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Cinde W. Ingram

Casual Market has positive run in Chicago

Manufacturers and retailers agreed the recent Casual Market started strong and stayed upbeat. Some even described it as their best ever.

Terra Furniture President Ken Burrows said opening day was the best he could remember. "Traffic was excellent, not only current customers but also new customers," he said.

"Monday was our busiest first day we've ever had at the show," said Janet Winsor of Jensen Jarrah.

"It's the best show by far that we've ever had," said Jamie Lowsky, CEO, Pride Family Brands.

"This show is great," said Theresa Klaus with Patio Living Concepts. "This year has been great."

"As good as premarket was, we had numerous dealers come in and add to their orders," said Teresa Campbell of Lloyd/Flanders.

"It's been a good overall response to everything," said Kathy Haney, vice president of Outdoor Lifestyle. "We've seen a lot of new people. They're ready to make some changes within our category."

Things just kept getting better at Poly-Wood. "This has been a phenomenal show for us. We thought last year was good, but this blew it away," Clay Rassi said. He said reaction to the all-weather wicker in particular was "way beyond our expectations."

Expectations were also shattered at Stotter & Norse. Back at the show after an absence of six years, the vendor had only one new product, a new glass, but that didn't seem to deter retailers a bit. "We literally have been busy since the doors opened," Al Spampinato said.

Taking time out from admiring Jensen Jarrah's new barstools, Anna Papp of Outdoor Living Center, Covington, La., reported on a good season. "This year was busier than last year, and last year was a record year for us. The first year [after Hurricane Katrina], people were buying outdoor furniture for indoors, because they couldn't get the indoor furniture. So now they are replacing their outdoor furniture."

Kitty Hawk was kept busy as former Carter Grandle customers and others stopped to view cushion and woven options. "There is a big need for cushions and we've been doing them for 20 years," said Webb Carter, adding the advantage of being located in Tennessee allows him to be much more competitive than in the past.

A slow season prompted many retailers to reconsider Agio, according to Bob Gaylord, who reported a show far beyond the company's forecast. "We've seen many dealers come in and say their businesses aren't growing but they know people who were successful with us and so they are jumping on board," Gaylord said. "My goal is to get our specialty market to $100 million in two years, and I think we will meet that goal very easily." Looking forward to 2009, expect to see a large array of options for small spaces. "People want small space luxury and it just isn't being addressed now," Gaylord said.

ScanCom award-winning teak Pinoi table was "designed to be a show stopper," Jay Weber said. The table and eight chairs retails around $3,999. "It is basically a handmade piece that is at the high end of our line but still competitively priced for retailers," Weber said.

"I started with 500 business cards, and I'm all out," Christopher Curran, Schou USA, said on the show's third day. "It's been a slam dunk."

Among his happy customers is Margo Lagen, of Molbaks, in Seattle. Pausing in the middle of writing an order for Schou's New Hampshire Collection, she said, "I'm loving it. It's a great line."

Petey Fleischut of Hockessin, Del.-based Casual Marketplace stopped long enough during her visits to showrooms to describe the Market as phenomenal. "It's bigger than ever," she said. "It's the best show I've seen in years."

Sara Turk and Casey Plimpton, of Splash Home Furnishings, Glenwood Springs, Colo., just outside of Aspen, said they loved Tropitone's Cabana Club Collection. "It speaks to a younger generation," Plimpton said. "Tropitone understands that clean modern lines aren't just a trend but are here to stay."

Deborah Scott of Yard Art Patio, in Colleyville, Texas, was happy to see the greater variety on the temporary floors. "Everyone seems to be putting more effort into the displays," she said.

The problem was too many choices for Joan Shank, owner of Southern Casual, Jacksonville, Fla. "You just wish that you had a bigger store. There is so much that is new and different. Fortunately, we have three stores now so we can spread the wealth," she said.

First-time exhibitor ARTEFX's outdoor art generated a buzz among retailers who could see the brilliant images from far away. "Outdoor is a new category for us, but we are finding that there is definitely a lot of interest," Manny Wright said. The images are copyrighted photos, commissioned by ARTEFX and digitally reproduced. They retail for $249 to $299.

Sundance Spas also was among the first-time exhibitors. "It's fun to watch people's eyes as they walk around the corner because they aren't expecting to see a spa," said Jeff Wilson, regional manager.

Taking a quick look at trends, dark finishes are still a draw, with lighter finishes slowly re-emerging, with surprising interest in white frames, especially from those in urban, coastal areas.

Bright reds and forest greens of the past were more muted, with many neutral fabrics and citrus shades in showrooms. The purple hues trend experts had predicted to reign in the coming two years also was toned down for the casual industry. Easy Way Products displayed Sunbrella's elegant lilac shade in its booth, paired with gold for an on-trend combination. "People seem to appreciate the fact that it stands out," Steve Coppel said.

Woven furniture continued to dominate sales, as did alternative tabletops and multifunctional items like Alfresco Home's entertainment cart.

New exhibitors on the floor also included some new innovations.

Christopher Zubyk's Zubrella has a patent-pending anchor to secure the umbrella in the sand. The product is endorsed by the American Lifeguard Association.

Terry Weitzman invented his Umbrella Pole Protector, from Backyard & Beach Products, after his own umbrella pole corroded. In addition to guarding against water damage, the silicone sleeve guards will protect against nicks and paint chipping when used by retailers for display umbrellas. Keith Guidry of Hearth & Patio, in Lafayette, La., loved the silicone sleeve. "It's a great idea. It's real inexpensive and a good add-on."

A popular topic of conversation included special order business. David Reburn of Deck and Dock in Ontario said his special orders doubled from 25% to 50%, a figure many retailers echoed.

"The industry is changing," designer Richard Frinier said, "retailers need to see their special orders as their core business."

Kristen Cantor with her father Bob Urlwin, who was celebrating his retirement after 46 years as a top-selling rep for Telescope.
Kristen Cantor with her father Bob Urlwin, who was celebrating his retirement after 46 years as a top-selling rep for Telescope.

Karel and Barbara Simeon from Jewels of Java
Karel and Barbara Simeon from Jewels of Java

Retailers Petey and Harold Fleischut of Casual Marketplace, Hockessin, Del.
Retailers Petey and Harold Fleischut of Casual Marketplace, Hockessin, Del.

Retailers Stephanie and Trey Folcher of Leisure World Furniture, Wilmington, N.C., with Chris Cafasso, Scott Carr and Bryan Echols, all of Lloyd/Flanders
Retailers Stephanie and Trey Folcher of Leisure World Furniture, Wilmington, N.C., with Chris Cafasso, Scott Carr and Bryan Echols, all of Lloyd/Flanders

Douglas Orians and Jule Budacz of The HammockSource
Douglas Orians and Jule Budacz of The HammockSource

Paul Murch of Olympia Lighting with Jorge Rottini of Rausch Classics, Cinde Ingram of Casual Living, retailer Keith Guidry of Percy Guidry, Lafayette, La., and Mark Phillabaum, Poly-Wood.
Paul Murch of Olympia Lighting with Jorge Rottini of Rausch Classics, Cinde Ingram of Casual Living, retailer Keith Guidry of Percy Guidry, Lafayette, La., and Mark Phillabaum, Poly-Wood.

Debbie and Tom Stegman of Patio & Hearth Shoppes, Centerville, Ohio, with Dale and Teresa Campbell of Lloyd/Flanders
Debbie and Tom Stegman of Patio & Hearth Shoppes, Centerville, Ohio, with Dale and Teresa Campbell of Lloyd/Flanders

David Reburn of Deck & Dock, Toronto; Debbie Maytidu and Sandra Mollera of Shelly
David Reburn of Deck & Dock, Toronto; Debbie Maytidu and Sandra Mollera of Shelly's Cushions; and Jack Gillies of Jack Gillies

David Kennedy with Brown Jordan, Whitney Gillespie of MMPI with Bill Markowitz, Veneman Collections, and John Wasylenko, Tim Capron and Paul Knutson of Ancient Mosaic Studios.
David Kennedy with Brown Jordan, Whitney Gillespie of MMPI with Bill Markowitz, Veneman Collections, and John Wasylenko, Tim Capron and Paul Knutson of Ancient Mosaic Studios.

Bob and Debra Dougherty of Green Lea Garden Center, Voorhees, N.J., with Stuart and Jane Levanthal of Down to Earth, Pomona, N.Y.
Bob and Debra Dougherty of Green Lea Garden Center, Voorhees, N.J., with Stuart and Jane Levanthal of Down to Earth, Pomona, N.Y.

Casual Living team from left, Donna Azzolini, Norman Hamilton, Courtney Paschal, Darrell DalPozzo and Rob Bertrand.
Casual Living team from left, Donna Azzolini, Norman Hamilton, Courtney Paschal, Darrell DalPozzo and Rob Bertrand.

First-time exhibitor Zak Designs drew buyers to its booth with a colorful display of its new serving bowl collections.

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