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Cinde W. Ingram

Tending outdoor growth

By now, spring is in full bloom around us. Given everything has its season, let's hope your stores are busy these days with sales of casual furniture, accessories, grills, spas and related products for outdoor, porch and patio.

Based on a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. homeowners, Unity Marketing predicts the consumer market for outdoor living goods and services has only begun to blossom, with the next five years promising dramatic results.

"The outdoors is the new home decorating frontier and a place that savvy home marketers and retailers should explore for future growth," Unity Marketing President Pam Danziger said. She estimates consumers spent $15.7 billion last year on products to enhance their outdoor living experience, including furniture, decorative accessories for patio, porch and garden, grills, statuary and water features. Sould she be correct in her predictions, the outdoor living market may reach nearly $90 billion by 2010?

Other recent research also predicts strong home furnishings sales for the remainder of 2005, despite concerns about higher interest rates, fuel prices, raw material costs and the weak dollar. On the bright side, those factors are partly offset by higher consumer incomes, younger consumers buying, an improving job market and the continued strong housing market.

Home sales surged at unprecedented levels last year and remain healthy, though tempered by interest rates inching up since June. "The cooling we expect in sales this year means we'll be transitioning from a white-hot housing market into a very strong market," said David Lereah, the National Association of Retailers' chief economist.

Some home furnishings retailers who recognize robust housing markets in their areas are working aggressively to snare their share of purchases that go with moving into new or second homes. As everyone in this industry knows, home projects are no longer limited by the walls of the house but rather by consumers' willingness to invest in outdoor living areas. Or perhaps by retailers who aren't willing to show shoppers the lifestyles they could attain. For a good example of a retailer who has gone the extra mile to show consumers their options, see the feature about Sunnyland in Dallas, starting on page 20.

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