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Contract market embraces casual elegance

Casual furniture manufacturers expressing high anticipations for the Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas.

Private pool areas at upscale hotels, the development of luxury spas and better outdoor dining areas at restaurants have casual furniture manufacturers expressing high anticipations for the Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas May 15-17.

Veneman Square Pool Beds

Despite recent slowdowns in the housing market and overall economy, the contract and design niche offers opportunities for casual furniture vendors, some who will exhibit at the contract show for the first time and others who have long-term relationships supplying contract needs or designers’ custom requests.

Tropitone Veer sling barstool

“Over the past four years, contract has really taken off,” said Peter Homestead, vice president of design and marketing of Tropitone Furniture, which began in 1954 by supplying pool furniture to hotels being built in Florida and on the East Coast. While sales of sling and cushion collections on the retail side represent half of its business now, the contract part is growing faster. Private poolside cabanas have become moneymakers for hotels.

Competitive hotels are compelled to build properties, add features and renovate pool areas. They refurbish more often now, usually every three years. “Hotels are still pretty confident,” Homestead said. “With the declining dollar and the strengthening of the Euro and other currencies, they’re seeing more foreign travelers

Bullish views were repeated by manufacturers who have a history of serving the contract market.

“Our dealer base is feeling the effects of the economic downturn, but our contract base is still going strong and it has more than made up for the drop in the residential side,” Uwharrie Chair President Rick Price said. “We had our best year ever last year, and this year we’re up significantly over last year – and it is commercial rather than residential.” Sales growth involved projects for hotels, restaurants and resorts.

“We see very long-term growth for that segment,” said Perry Soloman, director of sales, Woodard. “Last year we had well over double-digit growth. This year, it has slowed somewhat but it still is outpacing residential. The restaurant side of it has been strong for us because of all the anti-smoking laws. More and more are adding outdoor smoking areas. We see that as a major opportunity.”

Bill Markowitz, president, Veneman Collections, also reported growth and recognized the anti-smoking movement as an opportunity during the trade show for nightclubs, hotels and restaurants. “They’re dressing up outdoor areas because they have to, because so many states have outlawed smoking,” he said. “Along that line, there are other niches of the whole hospitality market that are untapped.

“At least at the high-end, most of these hotels keep trading up,” Markowitz said. “In Las Vegas, every time one opens, it sets the bar higher for everyone.”

More hotels are renovating to create smaller, themed pools and some are using Veneman’s 8-ft. round sun beds, even in the water. Cast aluminum groups Veneman produced for Wynn Las Vegas Vice President Roger Thomas will debut this month at HD Expo. “Steve Wynn is building a new hotel, the Encore, so a lot of Roger’s designs will be used and we already have orders in on those, too,” Markowitz said. Veneman also recently installed a large replacement order of outdoor furniture at the El San Juan in Puerto Rica.

Likewise, Tropitone’s collections often appear on cruise lines and at international resorts, such as Atlantis in the Bahamas and another in Dubai. “The pool is no longer an afterthought,” Homestead said.

Terra Furniture supplies outdoor furniture to high-end hotels and makes customized umbrellas for various national restaurant chains, like the Cheesecake Factory. “The contract market continues to grow and it is not seasonal,” said Ken Burrows, president, Terra. “We just received the order for a hotel being built in Bermuda called Tucker’s Point; it’s the first hotel in 30 years that’s been built in Bermuda. I go to Hawaii every year on business, and hotel growth there is just incredible.

“We have always addressed the designer part of the business,” Burrows added. “The designer market hardly ever misses a beat.”

Janice Feldman, president of JANUS et Cie, described contract sales as a very important part of her business and said it’s growing dramatically. “We have always made our products to contract standards,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work for private universities this past year.” On the other side of the age scale, “senior living, especially at the high end, is coming on strong,” she said. “It’s going to become huge.”

Gloster Estrada modular set

The Beverly Hills Peninsula Hotel recently ordered JANUS et Cie’s Azimuth collection, which will debut at HD Expo along with the Forest chair, a stackable solid aluminum frame molded into a treelike shape. A stainless steel foosball table, which can be used outdoors, received good reception at its West Week introduction, Feldman said. That recreational item appeared again in High Point and will be shown at HD Expo.

Also at HD Expo, Gloster Furniture will introduce Estrada, a modular teak collection with stainless steel accents and contemporary styling, featuring luxurious cushioning and shade systems. “Clients are more and more looking for customized products or flexibility within a range, and Estrada promises to fill this need,” said David Meeks, national sales manager, Gloster. “The contract market is still thriving. Quotation activity is at an all-time high as more customers are moving toward higher-end outdoor furniture for their properties.”

Barlow Tyrie entered the hospitality marketplace six years ago and has tracked growth each year, said Charles Hessler, executive vice president. Stainless steel or woven resin sun loungers and smaller scale dining or bistro sets are selling well, especially for boutique hotels and the condo market.

Palecek has supplied in-room chairs, desk chairs, lobby chairs, wall art and lamps for boutique hotels and restaurants for years, and the company’s contract division continues to grow. “It’s a huge category for us,” Marketing Director Lisa Frudden said. “We’re doing a Ritz Carlton, and we just did another 1,000-room

Skyline Design Pacific Cube Corner Set

project. We work with the designers and do product-specific design for them.”

Although Ficks Reed has made indoor since 1885, it’s a relative newcomer to the casual category and has noticed more interest lately in its woven product for indoor/outdoor gathering and dining areas. “We’re busy doing quite a bit of quoting and there’s a lot of activity” on the higher end, said Ellen Saenger, director of hospitality/contract sales, Ficks Reed. “We have good relationships with designers; they like our look.”

Old Hickory Furniture has been involved with the contract side of the business since the 1800s, with handcrafted hickory log and sapling collections developed for Yellowstone Park and other national and historic sites.

“We’re getting orders now that we have to respond to quickly,” said Rocco J. Liott, president, Old Hickory. We know they are price-sensitive when they do their purchasing, but the Old Hickory story with it being placed at the Old Faithful Inn and being used for 100 years serves us well; it might cost a little more but you’re not going to be replacing it in seven years.”

Lodges, non-chain hotels and restaurants have responded since Old Hickory entered the outdoor furniture niche last fall. Last month, it doubled its offering of outdoor collections at the High Point Market. It also will exhibit at HD Expo in Las Vegas and a New York hotel/restaurant show in November.

“There’s lots of interest and it’s flowing from the indoors, like the restaurant in Florida that bought all of our indoor stuff and then realized they could continue with their same décor and take it outside,” said Bob Morrison, Old Hickory, vice president of sales and marketing. “About a third of our business is hospitality. They’re pretty strong still.”

Ancient Mosaics, Pride Family Brands and Skyline Design will be among the newcomers at HD Expo.

“We’re ready to grow again,” said Paul Knutson, co-president of Ancient Mosaics and Piage-Pieta Art Stone. “We doubled our business in 2005, and we’re looking to accelerate the growth again and get into more channels.”

Ancient Mosaics’ tables were selected for the Canard cruise line and a Four Season hotel in Hawaii before the company entered the contract side of the business. “They find us through word of mouth because we’re the leader in stone table tops, but we haven’t attacked it ourselves,” Knutson said. “We’re looking to start getting that going. As far as designers, we’ve shown in High Point a few times and a lot of them gravitate toward us.”

Skyline Design found good reception at HD Boutique in Miami, and was eager to continue to introduce its deep seating, dining, chaises and gazebos to a larger audience at HD Expo. “The contract market has been very strong for us,” said Rebecca Capote, marketing director. “The Brando collection is one of our biggest sellers for deep seating, and also the Hudson group, which offers deep seating literally in cubes. With dining, we’ve done well with our Nevada collection and with Marriott, which has stackable chairs that are a little lighter. Our chaises have done the best of everything, the Sun double chaise in java brown in particular. For HD, we’re going to introduce the Camel chaise.”

The contract market has stayed strong for Palm Springs Rattan & Garden Classics, Tami Newton said. “We’re seeing a lot of volume,” she said. “I don’t know if they’re gearing up for when the economy does come back and the tourism does increase, but they’ve got some money to spend.”

At the start of the High Point Market, Newton closed three commercial deals with buyers for a senior center, college dorm and restaurant. “I’m not sure why they were shopping High Point,” she said. “We don’t normally see that much commercial attention there, but that’s good volume and they’re not asking for any discount.”

For commercial use, “outdoor furniture, especially synthetic woven furniture, is getting more and more popular,” said Godfrey Leung, vice president of sales, Ratana Home and Floral. “If you go to restaurants or hotels in Las Vegas, some of them are using it indoors. If you go to a resort in Asia or in Hawaii, you see it everywhere. It’s easy to handle, and it’s made of aluminum so you don’t have the rusting problem.”

Seazons Outdoor entered in the U.S. furnishings market last month at the High Point Market. Its hand-woven

Seazons Outdoor furniture at Shangri-La Hotel

outdoor furniture has been used in upper-end hotels on six continents, said President Roger Buff, who brings experience from the indoor home furnishings side.

Hawaii-based designer Joseph O’Brien joined with Acacia to introduce two Cabana Joe’s collections at the High Point Market. Two outdoor collections are planned for the Casual premarket in July.

“I think the developers and designers in contract want to bring a much more sophisticated casual design into hotels,” he said. “Because of the slowdown of the housing market, the contract market is a big market for us. That’s where we can actually make our impact.”

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