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  • Cinde Ingram

Premarket tone anything but casual

Exhibitors say attendance beat expectations

Cinde Ingram, Staff Staff -- Casual Living, August 15, 2005

Deep seating options abounded for the 2006 season at the first Summer & Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association sanctioned premarket, July 13–15, in Chicago's Merchandise Mart.

Ruth G. Carter, center, cuts the ribbon for Carter Grandle's permanent showroom on the Merchandise Mart's 17th floor. Pictured from left, Randy Yoder, Joe Pawlush, Webb Carter, Ruth Carter, Courtland Carter, John Brennen III of MMPI, and Steve Shulse.

Wood looks emerged on cast aluminum tabletops and chairs, resin tabletops and recycled plastic. Leather cushions also appeared. Sectional and modular groups reflected the merging of indoor and outdoor styles.

Colors stayed strong, but were subdued compared with the current season's eye-popping offerings. If meant to set the stage for serious business, the new color stories reflected the tone as vendors and retailers addressed early buy and distribution issues.

Although no formal head counts were announced, MMPI officials said more than 1,500 retailers and exhibitors attended the first official premarket.

"It's more strongly attended than last year," said Jack Shelburne, MMPI vice president, residential furnishings. "I think it's all a grand experiment to see what serves the retailers best."

One sales rep described the dealers in attendance as "all the A and B+ accounts."

"All the majors are here," Hanamint Vice President Russ Sorenson said. "There have been times these hallways were as crowded as the Casual Show." He described the premarket as far better than expected.

"We expected good attendance and we got good attendance," said Gary McCray, Laneventure vice president of marketing. "If we'd all figure out when to start it, it's fine."

Because Brown Jordan International and Lloyd/Flanders opened their premarkets Monday, July 11, some other permanent showrooms hurried through planned sales meetings to open earlier than the official Wednesday, July 13 start. Premarket forces casual furniture manufacturers to pull together products and promotional materials in time for the earlier preview. "I can use that feedback to really cement what the presentation's going to be in September," Whitecraft President Lou Rosebrock said. The more official premarket will certainly impact the Sept. 14–17 market, he said, but the jury is still out about its effect. "I do wish, as an industry, we would get together on a time. We're set up for Wednesday through Friday and found Monday and Tuesday were almost as busy."

On the eighth floor, vendors gave mixed reviews of the first official premarket exhibition in temporary booths. "We've done well with the ones who made appointments, but my gut says if we had waited until September we may have done the same," said Clay Rassi of Poly-Wood. Its Mission collection of recycled plastic combined a wood appearance with outdoor marine-grade leather.

Others said they were pleased with the amount and quality of traffic. "It's forced us to start early," said Mike Mallory, Unimeta/Sun Garden sales director. "We've seen quality people and spent quality time with them. I think the people who didn't show here missed out on some opportunities."

"A lot of (small independent) dealers we were expecting to come decided at the last minute not to leave their stores because business had been slow in the spring and now is good so they wanted to stay in their stores," Rosebrock said.

Ruth G. Carter, center, cuts the ribbon for Carter Grandle's permanent showroom on the Merchandise Mart's 17th floor. Pictured from left, Randy Yoder, Joe Pawlush, Webb Carter, Ruth Carter, Courtland Carter, John Brennen III of MMPI, and Steve Shulse.

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