A Formidable Team
By Tom Lassiter
Just about every casual furniture manufacturer has a quick-ship program. So does CabanaCoast. But its quick-ship program offers a major difference.
Instead of covering a limited number of products, with a restricted list of frame and fabric choices, CabanaCoast’s quick-ship program covers everything. Period.
“Our goal is to ship everything in two to three weeks,” says Lindsay Liepold, director of U.S. Sales. “Our focus is heavy inventory and on having very few backorders.”
CabanaCoast’s quick-ship program means that customers may choose from some 3,200 SKUs and more than 200 fabrics by Sunbrella, Tempotest, and Serge Ferrari. Customers can expect their custom-made cushions to ship in three weeks or less from the company’s headquarters in Mississauga, Ontario.
“We call ourselves a special-order manufacturer,” says Liepold. “That’s where our niche is.”
CabanaCoast’s version of a container program keeps its warehouse stocked with a steady supply of products arriving from partner factories in China. Casual furniture retailers, designers, and commercial clients simply order what they need, when they need it. Whether it’s January or June or October, CabanaCoast stands ready to deliver on its quick-ship promise.
The company earned its way into some specialty merchant showrooms, Liepold says, because it could deliver product while the competition’s containers were still on the water.
Liepold says CabanaCoast is the largest customer in Canada for Glen Raven’s Sunbrella brand of performance fabrics, which are “stocked in heavy inventory. That’s how we make our quick-ship program happen.”
Does CabanaCoast achieve 100% satisfaction toward its stated delivery goal?
“No,” Liepold says. “But neither does FedEx.”
She can say that because she once worked in sales and management for the company that pioneered the overnight delivery business. But like FedEx, CabanaCoast remains focused on its goal of complete customer satisfaction.
CabanaCoast employs no secret formula, she says. Its recipe is simple.
“At CabanaCoast, there are no slackers,” she says. “We bust our butts to get the product out the door. We’re a hard-working team that works very well together to make that happen.”
She gives credit to the employees who staff the company’s in-house cushion factory. “None of our soft goods – cushions, pillows, umbrella canopies – are pre-made,” she says. “Designers love us because our fabric people are so capable. They’re pretty much fabric artists.”
The Studio Collection.
Leading by Example
David Wen and Catherine Peng founded the company now known as CabanaCoast in 2000. The husband-and-wife entrepreneurs had emigrated from China to Canada as part of a program that requires participants to launch a business and hire at least one employee within two years.
Wen and Peng, who had a background in office furniture sales, started an import business serving that market.
The couple’s business plan was working well when an unexpected order came in. Could the company supply 200 bases for market umbrellas? That’s somewhat outside the realm of office furniture, but Wen checked with his Chinese suppliers and verified that the order could be filled.
Soon another order arrived for outdoor products.
As Liepold relates the story, Wen investigated the Canadian market for garden furniture and identified an opportunity. He discovered lots of China-made outdoor furniture available for import to Canada. He and Peng revised their plans and concentrated on building a casual furniture import business.
The first casual products they imported were cast-aluminum items, shipped knockdown for assembly upon arrival. Almost immediately, Wen saw ways to make the furniture more aesthetically pleasing. These were simple design alterations at first, Liepold says, such as moving a screw out of sight. He and Peng eventually started requesting more substantial changes and then began sending complete product designs to be prototyped and manufactured in China.
“They just discovered they have a passion for it,” says Liepold. Wen remains the company’s sole designer, with input from his wife and other members of the management team.
Today, Wen is the creative force at CabanaCoast. The company moved into a new facility in late 2017, putting all of its operations under one roof. Wen worked closely with the building’s architectural firm, Liepold says, suggesting a number of tweaks to the design. “He made it better,” she says.
Wen’s creative leanings seem unlimited. In addition to designing CabanaCoast’s products, he photographs them for the company’s website and catalog.
In a written response to questions, he describes himself as “a person who has always noticed and paid attention to details. I spend a lot of time thinking about what will look beautiful in design and will be comfortable, because our furniture is made to be used and enjoyed, and not to sit as an art piece to just look at.”
Peng, Liepold says, is the operations wizard who makes everything come together behind the scenes. Peng also oversees the company’s sales in Canada.
The company began selling into the U.S. market about seven years ago.
“They both have a vision,” Liepold says. “They are the hardest working people in this company.”
Going forward, the founders express their goals in simple terms. “I don’t know where we will be as a company in the future, but I know that we will be the best that we can be,” Peng writes. Her husband writes, “I really want to continue to design and produce nice products that people can enjoy, and to always remain true to our tagline – ‘A beautiful life.’”
The Trellis Collection.
Ramping Up Sales
CabanaCoast’s fiscal year ends July 31. While sales in the year just concluded were up in Canada, Liepold says, U.S. sales were down slightly. Liepold speculates that the dip (just a percentage point or two) may have been caused by retailer uncertainty over tariffs in the U.S.-China trade war.
The uncertainty appears to have delayed rather than cancelled orders, she says, especially with commercial clients. “I see the order funnel. The orders are there,” she says. “They just didn’t fall into this fiscal year.”
Even though CabanaCoast is a Canadian company, U.S. tariffs apply to most of its products because they originate in China. For the moment, the company has elected to absorb most of the tariffs, Liepold says, and pass on as little as possible to its U.S. customers.
CabanaCoast beefed up its team of U.S. sales representatives over the past year and now has representation (and dealers) throughout almost all of the Lower 48 states. At press time, Utah was the only outlier.
The company’s dealer network now is stronger than ever, Liepold says. “When I came on board four and a half years ago, there weren’t many expectations on our reps,” she says.
Liepold, who once was responsible for servicing hundred-million-dollar accounts for Ingram Micro, brought structure to the U.S. sales team and raised expectations.
“Every time I’ve made a change,” she says, “it’s been for the better.”
The company has about 25 sales reps covering the United States, with about half servicing furniture retailers (specialty stores and full-line furniture dealers) and the remainder servicing the contract market.
CabanaCoast makes no distinction in its product line; retailers and contract customers purchase from the same catalog. Some products, however, are not warranted for commercial use. An example, Lindsay says, would be motion chairs. The swivel mechanisms, purchased from another supplier, are not designed for commercial applications.
CabanaCoast’s product lineup leans toward fashion forward, contemporary styling.
“Our product focus is on the commercial side of the business,” Liepold says. “That’s definitely where we have the biggest opportunity for growth.”
The Belvedere Collection.
Residential customers sometimes find their way to CabanaCoast after first experiencing the company’s products in a resort setting. That in itself isn’t unusual, as other outdoor furniture companies often attest.
But one CabanaCoast retailer’s experience stands out in Liepold’s mind. When they first met, he related how a customer had discovered CabanaCoast furniture while vacationing in Aruba. Returning home to the United States, she was determined to buy some. She researched the brand and found a nearby dealer to place an order.
It turned out to be that dealer’s first CabanaCoast sale, which rang up to be $25,000.
The dealer, of course, “was thrilled.” Amazed, too, because it was his first sale based on a customer’s resort vacation experience.
While the amount of the sale is noteworthy, the resort referral is not. “We hear that a lot from dealers,” she says.
CabanaCoast concentrates on building brand awareness through a variety of channels, Liepold says. “We could have the most beautiful product in the world, but if no one knows about it, we’re not going to sell anything.”
The company places its products in model homes, attends trade shows for the hospitality industry, such as BDNY, and keeps a manager year-round in its Merchandise Mart showroom to serve the design trade. The brand also gets exposure through some of CabanaCoast’s national accounts, that includes Marriott, Hard Rock Café, Whole Foods Markets, and Sandals Resorts.
“We’re getting into the better dealers, the better commercial accounts,” Liepold says.
Orders also are coming in from beyond North America and the Caribbean. “There is lots of interest from Europe, South America, and the Middle East,” Liepold says. “We recently filled an order for a resort in Egypt.”
Owners David Wen and Catherine Peng.
Emphasis on Design
CabanaCoast doesn’t concentrate on resin wicker or aluminum or stainless-steel furniture. Rather, it follows a path dictated by design and staying on the leading edge of trends. All materials are fair game for CabanaCoast designs.
“We’re always going to be that company that’s fashion forward,” Liepold says. “We’re always going to embrace new designs, new materials.”
A new material introduced in 2017 is called SolTeak, a synthetic, faux teak product. SolTeak has the weight, look, and grain of natural teak, Liepold says, but as a polymer is maintenance free. SolTeak is available in a finish that looks like oiled teak as well as a weathered gray finish.
For 2020, CabanaCoast has fully embraced a new woven look, using thick, rope-like material wrapped and woven around frames to give seating products innovative textures with rich eye appeal. The products first appeared at the Merchandise Mart at the July PreMarket.
“We got into ropes in a big way this year,” Liepold says. “We’ve also gone into mixed media in a big way.” SolTeak accents, for instance, are used in a variety of ways on other frame materials.
The desire to stay out front means being able to part company with a category when the market signals that its popularity is on the wane.
“We didn’t introduce one new wicker collection this year,” she says. “Wicker may have had its day. It’s so commoditized now. People are always looking for new and different. We’re trying to meet those needs.”
CabanaCoast “walks the line between transitional and contemporary,” Liepold says. Avant-garde, far out design is left to others. “We don’t want to sell one of something,” she explains. “We want to sell 20,000 of that item.”
The company also prides itself on listening. CabanaCoast recently introduced a new white finish for its Mesa Fire Pits specifically because dealers and sales representatives had requested a white option.
“So we listen to those things and we react,” Liepold says. “As a smaller company, an entrepreneurial company, we’re more agile than some of those bigger companies. I know that, because I’ve worked for those types of companies before.”
Liepold has worked for major international companies, and she’s also worked in the trenches for smaller companies.
When her children were young, she retreated from corporate life and found a part-time job with one of Canada’s leading casual furniture retailers, Sheridan Nurseries.
Liepold took a position in the patio and giftware section, where she was introduced to casual furniture retailing. Her location was the No. 1 store in the group, which at the time had 14 stores. Liepold met her best friend there, she says, and filled in as a buyer when the manager was on maternity leave.
Now, when a CabanaCoast customer mentions how tough it is to be a retailer, he or she gets a sympathetic ear from Liepold. She understands the lows as well as the highs of retailing.
As a top-notch salesperson, Liepold is quick to compliment another salesperson whom she respects. One such individual is Catherine Peng.
“Catherine’s the best salesperson in the world,” she says, “because she sold me on the company.”