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Casual Living's At-Market Report

Direct from the Casual Market in Chicago

At-Market Report - Friday, Sept. 15

The Mood at Market

Anybody who doubted whether the casual industry was a fashion industry was proved wrong yesterday with Casual Living’s first-ever Al-fresco Fashion Show. Held at noon, performance fabrics from companies such as Sunbrella, Twitchell, Maco, Solarium, Bella-Dura, DuraCord Textiles, Outdura, Crypton, Phifer, Waverly and Valtekz were transformed into stunning outfits, designed by Faye McPherson of At the Ritz, Greensboro, N.C. More than 200 attended the event and the buzz continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening, when a second show was held during the Annual Market Party.

“That was good wasn’t it?,” commented one attendee, while another said, “Those fabrics sure make good dresses.” Other comments heard were “this is so good for the industry,” and “Fabulous show.”

TeresaCampbell of Lloyd/Flanders said the bright colors in its Ralph Lauren fabrics have gained attention and garnered orders since their introduction earlier this year. “We started out offering the fabrics to just a select group of retailers who brought in one or two collections to show it. Now we’ve opened it up to another 500,” she said.

About the casual industry in general, Summer Classics’ President Bew White said he noticed plenty of credit issues in the marketplace. “A lot of dealers have got to get in and do some leasehold improvements,” White said. On the mood of the Casual Market, “from my perspective, it’s very upbeat and positive,” White said.

“A lot of people are talking about good attendance; what we’re seeing are great attitudes,” said Jan Trinkley, vice president, Gensun. “When it comes to product, they’re really positive. Dealers are saying the price is higher, but they see the perceived value and they’ll buy. Joe Ruggiero fabric in mint green, featured on the Corona Collection displayed in the Gensun showroom’s front window, was a main attraction.”

Gloster’s prominent display of its Anassa lounge with the Ultraleather cushions drew raves too from retailers, said Teresa Newton, assistant sales and marketing manager. Introduced to the industry at last year’s show, Ultraleather is everywhere this year. Consumers remain cautious, however, worried that the fabric won’t stand up to weather or will be sticky in the sun. Neither concern is legitimate, putting pressure on manufacturers to get the message out.

Debbie Dill of Anacara said its Pinehurst Collection with a wood finish looks was getting attention. “That’s probably the biggest excitement for us,” Dill said. Another highlight for Anacara was meeting five new retailers in the market’s first two days.

Retailers Tom and Patricia Gillin, owners of Toys for the Home in Phoenix, Ariz., love coming to Chicago for the show. “It’s hard to pack everything into three days, but the vendors have been great,” Patricia said.

Poly-Wood’s booth is generating oohs and ahs with its paint cans spewing brilliant swaths of orange, yellow and lime fabric. A year after introducing its very successful, higher end Mission seating group, the company’s strategy is twofold following two distinct customer paths. “Our customers are going in one of two directions: either drifting toward a lower price point or to the high end...the traditional middle-of-the-road Adirondack chair is falling off,” said Clay Rassi.

With the introduction of its new Sorento dining collection (the full Sorento line will be introduced at High Point) Ficks Reed is building its presence in outdoor with plans to do even more in the months to come. “We’ll have four or five outdoor lines by 2007,” said company president Gene Saenger, adding that in the last few years the 120-year-old company is “getting back to what people expect from the Ficks Reed name.” Dealers who pick up the company’s outdoor products are also able to sell its interior lines, providing another revenue stream.

Rutledge Design Co.’s whimsical, hand-painted umbrellas caught the eye of Debra Juhl, who is attending the Casual Market in search of product for her new store, Urban Patio, which she expects to open by the end of this year. Juhl has been developing her store concept for a few years, taking time to do her homework and learn about the industry. “I’m excited to be here. People are really helpful,” she said.

Consumer Panel

Four quintessential consumers spent a full hour yesterday telling a packed room of retailers and other industry people just how and why they shop for outdoor furniture. Gina, a young stay-at-home mom of three, is in the process of building a new home and already has her deck and patio planned. Her mother, Pat, has a 20x20 foot deck with a dining set and plenty of flowers. Michelle, a working mom, takes pride in her home and considers it a showplace. And Kathy, married with no kids, recently built a new home in Ohio, purchasing her indoor and outdoor furniture in Chicago and New York.

Points made by the panelists included:
• They want outdoor furniture that looks good. “I have three kids, but I don’t want my furniture to look like I have three kids,” said Gina.
• They want a high-end look. “I want something that will be in style for years...[and] nobody else in the neighborhood has it,” Michelle said.
• They expect and are willing to pay for quality but they also demand service. “I want people to stand behind their products. If I’ve had a bad experience in a store, I won’t go back,” said Pat.
• They tell their friends and family about their experiences. “I have no problem with a store giving my name to another customer as a referral,” Kathy said.

New Exhibitors

In Privato by Kosta is a high-walled love seat lounger that can be converted and serve as a private outdoor bed.

In Privato by Kosta is a high-walled love seat lounger that can be converted and serve as a private outdoor bed.


Several companies made a debut during this year’s Casual Show, including Kosta, a specialty manufacturer and designer of indoor and outdoor furnishings for the hospitality industry.

Located in booth 8-8030, the company has brought its contemporary hand-woven resin and aluminum furniture to market.

Don’t Eat the Eagle debuted its outdoor line of soft goods at the show.
Don’t Eat the Eagle debuted its outdoor line of soft goods at the show.

“Our concept is great design, stunning quality and down-to-earth prices,” said Anselmo Di Virgilio. “Our booth is designed to resemble an outdoor lounge area with walls made of grass using our very chic and exclusive new all-weather designs.”

Don’t Eat the Eagle has expanded its interior fabric line to include a new collection of outdoor fabric accessories called Gilded Nest. Located in booth 7-6094, the line includes throw pillows, reversible chair cushions, table linens, patio umbrellas and more. “The outdoor market us an exciting growth opportunity for us,” Owner Kimberly Badenhop said.

Reminder

The 47th Apollo Awards will be held this evening at the Navy Pier Grand Ballroom beginning at 6:30 p.m. Hosted by the Summer & Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association and MMPI, tickets are required for the event.

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