• Cinde Ingram

Reunions Occur When Markets Go Casual

Now Is The Time To Prepare For 2016

Terri Lee Rogers’Terri Lee Rogers’ granddaughter, Emilee McCollister, catches a nap during OW Lee’s cocktail party at Las Vegas Market.
Casual Market Chicago Is The Only U.s . tradeshow dedicated to outdoor furnishings and the primary place those products are introduced for the next year’s season, yet the casual category continues to gain more attention at a variety of other markets.

That was true at last month’s Las Vegas Market and will likely prove true again at next month’s High Point Market. Following the Preview Show’s July 14-16 run at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, the San Francisco International Gift Fair spotlighted Outdoor Living during its July 25-28 event. Like other markets, it recognizes there’s plenty of room for growth outside the home.

While outdoor areas have become more important to home builders, uncertainty remains despite recent increases in the number of homes sold in the United States with median selling prices increasing 13.2% from 2014. That sets the highest selling pace since 2007, according to the National Association of Realtors. The continuing upward month over-month trend has been ongoing for more than three years. “This wave of demand is being fueled by a year-plus of steady job growth and an improving economy that’s giving more households the financial wherewithal and incentive to buy,” said Lawrence Yun, the organization’s chief economist.

The steady growth of outdoor furnishings sales, ongoing movement toward casual lifestyles and fun elements of outdoor entertaining can’t be ignored by consumers or retailers who can hardly believe the recession is behind us. The Association for Retail Environments recently reported 65% of people falsely believe we are in a recession and are not planning correctly for a growing environment. “As an industry, we have been experiencing a recession hangover, where decisions to start projects come a bit slower than pre-recession practices,” A.R.E. Executive Director Todd Dittman said. “Yet the construction industry has been growing around 3.5% to 4.5% this year.”

While economic growth is also expected to slow down in the later part of this year, it will not be negative. A.R.E. is predicting good days ahead for the U.S. economy in general, retail construction in particular and encouraging its members to start preparing now for 2016. Construction of retail stores with smaller footprints in urban settings is also rising. Due to the online shopping trend, warehouse construction is up 52.3% this year, A.R.E. reported.

The 2016 outlook also is encouraging for manufacturers. Employment has reversed its downward trend and taken a more positive turn. U.S. employers added 215,000 jobs in July, the Labor Department reported, providing another signal the job market is steadily improving. Cheaper energy costs, improved technology and production efficiencies are helping to level the capital versus labor costs aspect and bringing a boost in near sourcing (customer orders coming back to the U.S.).

Manufacturers who gambled on permanent showrooms at the Las Vegas Market were counting last month’s show as a win, especially for meeting with West Coast dealers and the Internet side of the industry. The ones who sell via direct containers were trying to complete orders earlier than normal, weeks ahead of the September show.

Although a few dealers were wondering how they could keep up the pace of shopping three markets so close together, others were taking their sweet time visiting with longtime vendors and industry friends. Perhaps because so many family businesses are involved in the outdoor furniture marketplace, sharing hugs as oft en as exchanging handshakes.

Casual furniture retailer Ron Bock, owner of The Patio Place, Fresno, Calif., said he and his staff enjoy markets so much they wish it lasted longer. ‘’It’s like a family reunion every time you go,” Bock said.

Here’s hoping our reunion at Casual Market Chicago will help the casual furnishings industry move past any recession hangover and look clearly toward plans for a promising future.

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