In this helpful guide, you will learn enough about rattan garden furniture, how it is made and what to look out for whilst doing your research.
Frank Duxbury here. I am guessing you are reading this guide because you are seriously considering a substantial purchase for the garden.
Shortly, you will learn a lot about the factors which affect the price of rattan garden furniture:
- The type of metal used; steel versus aluminium.
- Self assembly versus shipping costs.
- Workmanship; recycled rattan versus quality rattan.
- Size matters.
- Cushion quality and fabric used.
- Pricing; mark-up versus value pricing.
Just for clarification this report is intended to inform you about the products themselves in a general form, not who to buy from. It does not cover the subject of the buying process, the customer service element or terms and conditions.
Customers can get easily overwhelmed with too much choice and put it off to another day. A good tip is to always choose between two products. For example: brown or grey; 4 seat or 6; lounge or dining; fire pit or not. You get the drift. A good retailer can always help you with this. It is easy to get hung up on too many choices.
The first questions you may ask are. Am I getting value for money and how long will it last? Learning the following will help you make the correct decision whilst purchasing the ideal set for your garden.
Its probably better to ask this question. How are prices driven down rather than what makes something similar so expensive? If we come from this angle it will be far easier to understand. This is how I learnt it all in the beginning.
The type of metal used; steel versus aluminium.
First of all, let me explain about some important facts regarding the manufacturing process and how it affects price.
Presumably, everything starts out as a top-quality product, but, putting it politely, the idea is to cut as many corners as possible to drive the price down.
I am not suggesting for one minute that cheap products breach any health and safety laws, or involve anything illegal like child labour.
We will start with the frames of garden furniture as this is where it all begins. Nobody seems to give much consideration to this at all. I suppose it's like the brick work beneath the plaster in your walls at home, not seen and not heard, that is... until you get problems.
A huge amount of money can be saved in the construction of frames, such as the metal used. For anybody not knowing metals, steel is heavy and can rust, whereas aluminium is a lightweight metal that is rather expensive at 10 times the cost of steel but does not rust. Its longer life outdoors makes aluminium ideal.
Many good ladders are made of aluminium. Often these are not painted. Quality garden furniture is normally powder-coated for extra life.
To cut one big corner, it’s possible to use steel in the construction of frames. So, what is the problem with steel? At first nothing at all and if its powder coated even better. Powder-coating is a complicated process of getting tough paint material to attach to metals in dry form, then it's cured to make sure it stays on. All is well with steel powder coated frames…but only for so long. At some point, the rust will start. I have personally seen rust dribbles running down the rattan on some furniture.
Most people would not know if aluminium or steel is used in the making of the frames, that is unless they have asked the retailer or done the proper research. It is vitally important to ask this question because it plays a massive part in the whole value of your set. If the set has an expensive rattan woven around the frame, then you can take it for granted that aluminium is used. We shall talk about rattan soon.
Please let me be clear on one thing regarding the use of aluminium, as there is one exception to the rule. Your typical hanging egg chair is normally made from steel because it needs to be strong enough to hold a fully grown person or two. Aluminium would be massively costly, so it very rarely gets used for making hanging egg chairs.
You put it altogether versus shipping costs
The second way to cut a financial corner, is to manufacture a garden set in lots of pieces and then the consumer bolts it all together. Usually the tool to tighten the bolts is included with the bolts along with the instructions; we call this the fitting kit.
This type of product (self-assembly) is commonly known in the trade as KD or knocked down. Basically, its kit form.
If you want to impress any retailer whilst researching garden furniture just ask them if its KD. It's really easy to spot KD furniture; all you have to do is look for gaps in the woven panels or look underneath and spot the bolts.
Imagine how much money is saved transporting products that are KD. To give you an idea, a normal 40ft shipping container will carry about 30 standard large sets. You could easily get 90 KD sets on the same container. The cost of getting a container to our showroom is roughly £2000.00 so the cost would be £67 per fully-assembled set delivered to us. The cost to transport a KD set would be £22.00.
Building KD products is a genuine saving, but in reality the bolt it together system can cause potential problems with weaknesses especially because people sit down on them. A further concern is more rusting-potential as most bolts are made of steel and are not painted. It is usual to use KD tables even on quality sets, although some coffee tables are fully-built as they don’t take up much space whilst transporting.
The other big problem for consumers is all that unnecessary effort putting it all together and struggling lining up holes. A friend of mine recently bought a KD set and posted on his Facebook page that it took him 4 hours to put together and if I remember correctly, a glass of beer was centre of the photo as his reward.
Whilst out and about doing your research, bearing in mind what you have learnt so far you will now be able to spot KD garden sets easily because you can see the joints where each panel joins to the other. A poor-quality set will be pretty gappy and obvious.
Workmanship: recycled rattan versus quality rattan
If you see a KD set made in steel, it normally goes hand in hand with another cost cutting exercise… the use of recycled plastic to make the rattan. Personally, I think recycling is a wonderful thing. We recycle tons of cardboard here at Duxburys Home and Garden.
The trouble with rattan made of recycled plastic is that it will not stand the test of time as it can start to break down in the sun and crack. You may have seen this before on friends sets. It normally starts on the seat back at the top. These sets are normally black. I have also been informed such a rattan scratches easily.
Combine this saving with steel frames and KD and you have a good reason for a short warranty of 12 months. A good-quality set will have at least 3 years.
It's also a good idea to poke your fingers into the rattan. A fair amount of time can be saved in the weaving process by not making sure the rattan is tight enough. It could take around one week to weave rattan on to a set of frames. If the weaving process is rushed, then the rattan will not be as tight or neat as it should be. If you get the impression it's loose and not rigidly tight then I would consider it low quality, no matter what it is made of. I would recommend that you do this essential test. I would also suggest if you thought the rattan was loosely woven then consider another set instead.
There are different types of rattan such as flat, half round and the most expensive being full round weave. There are others, but we shall keep to the main ones for ease of understanding. A budget set will always have flat weave.
Another way to massively save money is to build a smaller version. By this, I mean each seat is not quite as wide; the seat depth is not quite as deep; the back is not quite as high; the arms are not quite as wide...you get the drift.
A smaller set is going to cost less, no matter what it is made of. Then again, a really large set with the seat backs head-high will cost a lot more to build and transport. The very large sets tend to use very high-quality materials and are normally in a price range that reflect this.
Cushion quality and fabric used.
Next, we will talk cushions, as in quality of material, thickness of cushion. I am guessing you know what’s coming. A thinner cushion with a cheaper fabric is going to cost less and yes you would be correct in thinking this!
Some budget sets tend to use, what I would call, uncomfortable to touch material, and generally speaking use thin seat cushions of around 5cm, where its possible to feel the frame beneath your bottom!
Another feature that some quality cushions have is a venting panel so that any moisture can escape easily. These can be found underneath. Always check to see if the cushion cover is washable and can be easily removed from the cushion.
Pricing. Mark up versus value pricing.
At this point it is very easy to understand why some garden furniture is more expensive to buy than others. There is one more thing to consider and that is pricing. This is a complex topic and really needs to be understood. There are a few models which are commonly played out in retail.
There is the typical marking-up process which works a bit like this buy it for £1 and sell it for £2 which makes perfect sense for most business-minded folk. This mark-up is only an example. Some companies mark-up higher to allow them to keep in business and pay the bills and some mark-up lower and get really busy then go bust as they cannot pay the overheads.
Then there is value pricing where a retailer buys a product for a £1 and sells it for £10 because he thinks the customer sees the value and pays the price. The fault in this method is that customers will see through this and walk with their feet.
There is discount retailing where the retailer sells things cheap, but when it comes to garden furniture there is only one way to sell it cheap and that is for them to buy garden furniture that has had cost-cuttings applied. In other words, they buy cheap to sell it cheap.
What I am saying is you cannot retail quality products cheap, no matter what your pricing strategy, as quality garden furniture is expensive to make and transport.
It is very possible that a certain type of retailer can price up a garden set and pass it off as a quality set. A lot of customers can fall for this whether buying from a bricks and mortar shop or an online shop. This is a perfect demonstration of value pricing.
To sum up on the above I would like to say this, if you make a smaller version of a set using: steel that won’t last as long; recycled plastic which has a far shorter life; kit form; thinner/inferior cushions, and compromise on workmanship and your length of guarantee, then you can save a lot of money.
However, you will have to bear in mind that savings will affect the comfort, size, amount of effort and hassle assembling, and you will compromise on the long-term value from your set. Furthermore, a substantial guarantee will not come with a cheap garden set.
There is a sliding scale at play here and generally speaking the more you pay, the better the product. After all, they say you pay for what you get.
Now you should have enough information to buy your ideal garden set and you can decide how much to invest.