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Cinde W. Ingram

Summer Classics throws annual Garden Party

Summer Classics set the scene for its annual Garden Party inside its elegant store in Pelham, Ala.

The new Summer Classics Home section gives the impression of a Ralph Lauren-inspired restaurant with walls painted black as a backdrop for furniture, plenty of accessories and an awesome display of wall art — all for sale, of course. The store's numerous vignettes allow the manufacturer's cutting edge designs to shine.

"This is a different experience than you're going to find anywhere in the United States — and the customers love it," said Bew White, Summer Classics president and founder.

"When consumers walk into a store, they've got to be wowed. Summer Classics' Pelham store does that," Chris Price of Glen Raven told Summer Classics' sales reps on the first day of the 10-day meeting.

The Pelham store, which also operates a warehouse from its back area, was the manufacturer's first retail store and remains its largest. Summer Classics originally opened its factory store to the public to sell seconds and discontinued products quarterly until the late 1980s, when one weekend brought in three times more sales than the entire year, White said. Company stores followed in Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., while licensed stores have since opened in Nashville; St. Louis; Mobile, Ala.; San Antonio; Gulf Shores and earlier this year in Orlando.

Renovations are underway inside a former Seasonal Concepts' location in Atlanta for a Summer Classics store, expected to open by Oct. 1, with about 40% of its product focused on home decor and Christmas. Another Summer Classics store should open in February in Richmond, according to Evan Dorman, vice president, Summer Classics retail stores.

Scott Tuft of Island Bay in Laguna Niguel, Calif., was among more than 100 retail and designer guests who visited the Birmingham area for Summer Classics' Garden Party. When asked how the Garden Party benefits his store, Tuft said, "Mostly the experience of meeting the people we literally talk to every day face to face is really good for our employees, which we bring one every year. Seeing the new product, and mingling with the owner and upper management is very important as well." Tuft added he enjoyed sharing marketing ideas with other Summer Classics dealers.

Rob Robinson, director of advertising, explained lifestyle television spots and multimedia additions are available through Forte Marketing Group to help dealers draw their target customers. Point of sale window displays, with a three-year UV resistance ability, also are now available and customizable for specific dealers. The focus is on lifestyle rather than price point to move further from the mass market and closer to the design trade. "The industry is at a crossroads," Robinson said. "You have to choose who you want to be."

Harold Hudson, vice president of sales and marketing, detailed Summer Classics' eight new collections and additions to several existing lines for sales reps before dealers arrived in the showroom. Among the introductions is a reticulated foam substrate under a woven N'Dura resin. Outdoor lamps with three shade designs, crafted from double powder-coated steel, also are added for 2008.

"Once again, we're re-defining elegant outdoor living," White said. "I'm excited by all the color and pop of this year's line. This year's new product has contemporary choices as well as our interpretations of some truly classic standards in furniture and accessories."

With sales up a little over 30%, the company plans to eclipse the $60 million mark by year's end.

"Executing that is very difficult," White said, acknowledging struggles filling cushion orders at the end of June. "We have more than doubled our cushion capacity over the last two years and they're talking about an almost 50% increase in cushions for next year. We make 20,000 cushions a month now. ... There's a world of difference from where we've been to where we are today."

At its Garden Party dinner and dance, Virginia-based Home Escapes at Spas East was named SHOPs dealer of the year. Kelly Patton was named sales representative of the year. Honie Weinstein and Neal Morgan also were recognized for their years of dedication to the growing company, which also noted contributions of its young staff. "I get a big kick out of seeing these young guys," White said. "It seems like yesterday I was one of them."

Summer Classics Home display, above and below, combines indoor and outdoor styles seamlessly.

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