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Atlanta market kicks off season despite wintry start

Jesse Burkhart, Staff Staff -- Casual Living, March 14, 2011

Pacific Home & Garden, Seasons CollectionPacific Home & Garden, Seasons Collection
MOTHER NATURE wasn't very considerate of vendors and retailers when she dropped wintry precipitation on the metro- Atlanta area and much of the Northeast just before the year's first home furnishings market last month.
     Airline cancellations surged as a result of icy circumstances while those traveling on wheels found the going more difficult than anticipated, prompting delayed arrivals for many. But as the week wore on and the weather warmed up, the traffic snowballed, restoring the optimism for 2011 that beset the industry prior to the show.
     "There are people who were supposed to come and didn't, but I'm pleasantly surprised at how busy we've been," Jewels of Java Business Manager Barbara Simeon said. "People are here and they're not outside. They are buying and they're serious. This is the most upbeat I've been in a while."
     Sharon DeFelice, chief executive officer of Two Dogs Designs, was equally upbeat. "The market has welcomed us with open arms," she said. "We're 135% up. There's nobody I've talked to in this market that isn't up." "We're really busy; early buys are through the roof," said Three Birds Casual President Tad Varga. "We have a lot of commercial projects, and we've picked up a lot of large, high-profile dealers. The year's looking really good for us."
     Although most vendors shared favorable reports, others conveyed mild frustration as poor traveling conditions kept some companies off the pace of their projected sales numbers.
     "There's been a high degree of uncertainty," said Alex Boyer, vice president of sales and marketing at Furniture Classics. "We had high expectations. It was a good late selling season, we knew inventories were low and people were feeling good, and so we put more pieces of furniture in our showroom. We are a little disappointed because we're a little behind our projections, but it's still been an average ticket for Atlanta."
     "The weather caused us to be a day late, and it has impacted our customers," said Randy Meek, president of
Exhart, Travelocity GnomeExhart, Travelocity Gnome
Oxford Garden. "For anyone that was going to work the full show, they were obviously shorted. We had a successful show. It didn't beat our expectations, because our expectations were set higher, but it was close."
     Meek recalled one specific interaction with a buyer. "[The buyer] said, ‘I have three categories to buy - Christmas, accessories and patio. But because I came in two days late, I may not get to patio.' So [the weather] has affected our customers and their ability to get here."
     Still, the overall mood of the market was positive, as a strong 2010 holiday season offered hope that momentum would carry over to 2011.
     "[Retailers] are buying and they're anticipating a strong spring," Exhart Director of Sales Pat Byrne said. "Our 2010 was phenomenal. Despite the projections, we overcame them to have a strong year. We reinvent ourselves from year to year because you can't bring the same things to market."
     Ashok Hingorany, owner of Achla Designs, summed up the year's end when he said, "2010 was better than 2009 - it was profitable. It really picked up in November and December. I think 2011 will be really good for us. Business will be up because we think the housing market will pick up. We are also picking up more Internet merchants."
     A key indicator that the industry is rebounding from a down cycle is that manufacturers are venturing into
Byer of Maine, Clipper Bird HomesByer of Maine, Clipper Bird Homes
previously unexplored product categories.
     "We got a lot of people asking for wicker," Meadow Décor CEO Lily Zhang said. "I've got a very good supplier and we'll add a wicker collection for 2011. Because of that, we can get a lot more customers."
     "The consumers are coming in and people are buying more covers because they're looking to protect their grills," DeFelice said. "We're doing beach covers, chat sets and air conditioning covers. We have people coming for outdoor fireplace covers, and even snow-blower covers. That's where I see our growth - other avenues."
     Debuting in Atlanta this year was the addition of a Birding & Backyard Nature category to the Market Temporaries.
     "Birding & Backyard Nature evolved from the growing needs of buyers who already shop AmericasMart with specific interest in this product category, as well as manufacturers' and designers' desire to extend their exposure to a broader range of gift, home and specialty store buyers," said JoAnn Miller Marshall, senior vice president of the Market Temporaries for AmericasMart.
     The collection featured birding and nature-related products, including: birdfeeders, birdhouses, bird seed, bird baths, birding and nature books, field guides, optics, hardware, birding software, nature-themed giftware, note cards, magnets, bookmarks, butterfly houses, bat houses, wildlife art, bird-themed jewelry, birding accessories, recycled nature products, water garden supplies and decor.
     "With increasing interest in backyard nature and wild bird feeding, exhibiting our lines at AmericasMart Atlanta provides us with a sales platform where the potential for new customers is the greatest," said Mike Anderson of Songbird Essentials. "We believe it is a good fit for us in today's marketplace."

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