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  • Cinde Ingram

Telling the story

My father used to travel as a national sales rep and, later in his career, manufactured a foam cushion material for furniture, but in my view he was at his best as a storyteller. I remember how my friends would gather in a circle as he spun tales I had heard many times but still loved hearing him unfold. I didn't dare give away the endings.

During the judging process for Casual Living's latest Merchandising Awards, I was reminded of how retailers must tell stories, too. The store's entrance has to make customers aware of what kind of store it is and how to get inside. Good merchandising displays, both inside and out, help consumers visualize options for their own homes. Add in a sales staff to explain why particular products fit the lifestyle the customer wants and you've got a winning combination.

Manufacturers may have figured all this out first because their showroom designs and marketing materials have told stories for decades. Sales reps traveling now may be connected to electronic support, but still have to show and tell how one product differs from the next.

As homeowners turn their patios, porches and poolside areas into more functional and elaborate outdoor living rooms, our industry has a story they want to hear.

"Today, it's all about bringing the inside out, from complete outdoor kitchens and entertainment centers to wet bars and wetlands of a different kind: landscaped ponds, streams and lighted waterfalls," home and lifestyle columnist/broadcaster Jan D'Atri said. "Outdoor living spaces offer a place of peace and relaxation to the homeowner in a hectic world."

Hectic was a good description last month as many buyers shopped and manufacturers showed at the Hospitality Design expo and National Hardware Show, both held in expanded Las Vegas venues. Quite a few high-end casual furniture manufacturers at HD said their companies were busy preparing for next month's Chicago premarket, with official dates set for July 13–15.

I know most of you are more focused on what's happening inside your stores than on the tradeshows ahead. Spring started with a colder and wetter March than in the past four years while April trended the coldest in five years and May might have finished as the nation's coldest in eight years. But take heart because SDI/Weather Trends forecasts for summer will reverse this pattern with the hottest/driest weather in several years. We all know other factors play into whether a season can be considered a success and I'm not going to guess the ending.

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