Business Upbeat

Marketgoers find much to praise at casual market chicago

Nashville BilliardsNashville Billiards & Patio retailers Glen Gilchrist and Cliff Gilchrist, at left, and Ronnie Gilchrist, right, relax on Gensun Casual Living’s Manhattan collection while Sherry Cai, general manager, and Lisa Zhou, president of Gensun Casual Living, stand by.
Been spotty but strong, retailers and vendors reported, and they had nothing but words of optimism and enthusiasm for the traffic and business happening in the showrooms during Casual Market Chicago last month.

“Business is good,” Lloyd Flanders President Dudley Flanders said. “The attitudes are better than we saw in July (at the Preview Show). I think a lot of dealers must have had a late season, which always raises everybody’s spirit. The lighter and brighter appearance of our new showroom has given us more of an outdoor feel.”

Danny Jelley, SVP of Veranda Classics by Foremost Groups, was equally pleased with the response to his company’s showroom expanding from 4,000 to 9,000 square feet and moving into the Merchandise Mart rather than a nearby location.

“We’re going to get a lot of business we were missing just from being in this building,” Jelley said. “Our customer base is growing, and the response to this showroom is overwhelmingly good. We’re glad we’re able to show more of our products.”

Pride Family Brands’ showroom included three contemporary groups – Legacy, Loft and Horizons – that were created after the ICFA Preview Show in July in response to customer requests. “Business is fantastic,” said Steve Lowsky, CEO, Pride Family Brands. “The season went well for our dealers. The reasons are because we make great product, we have great quality, and we ship on time. We also have great customer service and communication. If you do all those things, you make sure your dealers make money selling your products.”

TUUCI’s customizableTUUCI’s customizable pavilion, which can be shaped to fit specific configurations, grabbed the attention of buyers.
A couple of East Coast retailers at the ICFA roundtable compared their experiences, saying their selling season started with gusto in March, April and May but fell off in June and July then picked up again in August. West Coast retailers cited similar buying patterns.

“I’m not hearing that anybody had a bad season,” said Jim Levine, vice president of Surya Outdoor. “One problem was for retailers who went soft on earlybuy orders last year; they weren’t prepared when the season kicked in and were short on inventory. They had to rely on factories, and those factories were overwhelmed with special order business.

“The solution is to buy deeper in the furniture with safe choices and to put the color in the accessories,” he added. “If they take a risk on color in the furniture, all the product may not move.”

One of Treasure Garden’s showroom windows displayed opened umbrellas with its best-selling red fabric color in the middle. Inside the showroom, a visual fabric library allowed customers to determine which shades best suit their market areas.

“We’re confident with the future,” Treasure Garden President Margaret Chang said. “We received a very positive response from our dealers at the premarket. They like our educational concepts. So we’re not only leading the way with products, but also with our marketing concepts. This is how we are helping our dealers make their sales representatives more successful. We’re telling them a story.”

Corrine Sheldrake, marketing support specialist for Treasure Garden, put together the visual fabric library, as well as a fiber-to-yarn-to-product and the umbrella color-wheel concept displays. “We’re all about teaching this year,” she said.


While window displays were catching the eyes of marketgoers walking between exhibitors, there was plenty of new product, new technology and new programs to be had inside the showrooms as well.

“Everybody seems to be upbeat,” said Mike McKeever, vice president, Les Jardins. “We’ve opened some new accounts, and our key accounts are here.” He noted positive response to new products, including solar lights in various forms.

While fire pitsWhile fire pits and fire tables may be found throughout the Agio showroom, the showroom’s Hot Spot puts sharp focus on this important category.

Brown Jordan extended its sling technology in cool color combinations with Verge, a mid-century Bauhaus-inspired collection. Verge and Pasadena were two of John Caldwell’s new designs on display. The company also expanded the colors offered in its Flex collection, designed by Richard Frinier with Sunbrella straps, in multiple bright shades.

In addition to its partnership with EcoSmart for Brown Jordan Fire, Brown Jordan is co-branding with Sunbrella. “It’s one of the most exciting things we’ve done in a long time,” said Steve Elton, chief brand officer, Brown Jordan.

Frinier found inspiration in the stylish coastal lifestyle of Palm Beach in the 1940s and combined that with a timeless resort-at-home concept when he created the Palm Beach collection for Century. “I designed it to feel like you’re in a tropical locale, for when you take a five-minute vacation,” he said. “Go sit outside, and remember where you’ve been or imagine where you want to go.”

He stressed performance furniture is “for the living room – inside or outside – no matter where you’re living. We want people to relax and feel at home.” Recognizing how much people like to entertain and be able to move easily, Frinier incorporated concealed polyurethane skate wheels to ensure a smooth, innovative 360-degree swivel rotation.

Anacara introduced five collections, 12 add-ons to existing groups and a patent pending design kit that helps dealers and designers make choices of weaves, color coordinated fabrics and styles simpler for end customers. Response to the Anacara Design Kit was “off the chart,” said Deborah Dill, vice president. “We’re in a fun business. People buy for fun, but you have to create the excitement.”


Richard FrinierRichard Frinier relaxes in the iconic high-back Palm Beach Royal Swivel Lounge Chair he created for Century Furniture.
Joseph Cilio, president of Alfresco Home, described business this year as very good. “The people who are visiting here seem to have had a good season,” he said. “It’s always nice when dealers come back who have had success with your line. People are excited to see some of the new products we’ve put together.”

Tad Varga, president of Three Birds Casual, agreed. “Our business is outstanding right now,” he said. “We’ve had significant growth, and our early buys are coming in right now. We’ve added more new products than we ever have in one season.” Three Birds celebrated its success with smiles and special beverages, Adirondack ale and Soho lager.

Sleek modern furniture product and a 13-foot cantilever umbrella that swiveled 360 degrees were drawing attention in the Barlow Tyrie showroom. “Everyone who sees it appreciates it,” said James Tyrie, a director of Barlow Tyrie. “We had a really good year, especially in the U.S. We do better with more modern styles. We’ll consolidate that and see more growth for next year.”

“For new product, response has been very good,” said Sherry Cai, general manager of Gensun Casual Living. “We keep growing steadily. Not only because of product but because of customer service. Our customers will tell you we respond quickly and respectfully. That’s true not only for dealers but for the end consumer. A lot of our customers are like family.”

Janet Wansor, VP of sales and marketing, Jensen Leisure Furniture, described the response to the company’s new product lines as “absolutely amazing.” The new English, Coral and Tivoli deep seating collections gained positive response along with an Argento (Italian for silver) distressed finish that requires no maintenance. “We grew 11% this year and have added new distribution,” she said, noting the company’s fiscal year ended Aug. 31.


Both retailers and manufacturers echoed Wansor’s strong assessment of business for this year.

Three Birds Casual’sThree Birds Casual’s woven Vienna chairs and Shelburne weathered teak dining table, are set with Adirondack ale, Soho lager and three bird accents.

Ronnie Gilchrist of Nashville Billiards & Patio described the Nashville, Tenn., store’s season as pretty steady and said it had “picked up lately.” His brother Glen Gilchrist agreed: “It’s up from last year.”

“Traffic was really good the first two days of the show,” said Telescope Casual President Henry Vanderminden IV. “The halls seemed busy, and the moods of buyers were very upbeat. We’ve received a lot of orders since July. Our special-order business has been so strong this year.”

Quite a few special orders were placed in August and early September, Telescope VP Bill Vanderminden said. “We got a very good response to what we’ve done. Everybody’s very clean with inventory, particularly with our products that have good position on the floor.”

Treasure GardenTreasure Garden devoted one of its window displays to opened umbrellas fanning out in color wheel fashion from red to shades influenced by green and blue.
“We’re a fairly new company, and we’ve been growing at a high speed; our business increased another 25% this year,” said Albert Lord, president, Patio Renaissance, whose showroom was consistently busy during the market. “We’re picking up new dealers. And we’re still seeing strong demand of promotional products. We’ve had a very good reaction to our new products. For the weave, I think the darker brown is still the mainstream, but our new closed weave in cinnamon and oyster were very well received.”

Mamagreen also reported good response to new product and continued growth, up more than double from last year, according to Michael Galica, president. The company has relocated its headquarters to Richmond, Va., and developed a quick-ship program in the past year. “We’re project oriented,” he said. “We’ve pieced together worldwide what’s really working. Canada has the most resilient of any economy. The people in Mexico who have survived the dip in the economy are really strong.”

Dealers really appreciate Ratana’s quick-ship program, said Godfrey Leung, VP of sales. “We’ve seen very serious buyers who are coming back and writing orders,” said Rosita Ling, marketing manager, Ratana.

Tropitone’sTropitone’s display of fire tables is a reminder of how hot that category is for the casual industry.

“It’s so nice to have our own space and to be able to show almost everything we had,” said Amy Hudwalker, director of marketing, TUUCI. A customizable pavilion grabbed attention of buyers. “It’s a whole outdoor room that we’re helping people create.”

At Ebel, Mark Bottemiller, national sales manager, said, “We managed to post a nice increase again this year in the low 20s. We’ve written a lot of orders between the premarket and now. Dealer response has been great, and we’ve had lots of good new dealers making serious commitments.”

Hanamint President Russ Sorenson said he was surprised by how good attendance was at Casual Market Chicago, especially because the Preview Show and Las Vegas Market had drawn so well. “We already did our big reveal in Las Vegas,” he said. “Traffic here has been tremendous. Our early, early buy order special for our container buyers was very successful. We were very pleased.”

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