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Retail climate changing

Casually Speaking

Cinde Ingram, Powell Slaughter -- Casual Living, February 15, 2007

Ice dripped from treetops as I drove toward the office this morning. Although roads were only wet, not ice-slick, yesterday's freezing rain provided another reminder winter isn't finished with us yet.

Associate Editor Courtney Mueller, freshly returned from the unusually cold Dallas Market Center, told me she was impressed by the quality of outdoor living products and displays she saw at the Winter market. Retail buyers didn't have to be reminded of the upcoming change of seasons — it's one change we all can count on.

Other changes all around us are less predictable and longer lasting.

How many of us could have predicted how the growth of imports and the Internet would change retailing in the 21st century? Most of us now recognize the reality of consumers turning to Web sites to research before they make major buying decisions. A report in this issue about online opportunities and challenges provides perspectives of ways eCommerce and brick-and-mortar stores can and do co-exist peacefully. Whether you agree may vary widely depending on your perspective and your online participation. As a former CEO of my company said, "Internet is not a threat, it is a tremendous opportunity. It will only become a threat if we don't embrace it." That's exactly the approach we've adopted with a growing number of online reports and ad sales.

This issue also includes recent research, which shows homeowners and designers increasingly interested in having a defined outdoor living area for gathering, grilling and dining. While some consumers still may not know the term "outdoor room," more have heard of it and are interested in having such a space than was true three years before. About half of those surveyed who already own an outdoor room said they think the design of indoor and outdoor rooms is equally important. And, increased spending on decks, porches and furnishings for those outdoor areas shows it.

Research inside this issue reflects the vital roles of both grills and luxury performance fabrics in creating outdoor living spaces. Add the level of service designer Mark Abrams suggests in his column, turn up the music and kick off the sales season in style.

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