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Cinde W. Ingram

Vendor outlooks positive for a strong premarket

Manufacturer expectations were high for the Casual Furniture & Accessories Premarket to be strong this month, coming near the end of a healthy selling season and as a prelude to the 2007 season.

Retailers, concerned about potential price increases, were more cautious in their predictions. Their descriptions of the current season's strength also were mixed.

Merv Conn, president of Mallin Casual Furniture and of the Summer & Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association, said he had heard no negatives from any of the manufacturers who have permanent showrooms at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago.

"So far, it's very upbeat," Conn said. He noted "lousy weather" at the start of the current season may have delayed sales, particularly in Western states, but said most had made up for it by early June.

"The dealers have had a much better season this year than they had the past few years," said Dudley Flanders, president of Lloyd/Flanders and former SCFMA president. "I think that's probably due to the breadth of product specialty dealers are carrying."

Flanders predicted this premarket will be busy for the major casual furniture dealers and major suppliers who participate.

Partly because specialty dealers must have on-trend fabrics and designs, there's movement underfoot toward in-season buying and away from the industry's early buy tradition, both Flanders and Conn said.

"That's as it should be because the specialty retailers can special order different fabrics and colors than the mass merchants and other competitors can have in their stores," Flanders said.

When asked whether manufacturers are prepared to meet the demands of delivering in-season orders on time, Conn said, "I think we're just going to have to adapt to it."

John Sundet, president of Homecrest, found this year's shift to in-season buying surprising, saying he didn't know whether it was a result of last year's internal changes within Homecrest or an indication of changes brewing within the industry.

"It's unusual, in fact, I think unprecedented where we would see the amount of in-season business we've have vs. early buys," Sundet said. "It's remarkably stronger."

The move toward in-season buying rather than early buy ordering became evident last year, according to Bill Kennedy, president of Casa Casual, a Hanamint company. "The flip side of that coin is some of these people who tried to buy in-season and cut down on their early buy got caught short on inventory because of the time it takes to get it from Asia so we're wondering if that trend is going to reverse itself a little bit," Kennedy said. "Of course, this has been an exceptional season. On the other side of the coin, if you order big and it rains all spring, then you've got the opposite problem."

As was announced earlier, some permanent showrooms will be expanded in time for premarket. Agio International's 16th floor showroom was enlarged to more than 20,000 square feet of display space. Windham Castings also has a new permanent showroom on the 16th floor. Carter Grandle relocated its showroom to a 17th floor space nearly double the size.

"Obviously all the permanents are open and we have one company (Cast Classics) with a permanent showroom who is showing in a rather large booth on the 8th floor exclusively, during the premarket only," said Whitney Gillespie, MMPI director of casual furniture leasing.

The temporary booths include a few vendors who are new to premarket, which became an official event sanctioned by SCFMA last July. Although a well-known casual vendor, The HammockSource will participate in premarket for the first time, for example, as will Bungalow by EZ-UP and Jane Hamley Wells.

"The trend is going to higher design, which I think is a good thing, and the show has held steady," Gillespie said. "We're as strong as we were last year, and there are definitely some new faces."

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