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Cinde W. Ingram

Nuturing our Universe

If there's only one idea you keep after reading Casual Living's exclusive Universe Study, let it be that consumers are buying.

Sales of grills, outdoor dining sets, conversation groups and other outdoor furniture continue on their gradual growth track despite high fuel prices and other ongoing economic pressures on consumers' discretionary spending. Retail sales within the casual industry amounted to more than $5.8 billion this year, up 4.4% from 2006 sales of more than $5.5 billion.

Where consumers are buying is causing concerns for specialty dealers. Todd Brewer, president of Hoigaard's, wrote me an interesting e-mail letter this week to say Casual Living's Consumer Buying Trends report provided good information and that he hopes vendors are paying attention to the significant importance of the Internet as a research resource. He said retailers are at a significant disadvantage if they cannot tell customers what specific products they sell, stock or how much they charge for it. “Many key brands catering to specialty retailers today are taking themselves and their customers out of the mix,” he wrote. For more comments, visit our Web site.

Also causing concerns are other retail notes, such as Seasonal Concepts' Chapter 11 filing and Summer Classics opening its model store in Seasonal Concepts' former Roswell, Ga., location. Provincial House has decided to close its Dublin store in Columbus, Ohio, at the end of this year, but will keep its warehouse location in Dayton open and explore other retail markets, President Faye Ledwick said.

Distribution channels and market shares continue to shift for outdoor, porch and patio products. Some stack up in favor of discount department stores or home improvement centers, including Lowe's, which shared its view of top consumer lifestyle trends. The evolution in living outdoors just continues, noted Melissa Birdsong, Lowe's vice president of trend, design and brand. Most people in our industry would agree with her view that manufacturers are addressing consumers' desire for taking more indoor comforts outside.

Another trend manufacturers are starting to address is consumers' increased interest in clean air, water and surfaces. Take a look at our coverage of what's starting to happen with the 'green' movement and expect to see more in the months ahead.

Feedback? Send your comments to:

Cinde W. Ingram

Casual Living Editor in chief

7025 Albert Pick Rd., Suite 200, Greensboro, N.C. 27409

336-605-1122, 336-605-1158

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