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Cinde W. Ingram

What's ahead?

As we enter the New Year, we've asked casual furniture retailers and retail experts to focus on the outdoor home furnishings niche and tell us what they see in their crystal-ball gazing. Their answers often aren't as clear or as optimistic as we wish.

Mostly the answers reflect current conditions, whether based on housing starts, interest rates, unemployment or same store sales numbers. Holiday sales were in high gear as we compiled this issue so the totals were unknown.

Some of you may have cheered as Wal-Mart Stores sales slipped into the red for the first time in a decade toward the end of 2006, blaming its November losses partly on weakness in the home sector. Do you cringe when you see the continued growth of catalog and online sales? Are you using your Web site to drive consumers into your store? Do you make it easy for them to fill out credit applications to qualify their credit online before they enter your store? Have you added online product reviews? Economic conditions are ever changing and so are early-buy patterns for many of you, who recognize the risks of tying up time and money with container-load commitments.

Inside this issue, you'll find we are tweaking our content with the aim of serving your changing needs. We're again showcasing the latest fashion-forward fabrics. Our survey of retailers offers answers about best-selling colors and patterns as well as projections for the 2007 season.

You'll also see our first how-to column from an expert within the industry. Suze Bragg, director of electronic media, Reed Business Information, took the challenge and shares her expertise to help retailers make better use of the Internet. In later issues, we'll have merchandising advice and how-to tips from designers Mark Abrams and Marcia Blake. This is a feature readers have requested. We are listening, responding and we want to hear more about what we can do to help you keep your stores fresh, run your businesses better and stay ahead of the curve.

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