Atlanta Market finds vendors upbeat, buyers ‘loosening up’ at midyear
Vendors report growing optimism
Susan Dickenson -- Casual Living, 8/20/2010 12:46:51 AM
Last month at Americasmart, lighter traffic in The Gardens was offset by heavier order writing, continuing the positive momentum that began six months earlier in Atlanta.
The mood among both vendors and buyers was upbeat, buoyed by a feeling of optimism about the market in general. Spirits were further lifted with news that the Gulf oil spill had been capped, fueling hopes the environmental and economic damage could enter reversal mode.
Several vendors saw the return of customers they hadn't seen in Atlanta for awhile, while others were enthusiastic about the number of new customers - and stores. Home and garden retailer Tessy Keller was in Atlanta shopping for the new store she's opening Labor Day weekend in Hudson, N.Y. "We've got two floors to fill so we're looking for furniture, accessories, everything," she said.
In Atlanta from the West Coast, Lili McIntire reported business is so great at Gardenology, her Encinitas, Calif. shop, that she opened a second store. McIntire said she didn't have a specific shopping list but was in the market for "new and different" furnishings and accessories. "I know it when I see it," she said. "I need everything."
Casual and garden manufacturers responded to the call for "new and different" with more choices in color, style and texture as well as more examples of natural, sustainable and technologically enhanced materials and production.
Leaning on Poly-Wood's new Pacific blue Euro bar table, Poly-Wood's Mark Phillabaum said he was pleased with the number of buyers in his 9th floor showroom of Building 2's West Wing. "Outdoor entertaining is still strong," he said. "At midyear, we're up over last year and having our best July ever. We continue to see a slow recovery, but people are definitely loosening up and spending more money."
Last month was the second Atlanta market for Two Dogs Designs' CEO Sharon Felice. "Everyone is very upbeat. We've gotten good buyers and a lot of interest in both of our lines, the basic weather-ready and designer," she said. Two Dogs manufactures PVC-lined polyester covers for outdoor furniture, fountains, patio heaters, firepits, grills and umbrellas.
A steady flow of traffic in Windham Castings' showroom kept Steve Patton on his feet. "This is definitely one of the best shows we've had, a continuation of a great season," he said. "In fact, we've had a phenomenal year of growth and I can't say for sure what's driving it." Patton said the Georgia-based company's cast aluminum furniture, all of which is made in America, had recently undergone a price reduction to compete with import prices. "And I'm sure it's also that we offer a high quality product and a great selection," he added.
Several vendors said traffic in The Gardens seemed to be a little off, but credited it to timing instead of the economy. Many said the Atlanta January market is typically more heavily-attended, and noted the July market falls between the Chicago Casual Show and its July preview.
But almost all said that despite traffic, they were doing well, including Tad Varga of Three Birds Casual. "For people who are interested in our type of products, which is more of a niche, it's strong and we're up a little bit over what we projected. We're seeing a mix of both old and new customers coming in. Our company is relatively new, but our marketing seems to be taking hold and our brand is becoming more recognized. We're optimistic about the rest of the year."
Three Coins Castings' Susanna Powell was also pleased with the number of new and repeat customers stopping by the showroom and reported that business overall is good. "Our domestic production puts us at an advantage as overseas is falling behind," she said. "We've been able to stay at four weeks and have found a real niche. In custom work, for example, this (cast aluminum) table for 10 we can make even larger -- or smaller."
Several vendors, who asked to remain unnamed, said the oil spill was impacting customers in the Gulf coast region where the "condo business was hard hit" and some stores have gone out of business.
Christopher Hutchens, buying in Atlanta for Summer Classics' eight retail locations, said the Alabama-based company hasn't been affected, "but we don't have a lot on the coast - we're farther north." Asked what he was looking for, Hutchens said, "We have a new equestrian line in outdoor furniture, so we're looking for a lot of art and accents to coordinate with that look, and we also have our color stories and our other lines."
Barbara Simeon of Jewels of Java has also dodged the oil spill impact and said things were going well at market. "We're busier in the afternoons and everything seems to be looking up, so we're excited - especially about the number of returning customers," she said. "Our first three orders were previous customers whom we haven't heard from in two or three years, so it looks like activity is picking up again.
Telescope Casual Furniture CEO Kathy Juckett's keynote address, "What Shoppers Want: How Retail Can Thrive in the Post- Recession World," discussed the results of the Telescope National Shopper Survey.
"Post-recession, our survey reveals there is pent-up demand to do some home decorating and a bit of discretionary income that home furnishings retailers should be able to exploit." Juckett said a new set of values has shoppers spending more time at home - and wanting to redo rooms.
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