By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Robert Bell, owner of The Designer’s Garden Center, says he knew even at the time that he launched his business that in addition to offering lawn services, he would need to include more than sales of flowers, trees and shrubs in his business plan.
Since opening his location on Meadowbrook Road near Shinnston, he has continually rolled out new merchandise to keep customers returning, and one of his newest additions in particular has served him well. That is his vast selection of poly/resin outdoor furniture!
“I can’t keep it in stock,” he said, admitting that is a good problem to have! “It is handmade by the Amish in Ohio and I think people appreciate its high quality. It is all built to last a lifetime. There aren’t many things you can purchase that boast of being a one-time investment, but these items are.”
Customers who purchased this outdoor resin furniture when Bell began carrying it have increased its popularity! Their friends see it and realize that it is not just durable but comfortable as well. Then they ask “Where did you get it”, and his traffic has increased considerably since then. Having noticed his pictures on Facebook and compared internet pricing of similar items, Bell says his customer base has expanded with numerous people from outside the area shopping with him – even making several trips to carry their purchases home!
The outdoor furniture Bell carries is not composite wood, but poly-resin and couldn’t be more low maintenance! It requires no painting, no staining or waterproofing as it ages; it won’t rot, splinter or crack. It is also fade resistant, mildew resistant and won’t stain. Another bonus that seems to make this outdoor décor so well liked in every part of the country is that it withstands all types of weather – snow, ice, sun, heavy winds and even salt spray from the ocean!
“All of these features account for this outdoor collection being the new trend today,” Bell added. “Add to that the fact that it is available in 24 colors, and you can see why its popularity is so widespread. Customers can custom order pieces to coordinate with their homes, and the color selections can be mixed and matched at no upcharge. There are not only bright, beachy colors but many neutrals as well. Mixing cedar and black is often a trendy selection.”
Robert explained how his association with the makers of this furniture came about. He makes many trips to the Amish country to bring back fresh produce to sell during the summer months, and during one trip he starting dealing with Amish makers of chicken coops. They actually suggested to their Amish neighbors who were starting to customize these resin outdoor products that they contact Bell.
“They called me and asked if I would be interested in becoming one of their dealers, so on my next trip, I located them and stopped by to take a look. The quality of their work impressed me so I was on board right away,” he continued. “I am one of only three dealers and the only one in West Virginia they do business with; the other two are in North Carolina and Georgia. It is advantageous that I live close enough to go pick it up, so it saves them freight and I get it a little cheaper. That is another savings I can pass along to my customers.”
Bell says it was a decision he has not regretted! Customers have been as impressed with these products as he was. All hand-made by these two Amish brothers, every screw is put in by hand.
“They don’t have electricity so no power tools are used whatsoever. They are true craftsmen! They use what is called a ‘lazy-man’s stick’ to put in every screw by hand, and all framing supports and hardware are stainless steel,” Bell stated. “I know I have kept them busy and they’ve had a lot of business from their two southern dealers too. They just completed an order of 40 chaise lounges for a new resort in the South. I think they must work 24-hour days because they both operate their own farms as well!”
There is an enormous variety of items that can be purchased or special ordered: chairs (regular chairs, Adirondack chairs, rockers, pub chairs, swivel chairs, even pull-apart camping chairs); gliders in several widths; chaise lounges for poolside use; dining tables (round, square, or rectangular, with or without umbrella holes and of various sizes); Bistro tables; patio side tables; swings (straight backed or fan-backed); park benches; A-frames for swings – also available with shelves on the sides large enough to hold a book and a beverage; birdhouses; and a new item about to be offered – coordinating planters. As you can see the choices are NUMEROUS! Bell did state, however, that custom orders may require up to a four-week wait.
“For people who don’t have a lot of storage space, these items are ideal because they can be left outdoors during the off-season,” Bell noted. “And cleaning them up in preparation for summer use is easy; just use soap and water. Also, for people who may not have room for a side table, the arms on most of these items are rather wide and can be equipped with recessed cup holders. They really try to offer every customer convenience!”
Bell tries to keep a plentiful stock of the poly-resin outdoor furniture items on site at The Designer’s Garden Center so that his customers can not just look them over, but try them out! While customers can buy from his on-site inventory, many prefer to customize the color to suit them.
“I started showing them in the Spring, and I could have sold 40 swings or more around Mother’s Day. I learned from that experience,” Bell said. “This year, I hope to really stock up through the winter months so that I’ll be better prepared for Spring of 2019! That’s how popular these products are.”
Typically, in north central West Virginia, weather is still warm enough for outdoor enjoyment through the end of October – although there may be times when a light sweatshirt is required. So if you’re re-thinking your outdoor space and want to add stylish and durable patio or porch furniture, be sure to visit The Designer’s Garden Center!
Their hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. They can also be reached by calling 304-672-2208 or check them out on Facebook at ROBERTBELL(DESIGNERS GARDENCENTER).