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Cinde W. Ingram

Blizzard of activity sets off the casual conference

Industry leaders share ideas

Keynote speaker NeilKeynote speaker Neil Dempster lifts artisan bread after tossing a white loaf onto the stage.
There was a blizzard Of activity - literally - at the second Casual Living conference, Feb. 20-22, in Tucson, Ariz., and plans are already in the works for next year's event.
     With fluff y snowflakes falling outside the Westin La Paloma, some of the 160-plus conference goers stepped outside to snap photos of an event that is a rare occurrence in Tucson. The snow postponed the golf tournament scheduled at the La Paloma Country Club as well as the PGA's Match Play at nearby Dove Mountain, but could not halt the Casual Living conference, the retail tour or the festive pre-event cocktails. Guests were dressed up and smiling for the roving photographer Wednesday night who snapped pictures of all the excited attendees.
     As Casual Living Publisher Norman Hamilton welcomed everyone to the conference on Thursday morning, he told attendees that they were experiencing a meteorological event that tied in nicely with the theme of the event - Outer Spaces. While the snowcapped Santa Catalina Mountains certainly added a picturesque element to this year's event, Hamilton said Florida is a strong possibility for the 2014 conference.
     The conference had an unconventional start as keynote speaker Neil Dempster entered by throwing a loaf of white bread on the stage. He asked attendees: Would you rather be artisan baked bread or that loaf of plain white bread? He later pulled participants from their chairs to do everything from hammer nails to complete a trackball experiment and had audience members laughing and cheering at the results.
     Attendees said they enjoyed the motivational kick-off and many found Dempster's keynote "fantastic, challenging and interesting" to "informative and inspiring." One attendee missed having more time for questions.
     Riding the energy of the keynote, speaker Brian Offenberger took to the stage next with 11 marketing best practices. He discussed search engine optimization and using Facebook to develop client lists among other ways to thrive and prosper.
     Attendees said they found his information useful and applicable. One attendee said Offenberger's speech was "more Internet than store," but Offenberger reminded retailers at the outset that an Internet strategy is vital for today's businesses, especially brick-and-mortar stores who have not developed websites.
     After a short break, which featured coffee and treats, attendees settled in to hear Chad Harris, co-founder of The Garden Gates, who basically and without hesitation told the audience how to kill their competition ... "like an axe warrior." He explained how his French influenced lifestyle company converts virtual traffic into real sales. His upbeat, high-energy presentation had everyone buzzing during lunch.

Publisher Norman Hamilton welcomes the crowd at the conference awards dinner.Publisher Norman Hamilton welcomes the crowd at the conference awards dinner.
Conference attendees line up to take Dempster’s trackball challenge.Conference attendees line up to take Dempster’s trackball challenge.
Creative stacking allows attendees to beat the trackball clock.Creative stacking allows attendees to beat the trackball clock.
Brian Offenberger, president of Right On-No Bull Marketing, share best practices.Brian Offenberger, president of Right On-No Bull Marketing, share best practices.

     Harris, who said his greatest focus is on the Internet now rather than his store, was an intriguing speaker many attendees said they enjoyed for his enthusiasm and edgy business practices. "I want this guy in our company," one attendee said. Another commented, "Bottle this guy and sell six packs!"
     After the meal, attendees heard from Retail Makeover consultant Barbara Crowhurst, who detailed the basic fundamentals of store management. She advised retailers to "start working on your business, not in your business."
     A panel of successful outdoor furniture retailers - Gail Williams of Sunshine Furniture, Geneva Wallace of Yard Art, Patio & Fireplace and Jim Calhoun of Summer Classics - then shared their merchandising strategies. Attendees said they enjoyed the discussion and thought it provided solid, practical ideas. Some said the presentation would have benefitted from even more photos of the retailers' stores. Others said they would have liked more time for a question-and-answer period.
    One of the most heated and engaging sessions was an impromptu open forum that allowed manufacturers and retailers to discuss shipping challenges, warehousing, merchandising, promotional strategies and a range of other issues. Many attendees said this was one of the most beneficial opportunities to interact with their peers and get immediate feedback.

     The highlight of the conference was the awards presentation Thursday night during an elegant dinner for Casual Living's Supplier of the Year and Retailer of the Year.
     Treasure Garden CEO Oliver Ma warmed everyone's hearts with his acceptance speech as did COO Margaret Chang, who stood at the podium by Ma's side.

Wayfair executive
Wayfair executive Mike O’Hanlon describes how and why online sales are growing.
Retailers Chad Harris of The Garden Gates and Gail Williams of Sunshine Furniture compare sales tactics.
Retailers Chad
Mary Fruehauf
Mary Fruehauf and Mariah Maydew, both of Fruehauf’s Patio & Garden, visit with Janet Wansor, VP of Sales, Jensen Leisure Furniture.
Sunnyland Furniture General Manager Ron Joiner, left, and Sunnyland President David Schweig, right, fl ank Jan Trinkley, executive VP of Gensun Casual Living, and Steve Cloyd, national sales manager, Gensun.
Sunnyland Furniture

     Today's Patio CEO Chad Scheinerman accepted the Retailer of the Year Award, calling it an incredible honor. His moving speech recognized his dad Henry Scheinerman and Charles Revson, who co-founded the business in 1979 and worked together for more than 30 years. Chad also thanked Today's Patio's team of employees "we consider our family" for their hard work and dedication, then acknowledged the influence of the late Merv Conn, VP of marketing and sales of Mallin Furniture, whose Feb. 14 death stunned the casual industry.
     The last morning of the conference started off with an eye-opening and thought-provoking presentation by Michael O'Hanlon, head of business development for Wayfair, one of the nation's hottest online retailers. He told the audience Wayfair works with 3,000 suppliers and 5,000 brands featuring 5 million unique products. The company did $600 million in sales for 2012. O'Hanlon said Wayfair offers manufacturers the opportunity to market their brands on the site, but also suggests where consumers can shop locally and has 150 brick and- mortar retailers advertising on its site.
     Clearly, the Internet is becoming a major way of doing business in the furniture industry. About 90% of consumers are researching online before they buy, O'Hanlon said, and 7% are buying online.
     One attendee said what O'Hanlon described was a "painful reality for brick-and mortar retailers." Another said, "This is outside the box thinking for most of us." Above all, attendees complimented the session as well presented and providing great insight on a very relevant topic.
     Following O'Hanlon's comments was the Rising Starts panel which featured Today's Patio's Chad Scheinerman, Tropitone's Frank Verna and The Chair King's Joe Weisman as the next generation of outdoor executives who shared their thoughts on what is ahead for the casual outdoor industry.
     Attendees reconvened after a short break for a wrap-up session. Many expressed that the conference is an incredible opportunity to get together in an informal setting and an invaluable way to network.
     Suggestions for next year included adding more stores to the retailer tour, featuring more retailer round tables and scheduling more time for interaction. More than 20 topics were discussed as session options at the next Casual Living Conference.

Outdura VP
 Outdura VP of Sales Natalie Scott talks with Steve Elton and Casey Ramage, both of Brown Jordan.
 Tim and Ashley Newton of Leader’s Casual Furniture mingle with Petey Fleischut of Casual Marketplace and Debbie Stegman of Patio & Hearth. 
Tim and Ashley
Treasure Garden’s
 Treasure Garden’s award-winning team, Candy Chase, Jeff Dorough, Oliver Ma and Margaret Chang.
 Today’s Patio CEO Chad Scheinerman, center, fl anked by his father Henry Scheinerman and Charles Revson, co-presidents. 
Today’s Patio

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