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Preview show surprisingly positive

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Cinde Ingram, Staff Staff -- Casual Living, August 1, 2009

The Casual Preview Show met or exceeded expectations, although attendance appeared lower than in recent years.

Merchandising Award
Summer Classics leaders Harold Hudson and Bew White accept Casual Living’s top Merchandising Award as Most Fashionable Retailer. Editor in Chief Cinde W. Ingram, left, and Furniture/Today Editor in Chief Ray Allegrezza, right, presented the acrylic crystal tower during the Preview Show.

“Awesome” was how one casual furniture manufacturer who exhibits in both Chicago and Atlanta described the Preview Show. “Surprisingly upbeat” was a description that repeated in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart as retail buyers kept appointments, unexpected buyers attended and department store buyers scouted the category.

“Our drop-in business was almost equal to the number of appointments we had,” said Dudley Flanders, president of Lloyd/Flanders. “The retailers who were here came looking for new products to invigorate their stores. Most of them had cleared out their inventory.” With five new collections and 68 fabric choices, Lloyd/Flanders did not disappoint. “We’re giving them a reason to have a better year because we all need it,” Flanders said.

Summer Classics’ showroom included not only its own introductions and SC Home indoor products, but the launch of partner company Parker James with 10 container-only collections.

Hanamint President Russ Sorenson gathered responses to its 17 new collections for its Hanamint, Casa Casual and Alu-Mont divisions from some bigger specialty dealers. “We felt it was important to bring out new collections in this economy,” Sorenson said. “With all the gloom and doom, we didn’t want to contribute to it.”

first time entry award
At Hickory Fireplace & Patio, from left, Lee and John Crump receive the Best First-Time Entry Award plaque from Casual Living Editor Cinde W. Ingram. Designer Mark Abrams, right, provided an in-store consultation.

Jamie Lowsky, president of Pride Family Brands, recalled dealers who began feeling the economic pinch after Memorial Day 2008 and attended last year’s market still burdened with inventory in their warehouses. “Now, they’re all coming in here very positive,” Lowsky said. “Their warehouses are empty and they’re relieved to have made it through the year. The traffic is down, but the people who are here are the people who should be here. They’re studying the programs and fabrics. For the next show, they’ll be that much ahead of the game.”

At Whitecraft, Bill Herren related the experiences of Northwestern and northwestern Canada dealers who said they regretted running short of inventory this season. A retailer who had bought one container for this season said he will order two containers for 2010. “They had a good season this year and they planned on having another one,” Herren said.

“I think the people who decide they don’t want to have inventory are going to miss out on sales,” said Terri Lee Rogers, whose O.W. Lee showroom stayed busier than she had expected during the Preview Show. As a permanent showroom owner, she decided it made more sense for her company to participate.

“It’s surprisingly upbeat because people put it into perspective,” said Bob Gaylord, president of Agio International. A dozen new groups reflected the requests gathered during a dealer forum. Smaller-scaled collections to fit urban balconies were one result from retail feedback.

Telescope Casual’s showroom stayed busy as it debuted five collections, one frame finish, two marine grade polymer finishes, 40 fabrics and six new colorways.

Many other manufacturers showcased new collections or extensions to best-selling lines.

“I didn’t see as many people, but I was able to spend more quality time with the ones who were here,” Gloster President Eric Parsons said.

Alfresco Home President Joseph Cilio, whose company was showing in temporary spaces on the Merchandise Mart’s 8th floor, described customers as ones who were doing well enough in their business to be “willing to come out and see what we have. It’s not that we’ve seen a ton of people, but the ones who have been here are quality retailers.”

Debate continued about whether the casual furnishings market needs a premarket and when it should be scheduled to benefit both buyers and sellers.

Retailers who were ready to start strategy for their 2010 showroom floors sought out manufacturers at the Preview Show that were offering new products, sketchbooks and programs. Dark showrooms and lack of new products were affecting retail perceptions.

“I’m not going to save some wonderful floor spots for something I haven’t seen,” said Mary Fruehauf of Fruehauf’s Patio & Garden Center in Boulder, Colo.



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