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Cinde W. Ingram

Chicago Casual Furniture premarket draws serious buyers

Manufacturers build relationships, show off products

Retailers focused on product introductions and innovations at the four-day Casual Furniture Premarket, which ended Thurday.

Their moods were mostly upbeat though many have had tough selling seasons this year. Questions surfaced again about whether both a premarket and market are needed for the industry. Debate continued in hallways of the Merchandise Mart about the perfect timing of a single show.

“This was good for us because we’re in Florida,” said Gerri Feldman of Hallandale, Fla.-based Patio Furniture Warehouse. “We can’t wait until September” to place orders.

Manufacturers gladly accommodated those retailers who were ready to place orders, but spent most of their time building relationships and showing off new products.

Crescent-shaped sofas and benches appeared in plenty of chat groups. Deep seating collections were prevalent and more counter-height dining options appeared. Among the innovations shown were Outdoor Lifestyle’s foldable Gyro table base, Homecrest’s Color My Sling concept that expands fabric options for sling chairs, an outdoor recliner from Laneventure and the fully upholstered Gran Vista seating group from Tropitone

Inside O.W. Lee’s showroom, the Outdoor Couture by Marcia Blake collection of throws, draperies and table runners drew attention from design-driven retailers. Vendors devoted more time to talking with retailers than is typically available during the September show.      

“It’s tough to do two markets, but we’re trying to be here to serve our customers’ needs,” said Alfresco Home President Joseph Cilio. “It’s been pretty brisk and we’re seeing a lot of interested, potential customers. The ones who are here, we give our full attention.”   

“We’re a strong advocate of one market,” said Harold Hudson, Summer Classics, vice president. “My traffic’s been excellent. I’ve seen my existing dealers and some newcomers, too.” Along with new collections combining outdoor woven with teak or extruded aluminum materials, Summer Classics debuted television commercials retailers can customize for their stores and made its entry into the outdoor lighting niche.

Retailers raved about the “luscious colors” they saw on new collections and noted the color trends are closer than ever to apparel. “I don’t think we’ve been in a showroom where they haven’t added 75 to 100 fabrics,” said Tami Newton of Leader’s Casual Furniture, a Florida retail chain. “For the first time, the colors are right off the runway. It’s very refreshing.”

Soft buttery yellow made an appearance for the first time in years, making room among lots of blues and greens. Red and oranges also were evident along with metallic tones. 

Cast Classics’ Al Arad said its expanded 17th floor showroom was drawing more people than last year and he was happy to give up the large temporary floor space his company used during last year’s premarket. “This is market; it’s not premarket anymore,” Arad said. “The commitments, purchases and programs are being put together right now. Overall, retailers are looking for better-end goods. They’re looking for ‘wow.’ They’re looking for different.”

Tropitone CEO Mike Echolds’ assessment echoed that view. “It’s no longer the premarket; it is the market,” Echolds said. “They do tend to pick their sets here and their colors and fabrics in September. We have had positive response at this market. Some retailers have had an up and down year, but in general most have had an up year that was just spotty at times.”

Charles Vernon of Gloster Furniture said he never doubted he would see all the retailers invited to visit its showroom during premarket. “Over half of our volume comes to premarket,” he said. “People are coming with this really professional approach to the next season. The serious buyers are here.”

  “For us, it’s absolutely fabulous,” said Bob Gaylord, Agio International president and CEO, said of premarket. “I’d call this our huge coming out party.”

Anacara’s Sal Carrara described traffic as steady in the 16th floor showroom his company shares with North Cape International. “It’s been positive. It’s worth our time.”

Brian Blakeney, Kingsley-Bate director of sales and marketing, said he could not compare numbers from previous years because of its presence in a permanent showroom for the first time. “We’re happy with how things are turning out,” he said. “The good thing is, everyone who is coming through is a serious buyer.”

Jerry Glasser, Grosfillex director of specialty retail sales, also described buyers at premarket as serious. “It’s nice to have the extra exposure,” he said. 

“We’re only here because our customers are saying they want to see us here,” said Christopher Curran, president of Schou USA.

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