Marketing Porch Furniture

A woodworker has a large overstock of wooden porch swings left over when a big buyer backed out. Here, others critique his online marketing presentation as he tries to move the surplus. January 10, 2008

We set up sales with a local chain store last year. We sold them 100 swings. This year, they asked me to scale up our operations to a point that they could increase their order. We purchased several new pieces of equipment, and they increased their order (verbal) to 400 pieces. They only ended up sending out a PO for 200 pieces. We now have a large quantity of white oak on hand. I take the blame - I jumped the gun on ordering. Now they are saying that they didn't sell as well as they thought they would. They have requested we drop the price or they won't be able to purchase again next year. We were only getting $138.00 each. They were selling for 200.00 each.

I noticed on eBay they were selling swings like this for 200 and up. I am having problems moving them at 100 each. Everyone that has purchased a swing has given us great reviews and we have had no complaints on products or service. Why are we having these problems? Is this normal? Are they really selling swings out there for 300 plus, and if so, what are they doing different? Do you go in with cheaper quality or stick to your guns? We are very picky on the quality that goes out the door.

I would like to find a different way to market our products and get more traffic to our website that won't break the bank. This year has come close to that already. Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
I know very little about the market for porch swings, but I just looked over your website and searched eBay a bit, and will toss out some thoughts. On your website, the first thing that popped out at me was that much of the photography is pretty bad. Some of it looks carefully done, but at least half of the swing photographs look like they were taken at night with crappy lighting, no care taken at all. I also noticed that there's precious little written information about each swing, and the text is riddled with spelling, punctuation and capitalization errors. Nobody who's using Google to look for a chaise lounge, for example, will find your site, because you only offer chase lounges. You are in dire need of a copy editor.

On eBay I cruised through the first two of many pages worth of completed "porch swing" auctions. I only found one item that sold in the near-$300 range you mentioned; it sold for $280 and was made from solid Brazilian cherry. On those two pages there were 13 new porch swings, made from domestic woods, that actually sold. They ranged in price from $29.99 to $120, averaging $91.53 plus shipping.

I also couldn't help feeling - and this is more subjective than my other observations - that your swings look rather heavy, clunky and uncomfortable when compared to most of the swings offered on eBay. I find swings with some curves in the back and seat framing much more attractive... a little lumbar support, a nice rolled front edge behind the knees. The flat, rigid surfaces of many of your products look a little uncomfortable.

So, my impressions are that your stuff isn't presented as well as it could be, most of the market for swings may be at a lower price-point than you're imagining, and your product designs may need a little sprucing up.

From contributor B:
Contributor J may be right in some of his comments, but I think that the picture of the oak swing shows excellent workmanship. It is a swing I would pay $200 for if I were in the market. It is made of oak and all the hardware on it looks very sturdy. Have you considered a retail outlet of your own? Are you in a location where you can display your product? Maybe you could branch out into other pieces if you have demand from customers who have shopped your swing? As I see it, you are at the mercy of that one retail merchant. Develop others.

From contributor L:
I agree with contributor J on the copy editing thing. I too had to learn the lessons of the wholesaler sales (horses' backsides), but they do have their place and they help keep the production moving.

The market is wide open for you in the eBay arena. May I suggest a "Buy It Now" at price X thing to help push sales. People have become impatient with our new abilities to access info at our finger tips, and this of course helps to fill the impatient buyer's needs of immediate gratification.

Your website could use a little help, but the copy editing thing is probably the most important, especially "doing swings and outdoor furniture."

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the words of wisdom. I have contacted the gentleman that did our site and asked that it be looked at. I have been a firefighter/medic for 15 years and I learn something new everyday. It looks like this little venture will be the same way. I am just so glad there are so many people out there that care enough to tell you the truth and try and give solid advice. Thanks again.

From contributor I:
We share a market sector (to some extent), although in a different economy (I am in the United Kingdom). I hope that the views I'm going to share are helpful and that you see them as constructive. They are meant to be.

Contributor J is absolutely right about the photography on your website. Much of it is indistinct and fairly amateurish. The photos on my site are also taken by an amateur (me) and are far from perfect, but I take literally hundreds of photos and choose the best few angles, lightings, etc. to display on the website. Never use a blurred image unless I can click on it and get a crystal clear one to pop up. Never use an image with a date stamp on it.

As well as the photography, some of the product looks less than perfect in the photographs. Image 21 of 29 in your gallery section shows a burn mark on the oak on the front apron and has excess chain hanging down. Neither of these would fill me with confidence as a purchaser.

I would never show pictures of my workshop. I am sure that you are proud of it and want people to know how hard you work, but it never pays to let sunlight in upon magic. As far as my customers are concerned, the furniture they buy could be made by elves using pixie dust. They are more interested in the result than the journey.

Do the prices you show include delivery? I am guessing not, but am unable to see anywhere on your site what my delivery costs would be. Even if you quote each item individually, giving a table with some examples on a page clearly marked "Delivery" will encourage customers or save you wasting time quoting for people who have no intention of paying the real cost.

If I am reading correctly, you are selling the oak swing pictured to a retailer at $138 each in quantities of 200. Is this the same swing you are selling on your website for $175? If this is the case, then the retailer is not getting much margin, or your website customers are getting a stonking deal. If you want to sell wholesale, you need to make sure that the reseller has enough margin to keep him motivated, or you should just sell retail (webtail?) yourself.

Do the swings come with hardware? The picture shows eyes to attach chain, but the description doesn't tell me anything about it. Are they included? Is there any chain included? If not, can I buy it separately? Are the fittings stainless? (I am assuming with oak that they are.) If so, tell your customers - it adds to the aura of quality.

You never tell me on your site why I should fork out twice as much for an oak swing rather than a pine one. Don't assume that your customers will know that one is naturally durable and one isn't. Tell them. Tell them clearly and tell them often. Make it clear that they can have a 20 year swing or a 10 year swing and make it clear which one is which.

Your site does not have a "contact us" page from the main home page (there is one that appears and disappears in the online store). I may be a picky individual, but I will not order online unless I can see a telephone number. Yours is buried in question 9 of your FAQ's.

You spend more time telling me about my financial penalties for returns than you do telling me how important you think it is that I am happy with my purchase. I make an unconditional 100% money back guarantee which includes me paying return postage. I have been taken up on it twice in 6 years. (A total cost of about 40 - $80ish.) I am convinced that without it, 10-20% of my orders would go away. Buying online is a pig in a poke and you need to make sure that potential purchasers feel comfortable that they are going to get what they expect. If I read your restocking terms I would never buy from you simply because at a distance, your idea of quality and my idea of quality cannot be verified against each other. And what happens if the product is damaged in transit? Are you going to charge me 20% to get an item replaced that was damaged before it got to me?

I also agree with contributor J that some of your designs look clunky for my taste. There is nothing wrong with solid, but some of the proportions (the chaise lounge stands out in my mind) don't look right. It looks too "leggy," which may be because of the angle that the picture was taken from, or it may not.

From contributor C:
You have gleaned a ton of opinions and advice here. All have good points. Set up an eBay store and move the excess or less than perfect ones. You have a great looking product for the money. Careful with the curves and changes - they will all add minutes to your production. Do them carefully and adjust your profile templates accordingly.

From contributor H:
In my opinion, all the company info, including the telephone number and an email link, should be on every page in any commercial website. Not only that, but all that information should be on every paper document used in the business. It's amazing how many purchase orders and invoices I receive that don't include a telephone number. I've even received packing lists from huge, international vendors that don't even have their name on them.

From the original questioner:
I have to agree with all of you. I will start the changes ASAP. Thanks again for all the info and advice.

From contributor I:

You clearly care about your product but probably suffer the perennial small businessman's problem of knowing too much about what you do and assuming that others will know as much. Good luck with your review. Your kind of product can sell well on the web and the extra margin of selling direct can be useful.

"In my opinion, all the company info including the telephone number and an email link should be on every page in any commercial website."

Phew - I agree and had to go check to make sure that I had that set up on mine! Looks like I need to schedule that change into the next update of my shopping pages, but at least I had it on the main site pages.