Chairs of choice

Seating adds to trendy looks


Chairs are often overlooked in an event. With showpieces like the flowers, the linens or the lighting, chairs can fade into the background. However, chairs can contribute to the entire look of an event, either on their own or with a cover.

Polyfolds, for example, can evoke a formal or industrial look, and the white resin folding chair is a classic in its own right. In fact, the “rustic” trend that has taken the event rental industry by storm has left no chair unturned and has sparked a return to wooden chairs.

“We are seeing a resurgence in the demand for stained chairs versus white or black,” says Terry Kolb, president, Kestell Furniture, New Holstein, Wis. “Whether it is fruitwood, pecan or natural, it appears that clients, brides and planners alike are moving toward the ‘rustic’ or ‘earth tones’ for their event. This might also account, in part, for the general shift back to wood as evidenced by the recent popularity of farm tables.”

David Hardage, director of sales and marketing, PRE Sales, San Diego, agrees. “For us, the color that seems to be popular is fruitwood, both in the folding and the Chiavari chairs. In the rental stores that start in Chiavaris, they now start in a wood grain, rather than gold. For us, it seems like fruitwood has been a trend.”

Hardage adds that in the polyfold area, black is topping brown as the color du jour. “The black polyfolds, we just cannot keep them in stock. It used to be that stores would start with brown and tan polyfolds. Now, the stores that have them are replacing them with black polyfolds and selling off the brown ones outside their market. A lot of stores are going with two colors for polyfolds: white and black. Both can be used for formal occasions.”

While color is a factor in what rental store customers may look at, the desire for quality hasn’t waned either.

“In the challenging economic times of the last few years we have noticed that our customers continue to look for quality and that’s not about to change,” says Antony Brett, international sales manager, Alloyfold, Christchurch, New Zealand.

“Rather than purchasing cheap chairs to save money in the short term, they are opting for products that require little maintenance and offer them a greater return on investment,” he says.

“We are also seeing a trend back to sledge legs. With a lot of colleges now having artificial grass, standard four-leg polyfold chairs can cause holes in the turf, so our Alloyfold A2 chair with sledge legs is making a resurgence. We will be exhibiting it at The Rental Show in February,” he says.

Shape and size is a key trend, whether it’s the classic Chiavari or a more unique number.

Diego Discacciati, vice president, Drake Corp., East Brunswick, N.J., says recently, Drake has had several requests for its high-back folding chairs. “They look bigger than regular folding chairs, they are more comfortable and look more sophisticated around tables. However, they still are as easy to handle and store as a folding chair,” Discacciati says. “They are not an alternative to regular folding chairs. Usually they are an additional smaller inventory that however can capitalize a higher rental margin, at the same handling cost of a regular folding chair.”

Robby Puckett, territory manager, McCourt Manufacturing, Fort Smith, Ark., agrees. “The polyfold, or Series 5, is a staple of the industry and remains the top-selling chair for the rental companies. Chiavaris are also becoming popular once again, as are white resin white or garden chairs,” Puckett says.

Dennis Heathcote, president, National Event Supply, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, says for his company, the Chiavari is more popular than ever. “As the economy continues to struggle, with a slow recovery in most markets, the Chiavari chair has managed to solidify itself as the wedding and special event favorite for the party rental industry. Rental stores can now choose between resin, wood, and aluminum Chiavari chairs with many looking to the resin chairs for the strength, authentic look and durability. Another chair that has grown in popularity, but is often too expensive for most parties, is the Ghost chair,” Heathcote says.

Guadalupe Hernandez, sales executive, The Chairville Corp., Dallas, says the Chiavari chair is a “classic” and will always be popular with customers. “For us, that includes the stylish chair called Twisted and we expect customers to see this as a fashionable and trendy item,” she says.


Samsonite re-enters the rental market

Editor’s note: Samsonite was known for years as a source of folding chairs for the rental industry. When the company ceased operations in 2002, several other businesses moved on with the name, assets and employees. Scholar Craft bought the assets and former employees formed Resilient Furniture, which later went on to cease operations. Now, the Samsonite name is back in business. Bill Lippe, director of new business development at Samsonite, Mansfield, Mass., recently talked with Rental Management about the relationship of the company to the original Samsonite, current focus and future plans. An edited version of that conversation follows:

RM: How, if at all, is the current company related to the previous entity of Samsonite Commercial Furniture or the resulting companies?

Bill Lippe: Samsonite was the dominant supplier into the rental market for years, at one time owning as much as 50 percent of the market share. Samsonite’s commitment to quality and innovation — the injection mold “Samsonite chair” as an example — were critical to that success. I’m not sure what led to the decision to vacate the category as a direct supplier, but in my eyes it was a mistake. Samsonite then licensed the brand to Cosco (commercial-grade) and Meco (residential-grade), the remaining inventory was sold off to Scholar Craft and Resilient was launched by former Samsonite employees. I think the success all four entities had associating themselves with Samsonite is a testament to the power of the brand and our legacy within the rental market.

RM: How much of Samsonite’s strategy is focused on the equipment rental industry? Is this your main target market?

Lippe: Yes, going forward we thought it important to stay true to our roots. We’re launching commercial-grade folding chairs featuring an unparalleled 10-year warranty. Our chairs are following the same specifications developed all those years ago — lighter, with stronger materials — to survive the rugged everyday use in the rental industry. Building to that spec means you won’t find our folding chairs at your local big box retailer, where the focus is on residential use and price.

RM: What will be your main product focus?

Lippe: The product line continues to develop and is not limited to chairs or tables. We’re launching office chairs in the first quarter and looking at other furniture-related categories for the second half of the year.

RM: Are the company and manufacturing located in Mansfield, Mass., or is the manufacturing done elsewhere?

Lippe: Samsonite’s global headquarters is based in Mansfield, Mass. We’re looking at a number of different locations for sourcing furniture, most of it in Asia. We’ve successfully sourced in Asia for years, consistently delivering the highest quality merchandise in the luggage category. We’re using many of the same team members and quality inspection processes to ensure our furniture is made to the strictest quality standards first developed by Samsonite years ago. That’s one of the many reasons we were comfortable offering a 10-year warranty on all our folding chairs and tables.

RM: Did the economic downturn delay the opening of Samsonite’s chair division or did it make this possible? How has the downturn affected your customers and their decision-making?

Lippe: The economic downturn was fortunately not a factor in our decision to move forward with furniture. After some preliminary research, we all realized how dominant the brand had once been in the category and recognized that it was a unique opportunity to re-enter the market. I’ve heard from many of our former customers in the rental channel. Some are looking for down-and-dirty pricing during these tough economic times just to get by. Others are looking further ahead and understand that a small investment now can pay dividends over many years. We are certainly looking to partner with the channel and develop product that meets the demands of the industry while delivering on the reputation of the brand — quality and durability.

RM: What prompted the launch of this company this year? What does Samsonite offer that is unique today?

Lippe: When I walked the exhibit floor at The Rental Show in February of this year in New Orleans, I was amazed at how many suppliers were selling and marketing the “Samsonite chair.” Based on our research, the brand still resonates within the channel — not just with the rental dealers, but with their customers. They know what they are getting with Samsonite and are very comfortable with the brand. The unique feature Samsonite is bringing to the rental market is delivering product built to the original Samsonite specs and quality.