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Norman Hamilton has joined Casual Living magazine as publisher

Expanding the Universe for the Outdoor Room

Norman HamiltonNorman Hamilton
Have you ever been so excited about something that you couldn't wait to tell everyone you met about it? That's exactly how I feel about the casual furniture market after attending the recent International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago. The International Casual Furnishings Association and Merchandise Mart Properties need to be congratulated for putting on what many who were there called the "best show in years."
     The showrooms I visited were full of gorgeous new products and exciting merchandising. Everywhere I turned there were design-driven, innovative products, colorful fabrics and a palpable sense of energy from buyers who were fully engaged as they shopped and bought.
     In the past, most of the buyers here represented casual specialty retailers, which have long been the core of the business for most exhibitors. Many of these retailers shared positive reports about this selling season and were already looking forward to next year.
     They also know they need to step up their game to compete with other types of retailers that are getting into the category. Most of the casual retailers I spoke to at the show are excited about the future of the outdoor room and have aggressive marketing plans to keep their customers informed of all the new offerings.
     This year I spoke to full-line furniture stores who were either already in the category or were looking at ways to get into it. Many of them realize the outdoor room is not a seasonal category and is the one room in the house that consumers are embracing above all others. This is good for the entire industry as the outdoor room is now being shown as another room in the house.
     I met online and e-commerce companies who told me that the products for the outdoor room were one of the fastest growing and best-selling products on their sites. This also bodes well for the industry as the Web exposes the outdoor room to millions of people before they even step into a store and an educated consumer is your best customer.
     The catalog companies were in Chicago as well and all of them spoke of the success they had with the outdoor room products they offered this season. One company mailed more than 26 million catalogs last year. This is good for all of us as more consumers will want to have an outdoor room.
     In addition, many new manufacturing companies displayed for the first time at this year's show. Again another sign that more people are looking at the outdoor room as not a trend but a part of the new home. When you have a company like Lexington Home Brands, which showcased its new Tommy Bahama collections for the first time, saying that the show exceeded their expectations, you know others from full-line furniture manufacturers are soon to follow.
     All of this positive talk and excitement is a good sign for this industry. The outdoor room was the fastest growing segment of the home furnishings industry from 2006-2011. It grew 46% in one of the toughest economic times we have experienced. From everyone I talked to, this should continue for the next several years.
     At this month's High Point Market for home furnishings, I expect the same type of excitement for the outdoor room.
     It doesn't matter whether you are a retailer, manufacturer, supplier or sales representative, if you aren't excited about the outdoor room you are missing out on making money from and enjoying one of the best rooms in the house.
     The only room in the house without a roof shows us all that the sky is the limit and we all can benefit from expanding the universe for the outdoor room
     Make no mistake: Interest in the outdoor room is anything but casual.

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