Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Revamped by Design

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Revamped by Design

Article excerpt

MANATEE COUNTY

The Outdoor by Design factory on Whitfield Avenue reminds Sheri Aiello of a by-gone era in American manufacturing.

The director of marketing and retail development for the new Southwest Florida furniture maker said the company strives for just that, too. It uses all U.S.-made material, and craftsmen handle duties many other manufacturers have chosen to let robots perform.

Since acquiring the assets of another local manufacturer of patio furniture a year ago, Outdoor by Design has remodeled its South Manatee showroom and streamlined its 220,000-square-foot factory. Already, orders have picked up from hoteliers, furniture stores and homebuyers across the country.

"It really takes us to the next level," Aiello said.

With some three decades in the business, Jerry Camp and Bill Echols led a group of investors who purchased the assets of what was Casual Creations about a year ago for an undisclosed amount.

In its place, Outdoor by Design makes high-end patio furniture that is sold to large hospitality groups, nearly 60 dealers across the U.S. and big-box retailers.

All of the furniture is hand-produced and comes with a 15-year warranty on frames.

But the company's signature is a patent-pending process that allows it to print custom patterns and graphics on its glass and concrete table tops.

The reshaped furniture maker is just one in a growing manufacturing industry in Southwest Florida, which generated $1.38 billion in gross sales through the first 10 months of 2013 and has quietly become one of the region's largest employment sectors.

That has become especially true for furniture. Outdoor by Design joins Tropitone and others now making similar products in the region, each trying to turn the corner on the recession.

"We have some big players in this arena," said Peter Straw, executive director of the Sarasota Manatee Manufacturers Association. "Everyone was impacted by the downturn in the economy, but demand is coming back and 2015 should really be the year we see some significant improvement.

"This industry is poised to do just that."

Made in America

Every patio set that Outdoor by Design sells is made and assembled at its factory on Whitfield Avenue, near the Sarasota- Bradenton International Airport industrial park in Manatee County.

When raw materials arrive in a back receiving area, they are taken upstairs to Outdoor by Design's welding shop.

There, crews use computerized machines to bend frames into place, double-checking each curve matches its design template.

From there, workers use power tools to punch the screw holes into every piece. Welders then set all of the parts in place and weld them together.

Afterward, the furniture is hung from a conveyor that ushers it to stations back downstairs, where more employees polish, buff and sand the frames. …

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