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Cinde W. Ingram

Eyes wide open

I talked with a casual furniture specialty retailer today who described the ups and downs of this season being like a rollercoaster ride.

I don't know about you, but I'm long past the days of craving those kinds of thrills. You probably recall as vividly as I do the anticipation of climbing to the top as you're overwhelmed by the odor of carnival food cooking and then feeling nauseated when the bottom falls out. My retailer friend added, don't forget to keep your eyes open at all times while riding a rollercoaster because closing your eyes only makes you feel sicker.

Maybe his advice to keep your eyes open is the mantra we need to repeat this month as part of the casual furniture industry gathers at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago to preview the colors and styles for the 2007 season. Vendors told me they expect a strong premarket as prelude to the coming season, but retailers I asked were more concerned with expectations of price increases, especially on aluminum and other metal products but also on fuel-driven expenses. Those retailers planned to be cautious with their buying rather than to get caught up in the thrill of the climb.

Despite their wary approach, retailers recognize they can't shrink back and leave their showrooms stagnant while their cash registers ring empty. Smart retailers know they must offer the hot designs and colors consumers will want to buy. For retail tips on counteracting economic doldrums, be sure to read the CFR column on page 60 by Debbie Stegman, who most of you know as an astute retailer with four stores in Ohio and Indiana.

Stegman's staff creates a fun atmosphere within their stores to take customers' focus off depressing economic news, high gas prices and political unrest. Humor combined with gorgeous displays allows their customers to relax enough to envision how they can capture the feeling of escape in their home resort, whether influenced by woodlands, mountains, oceans or tropical settings.

Picture what it will take to bring customers back to your store for repeat buys as they pull their dream together, but keep your own eyes wide open to real challenges all around.

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