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from Patio and Hearth Products Report

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Momentum Builds at Jensen Leisure Furniture

For almost a quarter century, designers at Jensen Leisure Furniture have meticulously built a beautiful, and sustainable brand. Specialty retailers have spurred the Henrico, Virginia-based company to years of steady growth that culminated in a Casual Wood Manufacturer of the Year award from the International Casual Furnishings Association.

Roble New Kent Rockers from Jensen Leisure Furniture

Roble New Kent Rockers from Jensen Leisure Furniture

Jensen received the award, at least partially, for its well-known commitment to environmentally conscious wood sourcing. It’s not easy maintaining these standards, but Janet Wansor, vice president of Sales and Marketing, says the company manages to combine its mission with solid business practices.

“I think that our being a 100% Forest Stewardship Certified company is a bonus, but has not made it easier or more difficult to achieve our sales growth,” she says. “Like any outdoor furniture manufacturer, we do our very best to maintain high standards in quality and service and hope that the market responds. We take pride in Jensen Leisure Furniture producing furniture responsibly, giving value to our forest.”
Jensen’s family of retailers and consumers recognize the company’s signature Ipe wood as a long-lasting and beautiful timber. “Most are familiar with Ipe decks and know about its durability,” says Wansor. “As for our new Roble timber, we are needing to teach about the characteristics and features, because Roble is not known in the United States—as it is in Europe—for outdoor furniture. The chocolate brown of Ipe, contrasted with the creamy color of Roble, makes for a wonderful statement in presentation. Retailers and consumers who like wood are drawn to our Ipe and Roble.”
Jensen’s considerable momentum is continuing with the company’s recent introduction of ten accent pieces for 2015: the Ipe Opal Chaise; two Roble Tivoli Benches; Roble Tivoli Chaise; Roble New Kent Rocker; and five Roble Garden benches. Next year will feature even more accent offerings.
Handed Down
For those unfamiliar with Jensen Leisure Furniture, the company what designers call “heirloom furniture” that will be handed down through generations. Specifications ensure that furniture will endure the extremities of nature and repeated sittings throughout a lifetime of reading, dining, and gardenside solitude. Longevity begins with the quality of the timber.

The Ipe and Roble timbers that go into Jensen Leisure Furniture are certified by Rainforest Alliance as 100% FSC® Pure. Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC) certification is the global “gold standard” in independent, third-party forest certification. It guarantees that the wood contained in the furniture comes from well-managed forests. The FSC logo and “Chain of Custody” number branded on Jensen products allows buyers to track the wood back to the forest where it originated.

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Michigan’s Historic Gas Light District Has It Made In the Shade

Fig 5 Solair 2014_Solair-1BreakfastHARBOR SPRINGS, MI – Founded in 1986, Craig and Diane Bell opened WARD Gallery, a specialty fine art and design store located in Harbor Springs, Michigan. With undergraduate and graduate degrees in fine art and design, and a passionate interest in the arts, the Bells felt it was natural to share these interests with their community. Nearly 20 years later, in 2005 the Bells saw an opportunity to expand their business.

Looking to cater to customers who sought to expand their home decor, the Bell’s opened Ciao Bella!, a brick and mortar store in the heart of the historic Gaslight District of Petoskey, Michigan.  Having outgrown their ability to adequately present their outdoor living style in the home store, they opened Ciao Bella! Patio in 2013. Serving as Petoskey’s outdoor living store, Ciao Bella! Patio includes quality patio and deck furniture, water features, grills, outdoor kitchens and shade options, including Solair Shade Solutions® retractable awnings.

Ciao Bella! Patio Embraces Selling Opportunity with Solair
Living in an area with homes in need of shade, the Bells sought out Solair as an affordable solution that met the environmental concerns for their affluent customers.  Many of these customers are those with second homes with properties residing on Little Traverse Bay and its surrounding lakes. “Retractable awnings are a logical extension of our design and interiors business where we have an established presence with homeowners. These second homes are owned by families who purchase quality,” says Craig Bell. “After seeing the quality of the product first hand and speaking with a Solair representative about their awning program, it was an easy decision to offer Solair retractable awnings in our patio store.”

Binger Solair AwningSolair awnings provide a variety of benefits to homeowners including increased outdoor livability, shade and interior protection against the sun. But perhaps the biggest advantage for homeowners in Petoskey and the surrounding areas is worry-free protection against wind damage to their awning. “Often people in our area will consider the purchase of stationary awnings which have to be installed then removed each season.” Bell continues. “With a Solair retractable awning, this is no longer a concern.  Their awnings are retractable, made with Sunbrella material and affixed with a wind sensor that automatically retracts the awning when it detects potentially damaging wind. The combination of quality fabric and design innovation makes it the ideal product for people who do not want to bother with the process reinstalling every season.”

Selling Success
Since joining the Solair Awning Program in 2014, Ciao Bella! Patio has placed four Solair awnings in their commercial locations, one on their home and sold five to clients. Bell credits having an operating awning display in his store as the reason to his success in the program. “When selling against a price competitor, one has to be able to demonstrate the benefits of the investment,” adds Bell. “The same is true for customers who do not see the immediate need and benefits they can derive. I believe a demonstration awning is crucial for both circumstances.”

Another successful selling strategy Bell employs in his stores is to tailor the Solair application to a particular site problem. “We always try to get on site to discuss what a Solair awning can do for a customer’s circumstance because most often we are selling a customer whose need is not obvious to them,” says Bell in reference to an install that led to the sale of two awnings to a customer who was unaware of their multiple shade needs.

With the spring arriving, the Bells are looking forward to another successful selling season.

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Modular Canopy Design Sparks Industry Interest

Infinity_CanopyAlan Shargani, founder of Infinity Canopy Inc, Los Angeles, worked on his modular canopy design for three years before it was ready for release. Hard work paid off when he debuted his product line in October 2014 at the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) Expo.

The Infinity Canopy won IFAI’s award for Best New Product in the Shade Category, and followed up that honor with an Attendees’ Choice prize for Outdoor Living Product Marketability at the recently concluded HPBExpo in Nashville.

Prior to Infinity’s modular concept, the style of canopy pictured (upper left) was usually custom made. “It would require someone to measure, figure out where to run cables, then make the canopy and install it,” says Shargani. “Since the Infinity Canopy is modular, you don’t have to figure out where the cable is going because everything can be adjusted.

Infinity_Two“The individual parts come together to build a canopy that is as long as you want, and as wide as you want,” he continues. “The shade panels are individual parts. The owner can have one color or multi-color, or create interesting designs. Compared to everything else that is out there, this is the most dynamic canopy on the market.”

In situations where a branch goes through, or repair is needed, owners can take the panel out, buy a new one, and put it in. “You can always update and upgrade your canopy,” adds Shargani. “You can make it red, white, and blue for the fourth of July. You can take it with you, because it is not made for a specific structure.”

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by Carol Daus

Spring has sprung, which brings a smile to many faces. For those in the outdoor-living industry, it’s the best time of year: Consumers increase their spending on casual furniture, grills, and outdoor accessories. For baseball fans like me, this is a glorious time, as Major League Baseball (MLB) makes its annual return.

Given the profusion of exciting products attracting customers’ attention (combined with increased consumer spending and a stronger economy), I am confident that this will be a winning season for specialty retailers in the outdoor-living industry. I wish that I could be as confident about my Chicago Cubs’ bid for a 2015 playoff spot, despite the team’s new manager, new pitching ace, and renovated stadium.

Cub_PhotoWhy would anyone be loyal to a team with a 107-year World Series drought? Being a Cubs fan is akin to being a middle-aged woman searching for a soul mate on She endures countless dates at wine bars and Starbucks, and ultimately, she might never find Mr. Right. I admit that after five decades of rooting for the Cubs, I’ve experienced my share of frustration and heartbreak. Being a Cubs fan, however, has never really been about winning. Like the middle-aged woman who learns to live without her prince, I’m OK supporting a team that might never secure a World Series title.

For me, being a Cubs fan has always been about my connection to the Cubs through my family and friends, as well as through memories of rooting for them, especially as a child and young adult. I loved those sun-drenched afternoons in the bleachers of the Friendly Confines, sitting alongside my dad and cheering on our lovable losers. In 1980, I even moved to Wrigleyville, just blocks away from Wrigley Field, in order to attend more games.

CDaus_1The start of this year’s baseball season has made me more reflective than usual because of the recent death of Ernest (Ernie) Banks (1931–2015), the Cubs’ legendary shortstop and eternal optimist, who is remembered fondly for his mantra, “It’s a beautiful day for a ball game: Let’s play two!” Banks embodied the true spirit of what it means to be a Cubs fan. Each spring, Banks predicted a pennant for the Cubs, who had not won a World Series since 1908 or a National League title since 1945. He was nicknamed Mr. Sunshine due to his positive and personable nature, long before his other nickname—Mr. Cub—stuck.

Banks’ infectious smile, good-natured sense of humor, and enthusiasm were traits that fans and fellow players witnessed both on and off the field. About 20 years ago, I was thrilled to meet him at a charity golf tournament. When I told him that I was frequently at the games in the 1960s and 1970s, cheering him on as he joined the MLB’s 500 home run club, he thanked me profusely for being such a loyal fan, even though the team was unable to get into the playoffs. I’ll never forget the warm, heartfelt smile that accompanied his words.

Many people I know have their own Ernie Banks stories. In the early 1990s, Patio & Hearth Products Report’s publisher, Tony Ramos, was standing in line at a health-food store in Marina del Rey, California, when a man standing behind him asked, “How are you doing, young man?” Just after Ramos replied, the man began singing “White Christmas” in a loud baritone voice. Afterward, he nodded, smiled widely, and wished everyone in the store a merry Christmas. Ramos learned from the cashier that the man was Banks.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” (Little, Brown and Company, 2005) and other best-selling books, first impressions occur instantaneously (or within two seconds). A genuine smile—combined with a friendly hello—is retailers’ best strategy for ensuring that customers make purchases at their stores, instead of at competitors’ stores down the street. It’s amazing to see how many retailers show indifference when potential paying customers walk into their stores. Surveys have shown that this lack of interest is one of the biggest reasons that people don’t return to a business.

Banks’ ability to connect with people serves as a model for those in retail environments who want to stand out and be memorable to customers. It doesn’t cost anything to acknowledge and smile at customers, even if those customers don’t purchase anything on one occasion; they might return, and they might recommend the store to others. By being welcoming, friendly, and helpful within those first two seconds of a customer’s visit, you are planting the seeds of a long-term business relationship.

Carol Daus is the editor of Patio & Hearth Products Report. She can be reached at