Here, in no particular order, are my impressions of the market. If I spell any new product names incorrectly, please forgive me. I still don’t have catalogs from some companies to check with.
Homecrest: When I walked by the Homecrest showroom, I had to do a double take. I mean “Homecrest” was on the door but the products had such new and fresh design aesthetics that it didn’t look like Homecrest at all. That’s a good thing in my opinion. I like the Aero 2 chair which looks fully upholstered but uses an elastic sling material with no core so it dries quickly. The sling material gives when you sit on it and has the comfort of a cushion. The style is transitional and unlike anything I have seen from Homecrest or anyone else for that matter. Did you see their new double chaise upholstered in a Zebra print? It takes its styling cues from their old reliable Comfort Trap but brings it into the 21st century.
Brown Jordan: Ever since Bill Brown took over, Brown Jordan has changed for the better. New designs, improved quality and shipping times, and a remarketing of much of their line so it is not priced out of the recession market. Flight exemplifies this perfectly. Although the design is derivative of the Richard Shultz 1966 Group, you can still see Brown Jordan in it. It is beautiful but more important, it is remarkably priced for a fully cast sling design.
Winston: Bill’s influence can be seen in the Winston showroom, too. Their new design, Southern Cay is available in sling and cushion. It has great design . . . very contemporary, with lots of casting. The surprise is it is reasonable priced. In fact, it prices out low enough to qualify it for entry-level price point in a specialty store. Even though it is priced low, the design is so much better than the “plain Jane big box look." Finally we have something that can compete successfully with low priced imports.
Ancient Mosaic: Used to be if you saw one table top you had seen them all. Ancient Mosaic has certainly changed that. Always fun to talk to Paul and Tim and see what they have up their sleeves. This year, they are inserting glass mosaic tiles in their marble tops. It is exactly what home improvement gurus are using in baths and kitchens. I especially like the metallic glass tiles.
Ebel: Their move from the 8th floor to a permanent showroom a few years ago has precipitated new styles and designs like never before. They have an innovative recliner on a swivel mechanism that no one else has. I also like a sectional design they introduced last year but which they showed in a new, dramatic way. It is Cannes in a semicircular arrangement with ottomans that can be arranged to create a mosh pit. They showed it in black resin wicker with Sunbrella’s Spectrum Dove. Looked like something out of “Mad Men" and I would be "mad" not to show it that way, too.
Summer Classics: Their new finish, weathered teak, makes their all-aluminum Croquet design look just like teak. They also do Croquet in real teak that isn't’t weathered. Croquet teak and Croquet aluminum look exactly alike except for the finish. So for the customer who likes teak but not the maintenance required, Croquet is perfect! I really like their Aqua design that uses a resin wicker woven to look like woven water Hyacinth. A real sleeper in SC is their new console and buffet tables. I had to be told they were aluminum and not wood. The enclosed buffet table is done in the weathered teak look which is a perfect companion piece for Croquet. The console is done in a pecan finish; but, I hope they will do it in weathered teak, too. Both would be as comfortable in a formal dining room as they would be in an outdoor room.
Suncoast: Suncoast introduced Radiate Arc Wicker sectional. Unlike most sectionals, however, there are only curved pieces, no straight. Their signage shows different set ups with lots of curves. Very interesting.
Woodard: If there wasn’t enough motion in their line already, Woodard introduced three new groups with loveseats that have independent springing seats. The nice thing about the introductions is that they are priced from entry level to high end; something for every budget. They also introduced a 30" square folding table with accompanying folding chairs. Cool enough by themselves; but, they also showed a cart that holds a table and two chairs in their folded state. The cart is on wheels and is similar to storage systems I have only seen in the catering industry. Very cool!
The Hammock Source: Don’t tell anyone at The Hammock Source that the category has been ruined by imports. They don’t believe it and to prove the point introduced their “pillow top” hammocks, the like of which I haven’t seen anywhere. Only two colorways at this point but the color story will take a back seat to the style’s comfort. Just in case the hammock category is dying, The Hammock Source has covered their bases with their Durocord rugs. Their peacock feather design won a well-deserved industry design award. Not only do I like the design, I am knocked out by the bright colors they use. Gone are the days of blah beige, rust, blue, and harvest gold in outdoor rugs. Replaced with vibrant blues, reds, and lime greens.
Telescope: I broke all of my rules in August when I ordered Telescope's Dune chaise lounge without first sitting in it. I thought, it was such a great design executed in a saltwater proof marine grade polymer, I just couldn't resist. You can imagine my relief when I sat in it at market and found it to be comfortable as well. This is another company that is recreating itself by having "with it" 21st century designs.
Galtech: I have to give credit to Galtech’s Jeff Leisen for taking a risk by showing commercial push up umbrellas with fluorescent colored poles. He even spray painted bases by hand to match the poles. If you have commercial customers such as yogurt shops or coffee houses, this is something you can offer that no one else will be able to compete with.
Shady Lady: I always approach Shady Lady with lots of anticipation. I just know there is going to be a design that will knock my socks off. This year Andy Morter did not disappoint. His Phunyun lamp was a show stopper and won a design award. This oversized woven onion design is just another of Andy Mortar's great additions to the line. Interesting sidelight, Andy weaves these prototypes himself. Who knew?
Merritt: If you have ever visited New Orleans, you have probably been to our most famous bar, Pat O'Briens, where you had their world famous drink, The Hurricane. The drink is known for two things, it has a deadly punch and comes in an immediately recognizable glass. So I stopped in my tracks when I saw the plastic version of the Hurricane glass done in plastic at Merritt Industries They also introduced a series of serving pieces with Fleur D'lis on them in black and gold. Perfect for another Saints superbowel party.
Patio Sling Express: I was glad to see the outdoor drape program at Patio Sling Express. They have stock sizes up to 120" long. In 52” or 104” widths. They come bagged and are meant for specialty retailers to stock so a customer can get immediate gratification. They also do custom sizes. They use solid acrylic for privacy drapes, acrylic shade weave for a "romantic" look, and textilene for insect control. If you don't see or understand the market for this product, just look at some of the upper end retail catalogs our customers are getting in the mail.The market is there and growing fast!
I left market sleep deprived but excited about what I saw. Sleep deprived because every night around 1 pm I would wake up fretting and stewing about how much I was getting ready to spend and wondering if there would be customers next year. Two other retailers told me they were experincing the same thing; so, I didn't feel like the Lone Ranger. But I was excited because next year I will be able to make my store look distinctive in so many categories and still be within reasonable price points.
Finally, I apologize to any manufacturers who I didn’t mention. I wrote too many words as it is and pretty much limited myself to lines I already carry or am about to carry. I am sure there are other big hits I missed. If you saw something you liked that I missed, please take a moment and post a reply to this blog for other buyers to read. Thanks.
Yours in confused retailing, Bruce