opportunities

Roman_LED-Bottle-lightsJust how customers create this backyard space — as an extension of the patio or home, or as smaller fire pit areas or elaborate gardens — depends on budgets, of course, but also on the kinds of products you sell at your store. Gift retailers like you have seized this opportunity to showcase items that focus on many aspects of outdoor entertaining: the garden, the patio, the dining sets, serveware, lighting and more.

“When furnished and decorated just right, an outdoor patio can act as a second kitchen, dining room, living room or playroom. It’s all about bringing the indoors out and expanding living space,” Todd said, adding that a patio or porch can be a perfect place for not just parties, but also even afternoon lunch or morning coffee or a candlelit dinner. He recommended adding flair to the backyard with plant container gardens in Studio M’s new Art Pots and with the company’s decorative Art Poles.

It’s all about setting the mood, said Ken Fetgatter, lead designer at Melrose International headquartered in Quincy Illinois. “A well-rounded outdoor entertaining space will successfully incorporate plants and flowers, functional furniture and layout and accessories that help define the mood,” Fetgatter said. Melrose offers all-weather LED candles, statuary, LED garden accents, outdoor artwork and more to help.

Denise Simon, marketing coordinator at Campania International in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, pointed out that some customers might be hesitant to use their patios to the full potential because of noise. “An easy way to reclaim your outdoor space is to include a water feature,” Simon said. “Whether it’s from a large fountain, wall fountain, or even just a tabletop fountain, the sound of running water is not only calming it is a great way to filter out unwanted noise.” Campania’s Mini Element Bird Fountain fits the bill perfectly, as do a number of related garden benches, statuary and planters.

Happy Meals

Transpac-Imports“Some of the best conversations and storytelling happens outdoors,” Naylor said. “Whether it’s around a bonfire or over drinks on the patio, being outdoors tends to bring family and friends together the same way the home does.”
What are the elements of successful outdoor entertaining? “The spaces used together should offer both the host and guests easy accessibility to whatever they need,” Simon said. “If guests can flow naturally between indoor and outdoor spaces, they are more likely to utilize both.”

Color, versatility and durability really matter when it comes to outdoor entertaining, Zakheim said.

“Products that are durable enough to be used outside, but stylish enough to look good on the table are ones that always seem to be popular,” he said. Zak Design’s kitchen line includes items from salad dressing containers and carrying caddies to serving utensils and corncob holders.

“Besides good company, a well-curated menu of handcrafted cocktails and light bites, the key to a successful outdoor party is the presentation,” Naylor said. “There’s something special about how beautiful dinner can look and feel when you use the right tools and serveware.”

In keeping with the rise of handcrafted drinks and the popularity of mixology tools as an essential component of entertaining, SPARQ Home offers copper handcrafted Moscow Mule mugs, and rustic designed tequila shooters to kickstart the party. Soapstone serving slabs and boards are ever popular as are acacia chip and dip sets.

Cheers to Sales

Manual-Woodworkers-&-Weavers_Lake-TimeZakheim encouraged retailers to be bold in showcasing lively outdoor options.

“People often see outdoor living spaces as an opportunity to make brighter, bolder color statements than they are willing to make inside because it seems more appropriate somehow, to have those vivid shades outside.”

As with most other gift shop categories, the focus should be on displays, Todd said. And every product in the vignettes you highlight, doesn’t have to be from your outdoor collection. “Suggestive selling, creating vignettes within your store, showing the products in outdoor settings with a backdrop, small plants, etc., really helps,” said Sandra Pryor, design and development manager at Manual in Hendersonville, North Carolina. “I think many storeowners would be amazed at how many items traditionally used indoors, transition so well to outdoor décor.”

Tara Dikos, vice preside of sales and marketing at Transpac and Foreside in Vacaville, California, agreed. “Look for cross-functional merchandise,” she advised retailers, as a way of increasing sales. “Items that can easily transition from indoors to outdoors.”

Mixed metals and colorful glass pieces work especially well here. The company offers a variety of products in this category from candleholders and lanterns to decorative yard accents and galvanized containers.

Todd at Studio M says that creativity and self-expression count for a lot when designing these vignettes. “Showcase items in unexpected ways. Use one of our new 6-inch Art Pots to hold silverware, rolled napkins or a bottle of wine. Clip themed or color-coordinated garden flags to a clothesline to create a fun party banner,” Todd suggested. These small flourishes will delight your customer and lead to increased sales.

Outdoor entertaining works even in cold weather climates.

“Remind customers that they can still enjoy the outdoors by building a fire, wrapping up in some heavy blankets and sipping hot cocoa,” Todd added. Ringstad of Homefires said in cold climates people find even 50-degree weather to be balmy and they head outside in shorts. It’s all a question of perspective. “We have a large variety of throws for chilly evenings that look amazing,” Pryor added.

Jennings said positioning your store as the go-to resource for the field, perhaps by hosting events or showcasing expert authors, will create just the marketing image you need for increased sales.

“I always tell retailers: sell the idea,” Jennings said. “You have to educate the customer, what are the best materials being used right now, how the outdoor space is evolving. Don’t push product, push a lifestyle.”

Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is an award-winning experienced freelance writer and editor. Learn more at

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