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Cinde W. Ingram

Catching onto the outdoor living experience

The outdoor living experience was understood and embraced by more than 13,000 who attended the recent International Pool & Spa / Outdoor Living Expo in Orlando, Fla. Although casual furniture and accessories were less commonly seen in the Orange County Convention Center than the more dominant pools and spas displays, the Outdoor Living Expo stayed busy with dealers gathering information and asking questions. They realized consumers who are investing $48,000–$200,000 or more to build a pool will need furnishings, grills and shade products for their outdoor areas.

Among the innovators at the Expo was Marathon Electric Commercial Motors, which debuted new technology for spa motors, aimed at increasing customization and energy efficiency. Structure Studios demonstrated computer software that helps homeowners envision what their pool would look like, given the dimensions of their house and lot. The virtual pool software, already used by nearly all of the nation's biggest pool builders, starts with a two dimensional drawing and then pops up a 3-D image that often includes generic casual furniture, grills, other water features and landscaping. "It can help you in many ways to cement that relationship with the customer so you can get the deal," said Joe Macchiaverna, general manager of the Las Vegas-based 3-D software development company. The innovative software captures the big picture.

Fire Stone's Outdoor GreatRoom also captures that big picture and makes it easier for retailers to pull together a ready-made showroom complete with pergolas, grills, islands, fireplaces, gas lights and now outdoor furniture. CEO Dan Shimek, an industry veteran, is providing integrated Outdoor GreatRooms to dealers and homebuilders who want to provide the complete package, especially for homeowners who want to include it in their mortgage. Shimek found strong interest from builders when he served on a recent panel at a National Association of Homebuilders meeting.

For more about how the building industry is responding to the outdoor living trend, look inside this issue. You'll also find our latest fabric showcase and research results on performance fabrics trends as well as plenty of new products you can expect to find at the winter shows. Displaying and selling accessories helps consumers envision their outdoor living areas.

As you're planning for the 2008 season, consider whether your store captures the big picture. If not, it's time to refocus.

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