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  • Cinde Ingram

HD Expo draws qualified buyers

Increase in requests for quotes encourages vendors

Designers and hospitality buyers requesting quotes for current projects brought an unapologetically upbeat mood to last week’s Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas.

Pavilion Furniture exhibited
near the front of the HD Expo.

Sunbrella Fabrics appeared
in fresh color combinations.

While some of the 100 vendors offering casual furnishings described the show traffic as slower than in peak years, others were excited by the quality of buyers circulating the Sands Convention Center May 18-20. Hotel and restaurant projects that had stalled or were pulled last year were back in progress, vendors said.

“It’s been, on several levels, excellent,” Telescope Casual Furniture Contract Sales Manager Ira Felsen said early Friday. “We saw more people in two days than in all three days last year. In addition to the number of people, we’ve seen major name contract companies that are doing projects.” Over recent weeks, Telescope Casual has quoted many projects that now are coming though, Felsen said.  

Keith Stibler, Grupo Kettal U.S. sales manager, shared that enthusiastic appraisal. “I think it’s been excellent so far,” he said. “I tried to manage my expectations coming into the show and they may have been too low.” Kettal was participating for its seventh year, Stibler said, and he described other casual furnishing exhibitors at the show as tough competition. “They are companies I have healthy respect for. There was not so much riffraff this year,” he said.    

Having a large number of casual furnishings exhibitors “helps to whet an appetite” of buyers and designers, Veneman Furniture President Bill Markowitz said. He noted a growing number of high-end hotels shopping for beach club furniture that can serve a double function for daytime poolside or evening nightclub uses. About 2,000 pieces of Veneman’s furniture and cabanas at Caesar’s Palace poolside were demonstrated during the HD Expo Party by the Pool on Thursday night. On another extreme, Markowitz said he was surprised by the number of buyers who visited Veneman seeking upscale outdoor furnishings for assisted living and retirement communities.

Tropitone CEO Cap Hendrix described how the economic downturn worked its way through the hospitality niche during 2009. “We’re at the end of that lag so we’re starting to see more new designs and activity,” he said. Next year’s occupancy rates are projected to increase. “Luckily because of our status in the industry, what business there is, we’ve got. Relatively, Tropitone has done very well; we’ve gained market share. Pool areas and cabanas are revenue generating. That’s played in our favor.”

Cabanas, market umbrellas and other shade products appeared throughout the Expo, including the U.S. debut of Shademaker. “A lot of people are happy for us,” said Jeff B. Dorough, vice president sales & marketing Shademaker and Treasure Garden. “There’s another source in the category.”

A few manufacturers known for outdoor furniture added innovative umbrellas to their offerings. Outdoor Lifestyle introduced its Western Australian Leisure Umbrella, which features a mosaic base and functions with a cleat system rather than a crank. Telescope Casual showed off its umbrella with easy one touch open and close while Les Jardins’ new umbrella featured ribs flexible enough to bend backyard and FiberBuilt Umbrella’s new base on wheels was getting good response from buyers.

Barlow Tyrie’s booth included its curtained pavilion, introduced last month at the High Point Market. Being shown for the first time was Barlow Tyrie’s Mercury dining group, an acid etched glass top table that appeared to float. The company’s booth also showed off the IIDA/HD Individual Outdoor Seating award its Quattro Sun Lounge with Indinity Adjuster won at the Expo.

"We're seeing people actually working on jobs. And we've had some quotes," said Teresa Newton, Gloster Furniture assistant sales and marketing manager. 

“We’re quoting current jobs – not potential jobs – active jobs,” said Bryan Echols, Lloyd/Flanders sales rep. “It’s been interesting to see the number of international contract companies here – Australian, European and from emerging countries, as well.”

Skyline Design executive vice president Allen Calzadilla agreed. “The funding is essentially coming back,” he said, describing the hotel and restaurant niche. “Money is loosening up a little bit.”

Gensun Casual vice president Jan Trinkley said the company’s second year of showing at HD Expo proved better than last year. Although hotels, restaurants and other contract companies may not have sent as many buyers as in past years, the decision-makers and key buyers were present. “People are watching their bottom line,” Trinkley said. “They are spending their time and money wisely.”

Vendors like Suncoast Furniture also put "a lot of time, effort and money" into developing products for the contract channel, said Rick Baker, national sales manager. "The retailer is still the majority of our business, but if they're not going to buy we've got to sell it somewhere."

Suncoast Contract Sales Manager Chad Harper said two or three large contract sales have helped keep the factory busy lately, but he sensed buyers remain "trigger hesitant" to place orders. 

While many vendors described Thursday as their best show day, Alu-Mont President Russ Sorenson found Wednesday to be its busiest day. “We met with big resort operators who were redoing outdoor areas,” he said. “We talked with a major catalog that was looking for product made in the USA specifically – that was a little surprising for us. And we saw some big indoor furniture stores who were looking for patio furniture – that was surprising to me.”

Craftmade/Woodard contract sales rep Bill Engelhart said buyer traffic at the show seemed slow on Wednesday. “There are starting to be more requests for quotes,” he said. The overall feeling within the industry was the hospitality niche had already hit bottom, ridden through a flat time and was preparing for an increase in 2011. “At least they’re asking for numbers,” he said. “Even the small ones are starting to hire again.”

Paragon Picture Gallery was among the accessory vendors showing a bit of outdoor offerings along with the indoor wall art the Albertville, Ala.-based company is known for. “We’re really doing well with this,” said Malanta G. Knowles, vice president, design and marketing. “It’s becoming more and more important.”

Another favorable factor for Tropitone is revival within the cruise ship sector. “They’re building cruise ships now,” Hendrix said. “And we’re constantly getting repair and replacement business” from cruise lines that rely on Tropitone’s ability to provide space specific commercial designs that have the durability to withstand weather and abuse.

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