Distinctive Designs is not the only company feeling optimistic as we move through the Spring of 2010. Read the following article from Susan Dickenson of Home Accents Today magazine to find out why and to learn DDI's strategy for keeping up the positive momentum for Distinctive Designs, our clients and our industry partners.
Permanent botanicals springing back to life
By Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, 4/1/2010
Things are looking a little greener than they were a year ago for permanent botanicals manufacturers who are reporting, along with steady sales increases, optimism and a bit of relief as they head into the summer markets.
Some of those interviewed for Home Accents Today's annual business update on the category said that while buyers were noticeably "less impulsive" than in years past, they were pleasantly surprised by increased order-writing at the winter markets. Others said that new business internationally and in the corporate, hospitality and health care markets has helped offset softer residential demand, which is beginning to pick up again.
Almost all of the vendors say their main challenges lie overseas, where factory labor shortages and price increases have sent them on a hunt for new manufacturing talent and supply sources — but they like what they're finding.
"We're finding surprisingly creative product improvement coming out of these tough times. During a recent sourcing trip overseas, I saw dramatic technical enhancements in natural-looking small to large floor plants and amazingly natural artificial trunks, stalks, limbs and foliage," said Thomas C. Hoffmann, vice president of sales and marketing for Distinctive Designs, who added that innovation is no longer restricted to
. "Manufacturers in all the source countries recognize they must deliver more style and innovation at a lower 'value' price." China
Distinctive Designs, which picked up its sixth ARTS Award for permanent botanicals earlier this year, has spent more than three decades establishing relationships with component manufacturers in Asia, Europe, and North and
South America, something Hoffmann doesn't discount.
"We know from long experience which manufacturers produce the most creative, high-quality and durable products," Hoffmann said. "We also know who can deliver quality and quantity in the timeframes we and our customers require. Those kinds of trusted relationships are extremely hard to replicate, and particularly important in this economy when a lot of manufacturers have gone out of business."
Permanent botanicals have always been offered at floral and home decor vendor Melrose International, though two years of sourcing challenges have led the company to trim its product offering in the category. However, Melrose Vice President Brad Gullion said the company had an "unbelievable January at the shows" and that could soon change.
"Don't misunderstand, we still have plenty of permanents but have scaled back quite a bit. Thanks to the foresight of our buyers we do see a major comeback in this category," Gullion said. "We've lost quite a few competitors and have found some interesting new factories that have the quality we demand and pricing that can make our customers successful. We experimented with some pre-mades from these factories in our 2010 fall and Christmas line and had amazing results. I think we will be stepping back into the permanents quite a bit more heavily with the new spring 2011 line which will premiere at the summer shows."
At Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sullivans, sales are also up from 2009. Elaine Deelstra, national marketing director for the florals and accessories manufacturer, said permanent botanicals are performing strongly as a product line, with the greatest challenges coming from "just importing itself, with substantial changes in duty and finding competitive shipping rates."
Deelstra said Sullivans sets itself apart from other vendors with variety and quality. "We also pay particularly close attention to the realism projected in our product... We have found that our customers are looking for products that are botanically correct in form and color."
At Diane James Designs, where arrangements are made to order in Connecticut, co-CEOs Carolyn James McDonough and Cynthia James Matrullo said securing high-end stems from
importers continues to be an issue "since they do not want to stock large inventories of expensive flowers. Also, since the importers are ordering less inventory, it is taking longer for them to fill containers to ship to the U.S. so deliveries have been extended from three months to six months." U.S.
Despite that, Diane James continues to introduce two new collections a year and maintains a lead time of "five days rather than five weeks." The vendor has had a strong 2010 thus far, and expects it to continue. "We feel that silk flowers are a bit more resilient in a recession since people tend to look for alternatives to fresh when budgets are cut," McDonough said.
Like Deelstra, McDonough and Matrullo stress that realism is key. "As younger generations are buying and decorating homes, the stigma of silk flowers — a lot were truly awful 30 years ago — is being overturned by the beauty and quality of our product."
McDonough said her customers' floral preferences tend to be regional. "While the East Coast loves garden flowers (roses, hydrangeas and peonies), the warmer climates tend to like orchids and more tropical plants, and people in the West like sunflowers."
Diane James Designs recently signed a licensing agreement with the Winterthur Estate and Museum in
, and McDonough said the company is seeing more international business. "Since we introduce new designs every season, we are continually evolving as a business so product extensions are not out of the question." Delaware
New to the category this year is Tulsa, Okla.-based Imax Worldwide Imports. The home accents manufacturer enjoyed a successful debut of its first permanent botanicals line in January and will add more plants this summer. Sonja Wagoner Urich, the company's creative director, said the idea is to increase Imax's appeal as a one-stop shopping place and to encourage customers who might not previously have bought in the category to give it a try.
"We focused our botanicals introduction on value — remarkable quality at a value price point. Rather than complex silk arrangements or drop-in stems, our items are potted plants that are weighted in 4-inch to 6-inch pots that can be easily placed in a decorative container," including many of those sold by Imax.
, Gullion said the designers are always thinking of the florist. "You will find that almost all of our pre-mades and wreaths have florist foam in them. This allows the item to be sold as is, or the retailer or customer can add to the design to give it a more personal touch." Melrose also offers videos and instructions for customizing the designs on its Web site. Melrose
"Because we sell to all parts of the
we have to give the retailer the ability to be unique in their area or a customer to have a unique design in their home if they live in a small town," Gullion added. "Our designers create unbelievable showrooms that draw a retailer in. We want to share that with the retailer and inspire and teach them, not just take compliments and awards." United States
Distinctive Designs' Hoffmann stressed the importance of paying close attention to the distinct needs of each customer and market segment. "We understand the various customers we serve — homes, workplaces, hotels, hospitals, resorts, retirement communities — and the variety of organizations that serve them. The designers, furniture stores, specialty stores and other accessory suppliers that serve those environments are our partners and channels to market."
In addition to making sure there's a broad selection for customers to choose from, Hoffmann said their different needs also must be considered. "Our contract design partners serving hotels, resorts and retirement communities need larger and more durable products for high-traffic areas. Safety, maintenance and things like fire-retardancy are more important in public environments. They also need accessories for outdoor areas around pools, outdoor dining areas, and rest areas to coordinate with their interior design specifications. We have been working with our source manufacturers to ensure that Distinctive Designs has the right components and products to serve all of the various customers and channels that rely on us for our well-known designs, quality and innovation."
Getting those products to market with minimal transit damage and disarrangement is also important — and no small feat, according to Hoffmann. "Over the years we've innovated manufacturing and packaging processes that enable us to take highly creative works of three-dimensional floral art, mass-produce them to exacting standards and package them to arrive at their destinations in the same beautiful condition in which they leave our production line."
Going forward, Hoffmann said his company is optimistic. "Part of that is because our channel and market strategy helps immunize us from the sections of the economy that aren't doing as well as others, and we're continuing to see growth in select areas of the market.
"We're also sensing a softening of budgets for our types of products across markets, because I think people are getting tired of the austerity that the economic recession has inflicted. Decorative accessories — especially florals, plants and trees — can economically and dramatically change the look, feel and character of any living or work space."
Imax's new permanent botanicals line includes the Red Guimania, measuring 25 inches tall and retailing for $80.