My Big Outdoor Furniture Mistake

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Live and learn, the hard way.

In 1994 and before Eastgate Pools ventured into the outdoor furniture market, I purchased a set of outdoor furniture. It was from Swallens, a discount department store that is no longer in business. It featured four swivel rocker chairs with thick cushions and a small glass-top oval table. For good measure, I added a garden-style umbrella. It was the type that had smallish rods that supported the canopy, which had very chic drop-down curtain-style outer edges. It was an extremely cute set and I paid around $375 for everything. That’s about $795 in today’s dollars, according to the app I use. Most definitely not upper end, but certainly not a cheapie set, either. Or so I thought.

After about two years, the chairs would no longer swivel as the mechanism had rusted. The cushions were still usable, but they took days to dry when wet. The table? Ah…

It blew up! Basically. I did something I came to preach against when I became an in-store sales associate. I left the umbrella up. One day, I returned home after helping build a garage attachment. I’m no ace carpenter and it didn’t go well. Tired, sweaty, and hungry, my day got even worse with what I discovered. My table was on its side, shattered.

Glass shards…everywhere.

The plastic base that I had filled with twenty pounds of sand wasn’t enough to secure the umbrella. The umbrella was inserted into the base via the table’s umbrella hole. Locked in place, wind simply flipped the table over, shattering the glass top.

I swept up hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of glass and pried others from between the deck boards. Many pieces flew off the deck and landed in the yard eight feet below. I used a shop vac to get those, but still found shards for years. Nearly thirty years later, I’m sure there are some still there, albeit buried now, not unlike an ancient dinosaur fossil.

Okay, I was now back in the market for outdoor furniture. I knew I wanted something comfortable and while the umbrella was still good, I clearly needed a better base. So off I went shopping again. Swallens had gone out of business in 1995, so I went to the Value City Department Store (VCD) on Ridge Avenue. Not to be confused with the separate Value City Furniture entity, VCD specialized in buyouts and liquidations. And I found the perfect set at a low, low price. Tantalizingly low. Sold!

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!”

VCD is no longer around, but the manufacturer of the set I bought is, so I won’t name them. Basically, I still knew nothing about how to determine quality and I was easily persuaded by the low price. Again, two years later I had swivel chairs that wouldn’t swivel or rock. And while the table stayed whole, I would awake at night wondering if I had left the blasted umbrella up. It wasn’t so much that I worried about the glass breaking. The top was already loose because there was a small crack on the frame holding it in place. Or more accurately, intended to hold it in place. I just didn’t want another Glass Cleanup Nightmare.

Winston Churchill said it best. “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Succinctly, that describes my outdoor furniture buying experiences in the old days.

Hope springs eternal.

By 1996, I had moved indoors to the Eastgate Pools showroom. As a company, we were diving in headfirst to the outdoor furniture market. Becoming a major player in the market, we studied what makes great furniture great. I learned about coatings, materials, strength, ergonomics, lumbar support, durability, optional styles, and of course, comfort. Like others on the sales staff, we became more than just price quoters. We became knowledgeable experts on the brands we carried. Sorry. No brag, just fact.

By 1999, that VCD set was shot and needed to find a new home at the dump. I knew what I wanted to replace it with and selected a set from Telescope Casual. Telescope is a U.S. company located in New York. Founded in 1903, they are still in business and are a major part of Eastgate Pools’ variety of offerings. And now, a quarter of a century after my purchase, I still have the set I got in 1999. It looks fantastic! The chairs still swivel and rock the same as they did on Day-One. A huge rectangular umbrella is secured by a forty-two-pound weighted base that gives great shade over the tempered glass-top table.

To summarize…

There’s two major points that should be obvious from this brief essay. One, for goodness’ sake, remember to put the umbrella down when you are leaving or retiring for the night! Two, if you are considering furniture for the deck or patio, avoid the lumber yards or groceries. Naturally, I recommend a visit to Eastgate Pools. We have one of the largest displays in the Midwest. If you are out of the area, find a reputable dealer with which to do business. An educated, expert staff is a must, not just one versed in how to sell.

You won’t find anyone in the Dairy Department of your grocery that understands fabrics or chair slings. And that associate stocking 2 x 4’s won’t have a clue on the difference between Sunbrella® fabric or spun polyester.

I learned the hard way. Perhaps 19th century British poet and artist John Ruskin said it best: “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little.”