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Cinde W. Ingram

Positive response in High Point

Healthy order writing reported for casual products

ORDERS WERE BEING WRITTEN IN NEARLY EVERY SHOWROOM that offered outdoor and casual lines at last month's High Point Market. Despite variable temperatures and strong winds, most manufacturers agreed it was a good show that promised better days ahead for the casual furnishings industry.
     "Definitely the economy and fundamentals for doing business are better than they were a year or six months ago," Telescope Casual President Henry Vanderminden said. "Consumers are even more robust than we saw last April. The pent-up demand is continuing to grow. I think it's going to be a strong spring and summer season."
     Those sentiments repeated through most of the more than 60 High Point showrooms that offered outdoor furniture and accessories.
     "The market's been good, and the season has started off good," said Clay Kingsley of Kingsley-Bate. "It's better than last year, which was better than the year before. We're seeing earlier business." Outdoor woven furniture in a sea salt shade was gaining attention in addition to the teak furniture Kingsley-Bate is known for, he said.
     "It's a much better show than we expected," said Sandra Marion, executive VP of sales, South Sea Rattan. "It felt like traffic counts were up a little over last year. The difference this time was everybody was writing orders."
     Buyers for full-line furniture stores oft en commented they were "just here to look and learn a little bit about the outdoor business," Marion said. Once they explored, buyers wanted to know whether the manufacturer had product in stock and how quickly they could receive it. With warehouses on both coasts, South Sea Rattan was among the vendors able to answer they can deliver it quickly. "I think we wrote more orders at the show than we've ever written," Marion said.
     Eric Parsons, president of Gloster Furniture, said the overall market was a bit stronger than it has been the past couple of years. "The difference this time around is people have active projects," he said. "We're up over 50% on our trade and showroom business. Our outdoor lounge has been a big home run. It ended up getting on a lot of retail floors." Gloster's Cloud and Bloc collections were among the upholstered looks appearing for outdoor and covered porch uses.
     Lloyd/Flanders President Dudley Flanders agreed demand has started earlier. "Our orders for the past six weeks are up significantly," he said. "The business is coming from all over the country."
     Bill Markowitz of Veneman Collections observed that the casual market has compressed. "They are ordering now and expect it in the spring," he said.
     Lane Venture gained attention from the design community as it expanded the outdoor upholstery offerings in its WeatherMaster line.
     Tami Newton, sales and marketing manager of Palm Springs Rattan & Garden Classics, said order writing started on the show's opening day. Large dealers began arriving the second day of the market, and new dealers were opening accounts. Six new collections debuted. Upholstered seating was a major draw for both indoor and outdoor buyers.
     "We're seeing more contract buyers," said Rick Price, president of Uwharrie Chair. "Hospitality is coming back quicker than retail. The economy is getting better. We can see it."
     His daughter Rebecca Price Ly added, "In January and February, our contract sales were up 10 times over last year."
     Harold Hudson, Summer Classics' VP of sales and marketing, said its IHFC showroom was drawing more traffic during the company's second High Point showing. "We've already written more at this market than in all of October," he said on the show's third day.
     Allen Callzadilla, executive VP of Pelican Reef Wicker, added a high-tech incentive to make order-writing easier. Buyers who wrote orders with Pelican Reef during the show were given an iPad that was preloaded with the company's catalog.
     "It's been phenomenal from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.," said Bruce Hirschhaut, Seasonal Living VP of sales. "We're seeing designers, retailers and mainline furniture stores." The Halo Collection, designed by Louis A. Lara, was among the attractions as well as its eco-friendly product lines.

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