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CFR members share their outlooks, plans for 2007

Carl Vice, general managerCasual Living & Patio Center Lexington, Ky.

It's going to be a steady increase. I think the housing market that has somewhat flattened will propel again when spring rolls around and it's going to help retailers sell all types of products that go into home construction and new homes. There's going to be a good opportunity for increased sales from consumers who have seen a lot of product at a mass merchant, a discount house or a home center. They've got the idea but they're looking for something better. They want the option to change it, upgrade it and make it their custom product. That's where the specialty retailer has to step in.

The specialty retailer has to work much closer with domestic suppliers to be able to turn quickly and give the consumer exactly the look they are looking for, regardless of price — whether it's a unique fabric, color or totally unique pieces of furniture. Now this is a twofold partnership, it means the retailer has to step up and show different, upgraded product and fabric while the manufacturer has to be willing to produce that product and ship it in an extremely timely fashion. Our industry has been for years trying to get these delivery dates under the magical four weeks, down to three weeks or two weeks. Consumers are willing to wait as long as they know they are getting their very own customized group of furniture. There may not be another one like it in the world. That's exactly what homeowners are looking for today, something different and unique.

For 2007, the presentation will be considerably different. It will be more seating, more cushion, more chat group, more outdoor fire pit, very much more relaxed than years gone by when we were dining set after dining set. There will be fewer dining sets shown, but more seating pieces and more uniqueness. We're also looking at new and improved fabrics, which are changing rapidly right underneath us. We finally figured out that consumers will buy something other than brown if they're shown something other than brown. I think for 2007, our opportunity is unique materials, be it cast, iron, aluminum, iron or woven and handsome, smart fashionable fabrics that catch the eye and that consumers are not seeing in the mass merchant or online.

David Howell, owner Naples Patio and Elegant Outdoors Naples, Fla.

About mid-October business started picking up, which was a great thing because it had been very slow for us in the Florida market because of real estate being off. Our traffic counts were way down from March on through the summer, but October definitely picked up, November was very good and so far December's turned out fairly well. So I look forward to a good season coming on here for January, February and March.

We focused a little bit more in television advertising; we feel we get a good response so we're strengthening that somewhat. Whenever you go through a slow period of time, it's a double-edged sword — not only does the business slow up but your merchandise coming in is not moving out as fast so you get over-inventoried much quicker. So this year, we went with a few less collections, more complete collections and trying to keep things in pocket for immediate delivery — things we can turn quickly. We're dealing more with the vendors that have the quicker response. Lloyd/Flanders a year and a half ago went to 10 or 12 day shipping time on a lot of their loom wicker and that's been tremendous and helped a lot. We've supported the vendors that ship quick and have nice, quality product.

Robert Jones Sr., CEOAmerican Sales, Tinley Park, Ill.

I'm cautiously optimistic. I think the unemployment rate is low; most people are working. And interest rates are low.

I think we're going to keep doing what we're doing. I've been doing it for 47 years.

Roger Hill, owner The Patio & Fireplace, Danville, Calif.

I think it will be an improvement over this (2006) season because of what will be happening with the Iraqi problem. That has been hurting consumer confidence.

I'm not going to change anything. We had one of our better years and we will do things very similar. We will be increasing our control of inventory management, but that just makes us have less product in our warehouse that we don't need.

David Schweig, presidentSunnyland Furniture, Dallas

We're expecting another good year. This fall has been very strong. We're selling high-end to medium patio furniture year-round and have had good floor traffic.

I'm staying the course. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.




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