Buyers cautious as winter markets start
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, February 1, 2009
|Kool & The Gang's performance in Building 3 drew a crowd that spanned six floors, totaling more than 2,000 guests.|
Inside AmericasMart in Atlanta, buyer traffic started out slow at last month's International Gift and Home Furnishings Market but gained speed as the weekend drew nearer and the temporary floors opened for business.
The long-awaited opening of Building 2 West Wing, especially the 9th and 10th floor gardens area with its two-story waterfalls focal point, drew attention. Comments repeated about expectations being met inside the building, which added 1.5 million square feet of space to shop.
"We are excited to introduce a building like no other Market-oriented building in the world," said Jeff Portman, AmericasMart president and chief operating officer. "Building 2 WestWing is thematically and artistically designed to not only enhance the exhibitors' product by creating a dynamic stage for their merchandise, but to also hopefully lift the spirits of retailers while increasing their creativity and imagination in a real-life, interactive environment."
Showrooms offering accessories and gifts stayed busier as a rule than those filled with bigger items including casual furniture and indoor/outdoor rugs. Consistent smaller orders from established customers were more common than new accounts.
"Our expectations were high because we've all spent a lot of time and money," said Randy Meeks, Oxford Garden. "I think I am seeing that people are being a little more selective and choosy."
Rebecca Price of Uwharrie Chair also found that to be true. "A lot of our current accounts are coming back in, but people are cautious," she said. "There is no impulse buying."
Joseph Cilio, president of Alfresco Home, said he perceived customers' mood as "buying with a cautious optimism. They definitely know they've got to put product on their floors, but we're not pressuring them to fill up their warehouses. We would rather they buy what they need."
On the market's fourth day, Barbara Simeon said she was happier than she expected to be for Jewels of Java, which was among the casual furniture vendors who relocated their permanent showrooms to the 10th floor of the new building.
"I've written more orders at this show than I've written at the last three markets here in the Mart," Simeon said. "These challenging times bring out the real, serious qualified buyers and I'm hoping it's a sign of more good things to come. It will be interesting to see what other winter markets will bring."
Exhibiting in Atlanta for the first time, Max Jensen was pleased with the reception to Jensen Leisure Furniture's eco-friendly ipe wood products. "I think we've made a very wise long-term investment," he said.
Meadow Décor CEO Lily Zhang and Wanda Technologies Account Manager Michael Contreras also were upbeat about buyers' response to their companies' first shared showroom, which displayed Wanda's umbrellas with Meadow Décor's outdoor furniture. They shared a booth at the Jan. 14–20 Dallas Market. "Personally, I'm excited to be partnering up with a good company," Contreras said.
At the Ceramica de Espana booth, award-winning potter Alfonso Alcaide and his wife, artist Maria Soledad Dorado, demonstrated their talents by creating handmade/hand-painted pottery for five days during the market. The craftsmanship and colorful display caught buyers' attention as they slowed to admire the artwork.
New Orleans-area retailer Bruce Aronson reported finding more lawn and garden products and fewer accessories he could use in his specialty furniture store. He described new display areas as inviting but still difficult to navigate.
"But complain as I might, this is not a show to miss," Aronson wrote in his Jan. 10 Retail Views blog for casualliving.com. "As professional buyers for specialty outdoor furniture retailers, we probably won't find a lot of new furniture. We do all of that in Chicago. But there isn't a better market for accessories and I just don't see how we can keep our credibility without showing accessories. After all, most of the Frontgate catalog is devoted to accessories, not furniture. They set the tone for the entire catalog, and will do the same for your store."
Designer Wicker by Tribor continued to attract designers and specialty retailers into its Building 1 showroom, but did not operate a secondary booth in the gardens area this year.
"Weathered gray is a popular color; it's the one we're writing the most orders for in indoor wicker," President Trifu Boronka said. "Accessories also are doing pretty well and we still have interest in full outdoor wicker."
The outdoor dining part of its South Hampton Collection was being shown in Atlanta for the first time. He reported good response to that and to its St. Thomas and Sailor outdoor collections. Customers still ask for fully outdoor
wicker then they see colors and weaves of the indoor lines and wonder whether they really need the products to be able to withstand full exposure.
"Now with the economic downturn, people are thinking more about their uses for the furniture," Boronka said.
Helen Pirkle of Cozy Corner in Gainesville, Ga., said most of the homes being built in her area include outdoor living areas.
"We're seeing more outdoor living, outdoor rooms and outdoor kitchens," Pirkle said. "It's an awesome experience for young families, especially with young children."
More than 50 colorful Jellybean indoor/outdoor rug designs, including soft washable shag rugs were being introduced by Home Comfort/Homefires in both permanent and temporary showrooms. About 30 more designs were added to Homefires' indoor line. Home Comfort/Homefires' President and CEO Edward Chu said he thought attendance may be less than usual for the January show.
"The ones who have come are buying," Chu added. "We've seen all the major accounts already in the first couple of days. We are busy but not crazy busy."