With events and celebrations back on the calendar, new trends and demands in tables and seating have emerged.
by Maura Keller
Event planners are, once again, beginning to plan. Bridal couples are evaluating tables and seating options that will “wow” attendees, and corporations are busy envisioning what their next outdoor soirees will look like. As such, the trends in tables and seating have become top of mind for all.
But how has the recent pandemic affected tables and seating manufacturers and suppliers? And what tables and seating options are trending for today’s events?
Full steam ahead
According to Kevin Lococo, rental market national director at Palmer Snyder, in almost every U.S. state the Palmer Snyder team has seen a tremendous increase in demand as weddings and other festivities are being held for groups large and small.
“For 2021 year-to-date, our sales are ahead of any of the past five seasons,” Lococo says. “2021 is shaping up to be a fantastic year, but we also anticipate a promising 2022.”
Growth potential aside, how has the pandemic affected both table and seating manufacturers and supplies in terms of production and inventory? Lococo says the costs for shipping and raw materials have recently surged significantly, causing Palmer Snyder to reevaluate its product offerings to keep quality high and costs low.
“As a result of the surge in demand, some suppliers have run out of standard raw materials such as aluminum, resin and plywood,” Lococo says. “This is causing us some production delays.”
Mark McCourt, CEO of McCourt Manufacturing, is not convinced that the industry is 100 percent back on schedule, as there are still a lot of unknowns. That said, McCourt is seeing a slight increase in business, but not the typically large run-up the company would normally see.
“I think our customers, rental stores, are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach and are waiting until the bookings are in and confirmed and then looking at their inventory needs at that time,” McCourt says. “I suspect there will be a lot of last-minute buying to satisfy the demand. There is a new sense of optimism that hasn’t existed for the last 14-plus months, but it is still very undefined.”
McCourt’s business “fell off a cliff last year,” as there were no events, so there was no need for tables and chairs. To counter this situation, McCourt Manufacturing expanded its line of sneeze guards and leveraged that, but that business has also hit a wall as everybody has what they need now for personal protective equipment.
“The other issue is a fair number of our customers have gone out of business; they liquidate the inventory, which is picked up by rental stores with strong balance sheets or picked up by new entrants to the rental market,” McCourt says. “These adversely affect the demand for new tables and chairs.”
Kestell Furniture LLC in New Holstein, Wis., manufactures folding chairs, farm tables, benches and barrel tables. Andrew Schwarz, owner of Kestell Furniture, says that as restrictions were being put in place throughout the U.S., his company significantly slowed down its manufacturing of tables and seating for the event industry as open orders were being cancelled and few new orders were being received.
“It was pretty scary to see our backlog fall to almost nothing,” Schwarz says. “However, we were very fortunate during this time that demand for our in-home seating and gaming tables had increased, allowing us to retain our employees and just shift our focus.”
Most of Modern Event Furniture’s customers usually opt for factory direct orders, so the majority of business in 2020 was purchase orders placed before the pandemic really hit the shores of the U.S.
“Throughout the varying trials and tribulations that the pandemic brought, our customers remained very positive and optimistic throughout,” says Charles Kay, founder of Modern Event Furniture. “While deliveries were delayed, all of our customers accepted orders throughout 2020 so that they were ready for the ‘when’ of events returning to some semblance of our previous normal. From an inventory perspective, we cut back on in-stock products due to the unknown but in recent weeks it’s been a mad dash for customers to purchase what is in stock so that they can avoid longer factory direct lead times. And as markets open and the hunger to celebrate once again increases, our clients are further recognizing the need to give themselves a competitive edge, offering their clientele collections beyond the expected.”
Trends to watch
In addition to production and supply issues, the pandemic has affected what rental companies are looking for in terms of tables and seating.
For example, for Atlas Commercial Products, during the first 10 months of the pandemic, the flow of goods was not too bad for the company, but the last five months have been challenging with everything opening up and everyone buying the inventory. “All three of our warehouses were quickly depleted and that’s with us still receiving containers,” says Kirwin Mitchell, sales manager at Atlas Commercial Products.
“The big thing going right now is graduations and weddings,” Mitchell says. “With no one having them last year, everyone is going all out to have a graduation or a wedding.” As a result, TitanPro™ plastic (poly) folding chairs, TitanPro resin folding chairs, Vineyard Estates and Madison cross-back (x-back) chairs, Titan Series™ wood folding chairs, TitanPro resin chiavari chairs, reclaimed elm farm tables, Titan Pro and Titan Series wood folding tables, Titan Pro plastic folding tables, King Louie chairs, Thorne chairs, and Ava, Emma and Alexa chairs are just some of Atlas’s items that are in high demand.
“We have noticed a lot of our larger tables like the king and queen Titan Series and TitanPro wood folding tables have started to sell a lot more,” Mitchell says. “Also our farm tables have become one of our big sellers and it’s all from the demand to social distance. We also see some venues and other gatherings are spacing tables out to distance guests from each other.”
Lococo is also seeing two major trends take hold of the industry, the first being an increased interest in 30-by-72-inch and 48-inch round tables.
“We have noted the use of smaller tables and items that are easier to keep clean and sanitized,” Lococo says. “Our rental partners are also more cognizant of how many people are sitting at a table, so they are less likely to try and squeeze 10 people around a 60-inch table which should only hold eight.
“While our standard tables, 30-by-96 and 60-inch rounds, are still the most popular, the smaller tables are growing in popularity,” Lococo says. “Events are more conscious of the number of people per table, proper distancing and pod-style seating. We are also seeing that the garden resin chairs are in greater demand, as they are easy to keep clean and sanitize. Finally, we are seeing more outdoor weddings than before.”
One additional large trend Lococo noted is the demand for high-efficiency and more compact products. Linen-optional tables that can offer a classic or rustic look have made a huge splash. “Storage has always been challenging for these products, so finding good ways to stack and store them is imperative,” Lococo says.
McCourt is also seeing increased interest in “easy to clean” tables and seating products. McCourt offers the Commercialite® product line which is the only heavy-duty resin table built for the rental industry.
“It is easy to clean and durable, so it is a natural for cleaning and disinfecting,” McCourt says. “Resin garden chairs are also very popular, as the smooth plastic surfaces are very easy to clean and disinfect.”
Larger table sizes have been popular at McCourt Manufacturing, as social distancing rules have required more space between individuals. “The reliable 30-inch high-top is in very low demand, as the perceived issue is people are too close,” McCourt says. “The farm tables are also always popular, as they are a little big larger.”
Kay at Modern Event Furniture adds that modular soft seating has been in great demand, as this allows for more spaced out lounge and conference setups. “Various table options have been a big hit due to fewer guests and social distancing practices,” Kay says. “We’ve also seen an increase in interest for our boxwood hedge walls, which have been used to provide a chic partition option at events.”
Schwarz at Kestell Furniture has not seen any significant change in his company’s product lines in comparison to demand prior to the pandemic. Most seem to be picking up right where they left off.
“Our rustic farm-style tables and folding chairs continue to be in very high demand, as they seem to be great options for both indoor and outdoor events, adding a unique style to any event,” Schwarz says.
Since launching in 2020, Modern Event Furniture’s Hayworth chairs and stools have been a huge hit. The patent-pending design allows for both the chairs and stools to be folded on their axes.
As Kay explains, this innovative feature offers a huge space-saving opportunity for storage and transport. In addition, they offer interchangeable seating and backrest options, allowing the chairs and stools to adapt to any setting design.
“As designers of event furniture for over two decades, and part owners of a rental business ourselves, we always have to straddle the lines of new trends from a customer-facing perspective with the functionality required by the rental providers who trust our vision and execution for their own businesses,” Kay says.
Industry experts agree that after being cocooned for so long, everyone is ready to gather together in person. Mitchell says Atlas’s reclaimed elm farm tables and Vineyard Estates and Madison cross-back chairs will still be hot items this fall, as well as the company’s Vineyard Estates King Louie stacking chair, and the Ava, Emma and Alexa stacking chairs will continue to be hot for fall and winter.
“We are currently seeing a substantially increased demand for our more luxurious product offerings that feature higher end and innovative finishes such as polished gold and black chrome,” Kay says. “Moving forward this will be the trend for quite some time to come.”
Maura Keller is a freelance writer based in Plymouth, Minn.
SIDEBAR: Product handling tips
Storing, cleaning and transporting chairs and other seating can be challenging. Kevin Lococo, rental market national director at Palmer Snyder, says using pallet-style stacking with dollies has been and will always be the best way to move and store chairs in a warehouse setting.
“It also helps if the stack is held vertically to easily fit through standard doors. We urge caution to not stack chairs too high, as this poses potential damage to the cart due to weight,” Lococo says.
As for cleaning, chair-cleaning machines are effective, but often require extra steps or effort if the chair quality is poor. Palmer Snyder recommends using chairs made with high-quality raw materials that help prevent stains that require scrubbing. “This allows rental stores to quickly turn chairs for events and reduce their labor costs,” Lococo says.
Modern Event Furniture is known for seating designs that keep storage and transportation in mind. From stacking chairs and stools to purposefully designed modular seating, the company understands that space and functionality are just as important as aesthetics in the industry.
“As a result, we wouldn’t dare introduce a product that wasn’t stackable or foldable, or without interchangeable components that work in between multiple products,” founder Charles Kay says. As an example, Modern Event Furniture offers nine chair and seating options that are each very different from the other but share the same seats. All of these seating options feature removeable cushions and stack to save space. This allows for them to stay organized and safe during transportation, setup and every point beyond and in between.