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  • Cinde Ingram

HD Expo sets the stage for revival

Last week's HD Expo showed healthy signs of recovery as contract buyers arrived with reopened projects and refurbishing needs to meet with more than 850 exhibitors, many debuting new products.

The expanded amount of outdoor furnishings, fabrics, shade products, firepits and misters could not be ignored at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

"There's definitely a much larger presence of the true outdoor furniture manufacturers," said Natalie Scott, Outdura, vice president.

Ira Felsen, Henry VandermindenIra Felsen, left, and Henry Vanderminden talk with buyers inside the Telescope Casual booth at HD Expo.
"Attendance was excellent; the quality of buyers was excellent and the amount of time specifiers spent in our booth was up," Telescope Casual President Henry Vanderminden IV said. He noted lengthy visits from major hotel and resort buyers who are working on refurbishing projects put on hold while occupancy rates were down during 2009 and 2010.

Telescope Casual Contract Manager Ira Felsen said orders now are larger, partly because the best hotels have to improve in order to stay on schedule to keep their star rating and the top clientele. "The high-end ones especially have to keep up," he said. International properties also are showing strength, he said.

"This category is doing exceptionally well for us," Gloster President Eric Parsons said. "The contract side is up about 35 percent, coming off of a lower year. We're seeing more stability with it. Files are opening up, and we're seeing a lot of requesting after two years of them walking away from it."

GlosterGloster took the geometric route in setting up its HD Expo showroom.
Gloster introduced its Club group to the residential trade and hospitality contract market. Bloc, another collection in its Outdoor Lounge group, won one of the International Interior Design Association/HD awards at the show. Still by Brown Jordan, EcoSmart Fire by EcoSmart Inc. and Triad by JANUS et Cie were other design winners at the show.
Asked about the IIDA/HD lounge seating award, JANUS et Cie President Janice Feldman smiled and said, "I'm a little competitive so I like to win."

Bryan Sanches, national sales manager of California Umbrella, said his company plans to double the size of its booth at next year's HD Expo, set for May 15-17. "Our contract segment alone is growing 50 percent year over year," Sanches said.

For the first time in two years, exhibitors are starting to increase their investments in booth sizes and in building new booths, another indication of how positively they feel, said Liz Sommerville, group show director for all Nielsen events within the HD market.

"This show has been one of the most inspiring shows I've ever had the pleasure of being a part of," Sommerville said. "The atmosphere is so positive. The exhibitors are thrilled with the fact the market has started to turn. Cash flow is starting to come back. Projects are reopening, mostly for renovations not too many rebuilds. We had over 60 people from Intercontinental, we had people from Target and Home Depot. The crowds that we have are so strong on the buyer side that our exhibitors are thrilled because even if they just get only one or two top projects, they are set for the whole year."

Sommerville added the show's Party by the Pool at the Cosmopolitan was the best attended of any she had ever been to. "It was full of designers, architects and young professionals who are here knowing what they have to buy and are making deals. It has been a fantastic show. I don't think I've had one person say to me that the show has been disappointing for them. Expectations are set; they know what their goals are and they are succeeding. That makes my job easy. That's what we're here for, connecting people. We're all about the community; we're bringing people in and helping them network."

Sommerville said her group recognized the interest in outdoor fireplaces and had discussed the possibility of doing an outdoor pavilion despite challenges of indoor burning regulations. "I would say it's definitely a segment that is growing with us," she said. Spas and spa baths are another segment with growth potential.

"We'll definitely be doing the Green Day aspect again next year because the interest level in sustainability from our attendees is growing," she said. "They want to get hands-on with the process from the beginning to end. Especially the young designers, because they know that is the future."

Twitter Wall, HD ExpoPart of the "Hook-Up Lounge," the Twitter Wall displayed all tweets that included the #HDExpo hashtag.
From its website to its use of social media, HD Expo proved to be one of the more technologically advanced trade shows going. The foremost example of this was the "Hook-Up Lounge," a designated area in which attendees could recharge their phones, watch video of the show on a large screen, interact with the Twitter Wall (a scrolling feed in which tweets hash-tagged with #HDExpo would display), or simply relax on one of several sofa sectionals. For those who logged several miles walking the floor over the show's two and a half days, the lounge served as a welcomed respite.

Rick Price, recently retired president of Uwharrie Chair, said the show started off busy on its opening day although the pace ebbed and flowed through its run. "Hospitality has come back quicker than residential," he said. "It's going to take some time, but it has turned the corner and is headed back up."

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