You can do just about anything at Sunnyland—even buy outdoor furniture if you like.
When you think about it, David and Brad Schweig work hard to make their customers feel relaxed. As the owners of Sunnyland Outdoor Furniture, the Schweigs long ago caught on to the trend that homeowners are no longer content with furnishing within the four walls of their homes.
How do the Schweigs, this year’s Home Furnishings Association’s Retailers of the Year, meet their customers’ needs? By providing a shopping experience like no other. Skeptical? Walk into their Dallas store and get converted, but more on that later.
First a history lesson: It’s hard to think of Sunnyland as anything other than an outdoor furniture store. That’s how much of an institution it has become in North Texas and elsewhere in the Southwest. But there was a time the store, founded in 1946, sold only furniture for within a home’s four walls. In 1970 David Schweig’s father-in-law and his business partners purchased the business from its original owner to be a clearance center as part of Freed Furniture, their growing five-store furniture business in Dallas.
In 1977, David Schweig’s father-in-law purchased Sunnyland from his partners, eventually selling it to David in 1989. It was just a coincidence that the name Sunnyland was already on the building and that the store eventually became devoted to outdoor entertaining and relaxation. That’s due in large part to David Schweig, who took a chance on outdoor furniture, a shaky business venture at the time.
But, as Brad Schweig says, “my father possesses a special skill of looking at problems or challenges from a different perspective and coming up with the perfect solution. It might not be the decision or the path other retailers would choose, but it’s been the perfect path for us.”
Unlike many of his contemporaries, David Schweig wasn’t born into the furniture business. He started out in fine jewelry, opening and running stores for Zale’s Guild or Carriage Trade Division. It turns out there’s a common thread behind Rolex watches and outdoor furniture.
“They’re wants, not needs,” says David. “Nobody needs a high-end watch or a diamond tennis bracelet just as nobody needs that $10,000 outdoor set. So right away when someone walks into our store, they’re walking in with one less obstacle for us to overcome. They want to be there. They want outdoor furniture. The only question is, do we have what they want at the right price?”
Father and son are something of a yin and yang, each feeding off the other’s considerable talents. Brad is the detail person, the one who handles the back end of the business out of the public’s sight. It’s a role he’s more than comfortable with. “That’s my strength,” he says. “I don’t need to be out there on the floor. That’s all my dad; and he’s very good at it.”
Indeed, David handles the sales and marketing of the store. Walk into Sunnyland on any given day and you’ll probably find him adjusting a seat cushion or fluffing up a pillow. “I like being out front,” he says. “That just the kind of person I am. I still get a kick out of making a sale or being part of one.”
David Schweig got his start in outdoor furniture 40 years ago in a building that was, itself, outdoorsy. Maybe a bit too outdoorsy. The store was old and dilapidated. Grass and weeds were growing out of the cracks in the walls. It was 1977 and outdoor furniture wasn’t exactly taking the world by storm. Schweig carried lines like Arlington House, Flanders, Homecrest, Lyon-Shaw, and Samsonite. “Nothing fancy, nothing very glamorous,” he says. “Think of the furniture you used to sit on and when you got up you would stick to the vinyl straps. That’s what we sold, and it sold well.”
But while other home furnishings retailers shied away from outdoor furniture, David was doubling his presence on the showroom floor. “I started seeing a desire for quality outdoor furniture where style, comfort, and functionality were the motivating factor—not price. The attitudes of shoppers were changing in that direction. There was something that told me to stick around because the market was about to take off.”
In 1991, a road widening project took out most of Sunnyland’s parking lot. Schweig’s father-in-law purchased a shopping center just two miles up the road with the intention of making it into a home furnishings center. The property included a 20,000-square-foot old grocery store. Schweig didn’t know it at the time, but Sunnyland was about to take off.
In 2001, a developer approached Schweig about an adjacent property behind Sunnyland. The developer wanted to put in another shopping center with an Albertson’s grocery store serving as the anchor. There was just one problem: To make the deal work, the developer needed some of Schweig and Sunnyland’s property to build a cut-through that extended to his property. Rather than sell the developer the land, Schweig said he would allow them to tear down a building to create the entrance to their property if the developer agreed to remodel Sunnyland’s aging property to match the new and gleaming facade of the proposed center, replace the original roof of the entire shopping center, and re-pave the entire parking lot in the same material as the new shopping center. He also asked for land to build a new warehouse to be added to the back of his store.
The developer agreed. Sunnyland received more than $1 million in renovations and construction work—to say nothing of the increased traffic brought on by the new shopping center. “When you think about it, we’re still benefitting from that deal. It was one of the better business decisions we’ve ever made,” Schweig says.
Here’s another: Schweig has always been a big fan of fellow HFA member Jordan’s Furniture, the New England home furnishings chain that entertains its customers while they shop. Walk into any Jordan’s and you might find an Imax Theater, a Fuddruckers restaurant or an adventure ropes course.
“What I like about them is how they make shopping more than just a trip to buy furniture. They call it shopper-tainment. They make the shopping experience a memorable one,” says Schweig. “You’re not just shopping for furniture there because there’s so much else to do. My goal was to do something like that—not copy what they were doing but give our customers a WOW feeling when they came into our store.”
Soon after the completion of the Sunnyland shopping center renovation and construction of their new 30,000 sq. ft. on-site warehouse, Schweig had Jordan’s Furniture in mind when he approached several Dallas-area vendors—a landscape architect, a deck builder, a stamped concrete décor company, a pool builder, and a golf course designer with an idea. Most of the vendors plied their trade out of industrial parks away from the public eye.
“I asked them what they could do if we took their business out of that warehouse environment and put it in a nice shopping area,” Schweig recalls. “It would be a place where hundreds of people would see their work every week. Not just see it, but touch it, use it, walk over it, experience it. I asked them how would they want to showcase their products in the best possible environment with no restrictions. By using that approach, they gave us so much more than I could have ever imagined.”
The vendors didn’t hesitate. Handshakes were made and within months Sunnyland Outdoor Furniture was transformed.
Today, Sunnyland operates in 67,000 square feet of space that looks nothing like a traditional showroom. The goal was to create realistic settings similar to a second home on a lake, nighttime entertaining, or alongside the fairway of a country club golf course. Its outdoor furniture is set against intricate hand-made arbor columns, waterfalls, outdoor kitchens, miniature golf, stamped concrete and more—all created by Dallas businesses in a unique partnership with Sunnyland. If a husband or the kids grow tired of shopping for that perfect patio furniture, they can always retreat to the miniature golf course in the store or grab a complimentary hot dog or drink at the snack bar.
“We really think it’s a one-of-a-kind experience walking in here,” says Brad Schweig. “People who walk in really get to see their furniture in a true outdoor environment and that gets them excited. It’s a great partnership that comes at no cost to us.”
Only adding to the appeal is a section of the store that has a translucent roof allowing natural light to wash over a large section of the showroom floor filled with live plants, flowing water features and exquisite outdoor settings. “If you never looked up you’d swear you’re outside,” Brad Schweig says.
This year’s Retailer of the Year award is nothing new to the Schweigs. Sunnyland has been recognized by the International Casual Furnishings Association for more than a decade as one of the most successful independent outdoor stores in the nation as shown by either being a finalist or winner of its Apollo Award, which recognizes retailer excellence in the sales and marketing of outdoor furniture.
David Schweig says the outdoor furniture sector is only going to grow. “More and more people are thinking of their backyard as an extension of their home,” he says. “You sit in one of our chairs and you don’t want to get out. They are that comfortable. Our outdoor furniture rivals some of the best indoor cushioned chairs on the market.”
Today’s outdoor furniture has come a long way. So have the Schweigs. “We are selling the sizzle,” David says. “We’re in the business of selling extreme comfort and relaxation to our customers. We are the means to the end to creating lifestyle events, family gatherings, or just a place to relax. When someone is purchasing outdoor furniture, they are thinking about how they are going to enjoy it—how they are going to be improving their quality of life.”
Brad Schweig says he and his father have talked about opening a second store, but those talks have remained just that. “To make a second store work, we’ve got to find the right location and the numbers need to be just right. We’ve looked, but so far the right opportunity hasn’t been there.”
For now, then, father and son are content with the what they’ve created: David and Brad Schweig have perfected the art of resort living in their customer’s own backyard. Says David, “We’ve found a way to put excitement in your next stay-cation.”
What HFA Means to Me
The greatest benefit of being part of the HFA is the ongoing opportunity to network and exchange ideas with industry peers through emails and phone calls, at markets or conference on relevant issues that are affecting our business at that time.
David Schweig, Sunnyland Outdoor Furniture
Sunnyland Outdoor Furniture is the recipient of the Home Furnishings Association’s 2017 Retailer of the Year award in the under $10 million in sales volume.