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Cinde W. Ingram

Prepare for seasonal changes

Last night, I was amazed to see snow floating down with the light rain. Amazed because last week's temperatures were in the high 60s and low 70s.

Those of you who sell hearth products surely welcome the arrival of winter weather, although your sales through homebuilders are certainly year-round. Some patio furniture retailers have told me their season was longer than normal and the year ended on an upbeat with the strongest holiday sales they've seen in nearly a decade.

The various viewpoints of the hearth, patio and barbecue segments of our industry will return to Atlanta late this month for the HPBA Expo at the Georgia World Congress Center. Many active members of the Casual Furniture Retailers Association who traveled to Atlanta last month for the annual CFR forum also shopped for accessories and holiday products at AmericasMart along with several thousand gift and home accent buyers.

The mood in Atlanta was overwhelmingly positive as buyers got started earlier than usual. Bright colors of products in showrooms mimicked the mood of retailers and vendors at the winter markets.

The crossover between indoor and outdoor continues to gain strength, according to a panel of magazine editors, speaking in Atlanta. The outdoors is moving in, Kelly Peterson of House Beautiful said. Thanks to improved fabrics, furniture and accents, homeowners can "bring the living room look to the outside."

New Creative Enterprises, a well-known accessory vendor, has turned its focus back toward outdoor living products with pods that organize groups of products for retailers and consumers. Thomas G. Bowles, recently named CEO of parent company Decorative Concepts Inc., told me, "We feel very strongly that outdoor living and outdoor entertaining is going to continue to grow."

While the outdoor living trend remains healthy, the dramatic drop in temperatures reminds us to expect changes and be ready to respond in creative ways.

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