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Cinde W. Ingram

Casual Market ends on high note

Attendees say much stronger than expected

Casual furniture retailers’ positive attitudes continued as the Casual Market came to an end Thursday in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. 

Comments repeated that the market was much stronger than expected, especially in light of this year’s tough economic climate and a prolonged rainy start to the selling season. 

After the Al Fresco Fabric Fashion Show, Apollo Awards attendees showed similar enthusiasm by saying it was even better than last year’s fashion show. Outfits were created from fabrics and trims by sponsors Sunbrella, TriVantage, Duracord Textiles, SilverState Frabrics, Ardwyn Decorative Trim Products and Outdura. 

“Loved the fashion show. That was so cool,” said David Schweig, owner of Sunnyland Furniture, Dallas. “We need to keep it going each year." 

Traditional furniture store and department store buyers are taking a new look at the outdoor furniture category and finding not only updated design and comfort, but also function that didn’t exist two decades ago, said Salvatore Carrara, owner of Anacara. “I haven’t had this much positive reaction since the ’80s,” he said. 

Response to the debut of Lane and Broyhill branded outdoor furniture developed by Foremost Group was described as “exceptionally strong” by John Hunt, Foremost senior vice president, home division. Legal questions raised during the market about a competitor copying its product appeared to be resolved Thursday with a tentative verbal agreement and a handshake.

Later, Foremost Groups announced it took legal action against Beka Castings and Coco Casual Company for misappropriation of furniture designs from several of Foremost's current outdoor dining collections including Bonami, Bridgeport, Mondavi, Palermo, Portofino and San Marino. Foremost believes Beka and its Coco Casual division is marketing, importing and offering for sale Foremost's protected lines under the same or similar collection names. Foremost's attorneys are seeking to have Beka and Coco Casual stop all U.S. and Canadian sales and imports of infringing products, as well as other remedies for their misappropriation.

At least three other design infringement questions were raised as the show ended. Another one appeared to be resolved late Thursday morning. 

Others, like Domus Ventures, said they planned to file lawsuits to stop competitors with copycat designs. Despite that, Domus Ventures’ sales team kept their attention on the market and stayed busy showing off their innovative products displayed behind a wall on the eighth floor. 

“We've been the last ones here every night this week,” said Dave Hill, national sales manager, Domus Ventures. “They've had to force us out. We're not just sitting around; we're meeting with customers. We feel like maybe the Mart should be a little more flexible. We're all working for the same customers, and with 350 vendors, there isn't enough time in a day for people to visit each. So if they see something they want to look at closer, we want to be here," He added he understands the Mart's position. "If they didn't have rules, we'd probably be here all night." 

Pausing as she wrote a large order, Tami Newton of Palm Springs Rattan & Garden Classics described the market as wonderful because it brought back existing dealers with very positive attitudes as well as new customers. 

“The attitude of the retailers has been very good,” said Jerry Glaser of Grosfillex. “Instead of being doom and gloom, retailers want to know what they can do better. I should have been more optimistic coming into the show.” 

Many manufacturers at the market have lowered prices or added promotional lines in response to dealers’ needs. Others have increased their warehouse capacity for quicker shipments. 

The market’s upbeat mood continued through the end of the four-day event as retailers continued to find manufacturers’ offerings that met their needs. 

When learning about Cast Classics’ Extreme Value Program, for example, one retailer’s response was “Man! That’s impressive.” 

“Retailers are used to coming in our showroom and seeing the high end. We still have that sensibility, but we now have expanded that to collections that are more value focused,” said Al Arad, president, Cast Classics.
“This is my fifth Chicago Market with Suncoast, and I've written more orders during this show than all of the other September markets combined. It’s been unbelievable,” said Rick Baker of Suncoast. 

“This has been a great market for us,” said Barbara Simeon of Jewels of Java. “I think things are turning around, and it’s very encouraging. It’s a whole new year and a whole new outlook. It’s been the best Chicago market we have had in a few years. I was a little nervous coming in, but I’m very happy. I like the temporaries being on one floor. Buyers are coming back a few times, and the setup allows them to take their time and buy smarter.” 

If 2009 is the quiz, the test is 2010, said Karel Simeon of Jewels of Java. If you pass, you will be back in 2011, he said. 

“During tough times, style really matters,” said Wes Stewart of Sunset West. “If you have fewer and fewer people coming in the door, you want your showroom looking good. We are just trying to take it one step at a time.” 

“This show has been phenomenal,” said Mark Fillhouer of Homecrest Outdoor Living. “We knew it would be good because dealers have increased their floor space with Homecrest coming back. It’s very encouraging -- better than we could have hoped for.”

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