2007 Apollo Award nominees keep it fresh

Kristine Ellis -- Casual Living, 9/1/2007

Fresh displays, fresh ideas and fresh energy ... this year's Apollo Award nominees are experts at drawing on their experience to bring new excitement and the occasional wow factor to their showrooms. Many remodeled, some added new lines and, for a few, it was a matter of creatively responding to challenges. In all cases, they consistently delivered more than their customers ever imagined. 

Winners will be announced at the Apollo Awards banquet on Sept. 20, at Navy Pier during the International Casual Furniture and Accessories Market in Chicago, co-sponsored by the SCFMA and Merchandise Mart Properties. While top awards will be well earned, given this group of specialty dealers, it really is an honor just to be nominated. 

Single Store Category 
Dodds & Eder, Oyster Bay, N.Y. 

A combination of classic staples and big statement pieces kept Long Island's elite coming back for more at Dodds & Eder this season. 

"It's been a great season. Everything is up quite a bit from last year," said Carrie Leopold, manager of the furniture department. 

The company has been serving the Gold Coast since opening as a feed store in 1897. With a customer base that demands high quality and stellar service, Dodds & Eder operates on the philosophy that more is better when it comes to catering to customer wishes. This season that often meant providing what customers were seeing at hotels and spas, such as outdoor beds from Veneman, changing cabanas from TUUCI and outdoor showers from Alfresco Home. 

"We didn't put the outdoor beds on the floor because they are so big, but we've sold bunches of them from the catalog, all sizes and shapes, to people who come in and ask for them, having seen them at hotels," Leopold said. 

Over the last year, Dodds & Eder also became an industry partner with the American Society of Interior Designers, significantly increasing its referrals from interior designers. In addition, although Dodds & Eder has its own landscaping division, it also developed relationships with two other landscape companies in the area that prefer to refer their customers to Dodds & Eder rather than get into the outdoor furniture business themselves. 

This is the third consecutive Apollo nomination for Dodds & Eder under the leadership of Joe McLaughlin and General Manager Dorothy "Dottie" Simons. 

Among outdoor lines displayed in the 12,000-sq.-ft. showroom are Brown Jordan, Cast Classics, Gloster, KNF, Laneventure, Lloyd/Flanders, Summer Classics, Windham Castings and Woodard/Landgrave. 

Fruehauf's Patio and Garden, Boulder, Colo. 

One of the few constants at Fruehauf's Patio and Garden is the element of fun people can expect to have when they visit. 

"We want people to come and spend the day here," said Mary Fruehauf, co-owner with David Daum of the business, which was established in 1977. "There's lots to see and every day is different. We try to be the Disneyland of patio with something for everyone." 

Hundreds of sets of outdoor furniture are displayed throughout the 2-acre site, which also includes nursery and gift businesses. Top-drawing themed tent displays this year included a rustic lodge; a lawn party complete with wicker outdoor furniture, a putting green, and the always-favorite pirate/tropical display. 

Throughout the multi-leveled showroom are six different vignettes displaying how to make the most of your outdoor furniture at various times throughout the day. One area is set up for breakfast, another displayed an Asian-style sushi meal, another a conversation group with afternoon drinks and appetizers and a fourth a formal dining setting. While the themes remained, sets and manufacturers were frequently changed to show a wide range of product. 

"We get people thinking about what direction they want to go in," Fruehauf said. "The more ideas we can give people through our different displays showing them what to do with their outdoor spaces, the more it helps all of us." 

Fruehauf's top vendors include Brown Jordan, Gloster, Hanamint, Homecrest, Kingsley-Bate, Lloyd/Flanders, Meadowcraft, O.W. Lee, Pride Family Brands and Telescope Casual. This is the specialty dealer's second Apollo nomination. 
Kolo Collection, Atlanta 

Following up on the previous year's remodel, the Kolo Collection added another 2,500 square feet to its showroom in 2006. The now 7,000-sq.-ft. space includes a chair wall to display dining and lounge chairs as well as a small 350-sq.-ft. room where customers can meet with designers. 

"We added that to help people visualize furniture in a smaller setting, like a screened-in porch or all-season room," said Greg Martin. 

Martin and his wife, Michelle, founded the business in 2003 and quickly built a reputation for offering its urban clientele high design and unique customization. 

That expertise grew this past year when they added Greg Morgan, a designer who worked with the largest Atlanta Decorative Arts Center showroom for nearly 18 years, to the staff. 

With Morgan's help and a change up in the mix with the addition of three new lines, sales were up this season by 50%. 

Current vendors include Brown Jordan, Cane Line, Dunford Jones, FIM, JANUS et Cie, Kettler, Lister, Pavilion, Rausch, Skagerak and TUUCI. 

Since opening, the three-time Apollo Award nominee has received numerous awards, including Casual Living's Best Store Front Single Store, and has been featured in many publications including Southern Accents, Cottage Living, Southern Living and The New York Times. 

Known for their special customer events, the Martins entered the realm of fund-raising this year by partnering with Atlanta Pet Rescue. Not only did the event raise $4,000, several needy dogs also found homes. 

Roger's Gardens, Corona Del Mar, Calif. 

With an emphasis on lifestyle statements rather than product groups, Roger's Gardens stepped up its commitment to outdoor furniture this year with an increased display area and more upscale lines. 

"We now have well over 5,000 square feet for outdoor furniture so we are able to show 17 assorted product lines in full vignettes," said Christopher Nichols, lifestyle and production manager for the 7-acre home and garden center. 

One of the hottest successes this season has been Cast Classics' continuous container program, which allows Roger's Gardens to offer container prices and still maintain its margins. 

"We've increased our Cast Classics sales by 50 percent with the program. In the past, we brought in just one or two containers, now we are bringing in five, making Cast Classics one of our largest lines this season," Nichols said, adding that he intends to continue the program for 2008. 

Other top lines for Roger's Gardens include Ancient Mosaics, Gloster, Kingsley-Bate, Laneventure, O.W. Lee, Treasure Garden, TUUCI and Veneman. A custom pillow program with Laurie Bell also was a huge hit this year. 

Nichols makes the most of the cross-merchandising opportunities available at Roger's Gardens, drawing on home decor accessories, live plants and indoor floral arrangements to set off the outdoor furnishings. In fact, a high percentage of the merchandise bought for the other departments is selected specifically with the outdoor furniture in mind. 

"The way we are able to present the furniture in a Roger's mindset rather than just putting it our there and hoping it will sell," he said. "We are actually creating outdoor rooms and lifestyles using all of our indoor and outdoor accessories." 

Gavin Herbert Jr. is currently president of the business, which has been at its current location since 1974. 

Williams Patio Furniture, Highland Park, Ill. 

Following a natural evolution from canvas manufacturer to awning manufacturer to outdoor furniture specialty dealer, Williams Patio Furniture has been providing excellent customer service since opening its doors in 1875. The latest update of the family business, which also includes a Bernhardt gallery and Williams Ski Haus, was a remodel of the main building's exterior. 

"The remodel was completed by the end of December, and it's definitely been an asset for us," said Mark Williams. "We've always spent our money on the inside of the building to make our displays better, but now the exterior looks good, too." 

Williams had a handful of strategic reasons for the remodel. Not only does it increase visibility of signage from a major highway, it also added about 2,000 square feet of showroom to the building's second story. In addition, a three-story tower added to the building became the exterior focal point as well as made room for an elevator. While keeping some of the historical features, the overall appearance of the building is now more inviting. 

The additional floorspace gives more room for displays of wicker and other deep seating, a hot ticket item at Williams Patio Furniture. The company's top outdoor vendors include Ancient Mosaics, Brown Jordan International, Castelle/Pride, Gloster, Hanamint, Hatteras, Kessler, Lloyd/Flanders, Meadowcraft, O.W. Lee, Summer Classics, Treasure Garden, Tropitone, Weber, Winston, Woodard and Woodard/Landgrave. 
Winner of the 2003 Apollo Award, the company employs about 35 people. 

Sunnyland Furniture, Dallas 

Winner of the Apollo Award for the single store category in both 2005 and 2006, Sunnyland Furniture earned its fourth consecutive nomination this season by staying the course. 

"We've haven't made any dramatic changes," said David Schweig, who started the business in 1977 with his wife, Debbie. "We've been very successful the last few years by following our business plan, and this has been another great year for us so we're very pleased." 

Sunnyland's move to the leading edge of the outdoor industry started five years ago when the Schweigs launched a major transformation of their store. The final stage of that transformation occurred this year with the remodeling of their largest showroom, an area of about 23,000 square feet. Sunnyland also has a 10,000-sq.-ft showroom featuring various distinct outdoor lifestyle experiences and a 2,000-sq.-ft. fantasy backyard display area. 

Proud of their back-to-back Apollo awards, the Schweigs leverage the recognition by using it in their marketing. Sunnyland also won Casual Living's top Merchandising Award as Most Fashionable Retailer and Best Overall Merchandising in June 2005. 

"The national recognition gives us more credibility in our customers' minds, and it gives the salespeople the confidence that they are doing something right," Schweig said. "Product, presentation, consumer acceptance — all of the pieces are in place." 

Sunnyland has 23 employees. Among its vendors are Ancient Mosaics, Arlington House, Brown Jordan, The HammockSource, Hanamint, Homecrest, Jensen Jarrah, Laneventure, Lloyd/Flanders, Mallin, O.W. Lee, Olympia Lighting, Outdoor Lifestyle, Telescope Casual, Tropitone, Winston and Woodard.

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