The Del Mar Woven Deep Seating Collection from Agio was the winner of an International Casual Furnishings Association’s Designer Excellence Award for Lounge Seating.
Agio The Del Mar Woven Deep Seating Collection from Agio was the winner of an International Casual Furnishings Association’s Designer Excellence Award for Lounge Seating.

A leading manufacturer of patio furniture is making its products more accessible to smaller retailers.

Agio USA, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of outdoor furniture, recently announced a new domestic fulfillment program that finally will allow merchants to buy in small volumes.

The Virginia Beach-based firm manufactures in China and has long shipped direct to retailers, rather than going through distribution. Because of that, dealers have always had to buy in bulk — no exceptions.

“It’s always been if you can’t buy at least one 40-foot container, we can’t service you,” said Andy Sokol, Agio’s vice president of sales/retail.

Operating as a “container only” supplier has made Agio unique in the casual-living arena. Where other manufacturers have offered a mix of delivery services, Agio has been the lone holdout.

But, at least partly in response to the ever-growing popularity of casual furniture, the company has changed its model. For the first time in its 26-year history, Agio is lifting its minimum order requirements, making several of its most popular collections available à la carte.

This is welcome news to those who’ve wanted to carry the company’s products, but couldn’t commit to a container.

“They have very well-designed products at very competitive prices, and they’ve been very, very successful,” said Jackie Hirschhaut, executive director of the International Casual Furnishings Association.

Agio recently partnered with Philadelphia-based distributor Almo, which has warehouses in eight major cities throughout the U.S., to import and stock the collections and arrange deliveries to dealers or even to end-users through a third-party service.

The move will make Agio’s products more accessible to specialty retailers such as the growing number of pool and spa dealers who are delving further into the outdoor-living marketplace.

“It could be a decorator working on a project for a client who needs four sets, or a boutique type of store that buys one at a time,” Sokol said.

Purchasing by the container works out well for large retailers who can buy large quantities at a price advantage. But Agio’s container-only model ruled out many smaller dealers who figured they wouldn’t be able to move that much product within a given season.

“Ideally they want to be offering new styles at the beginning of each season, and they don’t want to still be carrying over last year’s stuff,” Hirschhaut explained.

That’s why smaller shops tend to deal primarily with American-made furniture and accessories. Though domestic products are more expensive than their counterparts from China, retailers can stock these items in smaller volumes and assume less risk. If a certain style doesn’t catch many customers’ fancies, at least the dealers won’t be stuck with a warehouse full of undesirable inventory.

“It’s really easy to make a mistake on containers,” said David Ghiz, owner of Imagine Backyard Living in Scottsdale, Ariz. “You think you’re picking the right stuff, but if the customer doesn’t like it, then you’re in trouble.”

Agio’s new strategy also benefits its existing customers. Longtime container buyers can use the domestic program to balance out inventory.