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Positive wind hits Casual Market

Some manufacturers report great traffic

The Chicago Casual Market mood is overwhelmingly positive and optimistic, although some say more cautious than in previous peak times. 
Retailers appeared willing to try new vendors and arrived needing inventory for their stores. Some manufacturers said they had showroom visits from retailers who had never stopped in before. 
Attendance is up 4% from last September, Jaclyn Kotzum, director of marketing for the Casual Furnishings Industry, reported to International Casual Furnishings Association members during an annual meeting early Tuesday. “A lot of manufacturers report they are having great traffic. It’s a positive and upbeat show,” she said. 
Telescope was among the many manufacturers reporting exceptionally high traffic the first day of market.
“I’ve had more people in today than I’ve normally had during an entire show,” Telescope rep Don Dilliplane said Monday night. “We came in with more appointments than ever before, and then had others add to it. It’s been the best day I’ve ever had.” 
“It was phenomenal,” said Henry Vanderminden, president of Telescope. 
Doug Peppler of Agio noted the number of market attendees lined up for lunch in its showroom. “This show has been about price points more than anything else,” he said. “We have by far more appointments than we’ve ever had. A lot of those are traditional furniture stores who have not been in the outdoor category for 10 to 15 years.” 
“It’s been amazing,” said Al Arad, president of Cast Classics
Fred Ilse, president, Outdoor Lifestyle was just as happy. “Monday was a day like I haven’t seen in years,” he said. 
“There is a sense of optimism again,” said Cap Hendrix, president of Tropitone. “Dealers, manufacturers and suppliers are all coming to understand what the market is now about and how to adapt to it.” 
“We had twice as many appointments as last year,” Mike Sosnowski, Kettler national sales manager said Tuesday afternoon. “We broke our first day record and today seems to be on target to break our second day record. A good percentage of these are new prospective customers.” 
“Our reps are really excited,” said Teresa Buelin of Laneventure. “We have a lot of appointments, and everyone seems to be upbeat. We are really trying to fulfill the changing demands of retailers. This market we focused on re-merchandising our price points. With the economy the way that it is we are really working on our price points to be able to appeal to a larger market.” 
“Traffic was jumping for us on Monday, which is traditionally a travel day,” said Diane LaCoursiere-Christensen of Acacia Home & Garden. “We are introducing Acacia Home & Garden’s first domestically produced grouping, and we’ve already written orders on it. I think retailers are being drawn into our booth by all the bright colors we have up front.” 
Jennifer Mulholland of Rock Wood Casual was proudly displaying the industry’s first real leather slipcover and cushion for outdoor use. She expects to expand use of the cured bull leather hide from Austria, made by the company that supplies Porche, to entire outdoor furniture lines and offer 40 colors. “This is the next big thing,” she said. 
Richard Frinier, renowned product designer who will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award tonight at Chicago’s Union Square, was showing his expanding lines of luxury furnishings in the Century Leisure showroom. “We’re hoping the economy will continue to turn in our favor,” he said. “It needed to correct.”
For their part, retailers were energetic and eager to see the 2010 line-up. 
“It’s a great show. I’m not hearing what manufacturers didn’t do, I’m hearing what they did do,” said Petey Fleischut, owner of Casual Marketplace. 
“It’s a great market,” said retailer Karen Galindo of The Greenhouse Mall in Austin, Texas. “Retailers have clean inventory and are ready to do business.” 
Her associate Tracy Walfrom was equally optimistic. “2010 will be the rebound,” she predicted. For now, she noted, “Manufacturers are more conservative with what they’re doing. They took what they had and made expansions to lines. The manufacturers are tuned in that the consumers are demanding value.” 
Retailers took note of the vendors who have adapted lean manufacturing processes and in some cases lowered prices. “Manufacturers made concessions this year,” said Mike Kapp of Taylor Creek, Green Bay, Wis.
Butch Wallace, Yard Art Patio and Fireplace, was interested in getting a close look at Treasure Garden’s new 12x12 foot pavilion. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about it,” he said. 
Treasure Garden’s wall-mounted umbrella, a conceptual product the manufacturer was testing that folds up and out of the way, drew Steven Hossack, Patio Enclosures, Macedonia, Ohio, into the showroom. Overall, Hossack said he is “very excited” about the upcoming season. 
Susan Kiley, of Bay Breeze Patio, Destin, Fla., was another retailer pleased by the traffic and attitude found during the first two days of Market. “I like seeing so many warm bodies, which we didn’t see at premarket,” she said. “I also like all of the innovation I’m seeing in a year when I didn’t expect to see a lot due to budget constraints.” 
Kiley was also excited about the variety and quality of product to be found on the 8th floor, a topic that drew raves from several retailers. 
“There’s a lot going on down there. Erwin & Sons, for example, has a new group that is spectacular,” Kiley said. 
“I think eight is fabulous. It’s the best it’s been in years, and I can’t wait to get back down there,” said Debbie Stegman, Patio and Hearth Shoppes, Dayton, Ohio. 
Jerry Newton, president of Leader’s Casual Furniture, Largo, Fla., was another fan of the 8th floor. “It looks prosperous,” he said. 
Retailers who came to market wondering what manufacturers would be offering in the way of support found numerous manufacturers with new quick ship and domestic warehousing programs. La-Z-Boy, for example, added both a domestic warehouse and custom cushion programs for 2010. 
At Seaside Casual, there was increased interest in the durability and eco-friendly nature of its recycled resin.
“People who were hesitant in the past are now ready to make a jump,” said Kat Carret, owner, adding that the company’s quick ship program is an added bonus.

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