Shoppers are looking for outdoor furniture. Here’s how one successful retailer sells it.

Watermark Living’s Ashley and Tim Newton offered selling tips to retailers at High Point market this month.Watermark Living’s Ashley and Tim Newton offered selling tips to retailers at High Point market this month.

Spring is here, and furniture retailers know what that means: Longer doses of sunshine, green leaves and sun-kissed backyards have consumers wondering whether to enjoy it all with last year’s musty outdoor furniture.

“This is the big time of year for outdoors,” said Tim Newton, president of Watermark Living, which manufactures outdoor furniture for retailers and also sells it through its 18 stores. “You want your staff to be ready, and that starts with knowing what the customer wants.”

Newton and his wife Ashley held a retail roundtable at High Point Market earlier this month, to help retailers strengthen their outdoor line in an industry that is expected to reach annual sales of $23 billion in five years, according to Global Market Insights.

With so many technological advances in the industry, a recurring theme at the roundtable was to keep things simple:

Narrow the choices

Unless you’re well-staffed or your store uses an Up System, never give your customers a fabric book, said Ashley Newton. “They’ll be there forever, and you’ll lose time with other customers.” Instead, Ashley said, take 10 samples to them based on what they’ve said in their conversations with you. “If you’ve done your homework and asked the right questions, you’ll have a good idea of what they want,” she said. “What’s their favorite color? What’s the color they’re looking for in their space? Are they into stripes or more into floral? You’re not limiting their choices. You’re making things easier for them.”

Avoid technology

It’s easy for sales associates to fall into the trap of touting all the technological advances outdoor furniture has made in recent years. Powder-coated aluminum frames tell the consumer nothing. Speak to them in a language we all understand. “This fabric is easy to maintain or it’s indestructible or it’s mildew-resistant or it won’t fade,” Ashley said. “That’s what people can relate to. Then if they want to know more about why something is mildew-resistant, give them the technology.”

Keep things open

For retailers who sell both indoor and outdoor furniture, never make a “furniture production” to shoppers until after you learn the basics of why they’re in the store to begin with, Tim said. “When you tell a customer that indoor furniture is over here and outdoor furniture is over there, you’ve just cut off half your store,” he said. “Find out what their needs are and then give them the best of both indoors and outdoors.”

Finally, Tim Newton offered a tip for furniture retailers, regardless of whether they sell indoors or outdoors. If your customers have a problem with a product they bought from you, make sure they know to come to you to fix it.

That might mean adjusting the warranty contact information on the manufacturer’s paperwork that goes with every product sold so that it reflects your store’s name and phone number. Such a move might require talking to manufacturers to modify their paperwork, but it’s worth it to maintain the relationship with the customer.

It’s a little work,” Tim said, but it’s worth it in the long run. “We don’t ever want to send our customers to manufacturers. They’re our customers.”