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  • Cinde Ingram

Additional casual showrooms brighten premarket

Given the current economic climate, the mood was surprisingly upbeat at the July 9-11 International Casual Furnishings premarket in Chicago.

Manufacturers said they had a steady number of visits from retail buyers they described as significant and qualified. Attendance appeared to be less than last year’s premarket as many retailers opted to wait until the Sept. 15-18 Casual Market. The opening of six large casual showrooms on the Merchandise Mart’s 15th floor also diluted the number of attendees walking the halls on permanent showroom floors 16 and 17, and in temporary booths on the 8th floor.

Dudley Flanders, president of Lloyd/Flanders and chairman of the International Casual Furnishings Association, said customers who visited his showroom seemed prepared for price increases and were focused on finding new designs. “It’s nice to talk about products and let prices fall where they may,” Flanders said.

In the Tommy Bahama showroom, Bill Echols estimated premarket attendance was down by 20-30%. “It’s going to put more pressure on the September show,” said Echols, Outdoor Experience president and a member of the ICFA executive board.

The premarket’s unhurried pace allowed buyers to spend more time with important resources and to consider fabric and frame colors. More vendors offered choices for recliners, spring chairs and other motion furniture including Gloster’s first swivel teak rocker and Whitecraft’s Wave Runner lounger rocker.

Jensen Leisure Furniture, which recently changed its name from Jensen Jarrah and its material to Rainforest Alliance certified ipe wood, was among the manufacturers who reported good retail response. “We’ve been extremely busy,” CEO Max Jensen said. “This show was above our expectations.”

Retailers’ expectations of stunning visual merchandising displays were satisfied by spacious new 15th floor showrooms featuring Summer Classics, Laneventure, Ebel, Ancient Mosaics/Piage & Pieta, Jardin de Ville and Veneman Collections.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of compliments on how much more open and brighter our showroom is,” said Zac Bryant, Laneventure vice president of merchandising. Additions to its natural wicker offerings, mahogany designs for outdoor use, a new series of rugs and a revolving umbrella that circulates the air were eye-catching introductions.

Similar compliments were passed at other 15th floor showrooms, which will open to the design trade year-round. “People know us because we’ve been on the 8th floor for 12 years, but now that we’re in a permanent showroom they are very impressed by our showroom,” said Johanne Bourque, president, Jardin de Ville. She noted an affordable new pavilion for four-season use, a retractable awning and the versatile Town & Country collection. “The reaction on this group has been fantastic,” she said.

An arched entrance and raised levels of display were included in the Ebel showroom, where the Lacelle collection was introduced with lighter color woven options, seashell and stone. A recliner and chat seating group are part of the contemporary collection. Benches and additions to existing collections also appeared along with a chair gallery that displays 15 styles in a limited amount of floor space. Expanding from just over 1,500 square feet to a more than 6,000 sq.-ft. showroom was a challenge but also presented an opportunity to show off. “We’re building upon what was already successful,” Sabrina Ebel said.

Additions to existing lines were more common than full new collections. Pride Family Brands was among the exceptions, introducing seven new collections. “The high-end consumer is still buying and is going to invest more in the backyard,” CEO Jamie Lowsky said. “The value of a dollar is regaining its meaning. The consumer will invest wisely and look for value.”

Agio, Casual Creations and Meadowcraft also were introducing several new collections. Mallin debuted its wicker and cast combination Dover Collection, two cast aluminum collections and a tubular aluminum Hampton collection, available in sling and wicker. Acacia debuted its Nuevo collection, showing slipcover options similar to indoor sofas, and its first two Cabana Joe’s groups for outdoor use.

Treasure Garden treated its long-time dealers, sales reps and industry colleagues to a memorable dinner cruise to celebrate its 25th year in business. The temperature and humidity were optimal for the river cruise, which ended at Navy Pier with a fireworks finale.

Gensun also invited customers to celebrate its 5th anniversary in its new 16th floor showroom.

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