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Atlanta Gift Market, Retire Who, Round Tables

January 12, 2008

Just got back from the January Atlanta Gift Market. Got there Wednesday afternoon and finished shopping Friday midafternoon. Well, finished is an optimistic way of phrasing it. It was more like: had to stop to catch a plane. Otherwise, I could have stayed for two or three more hours to sort of finish.

If you’ve never been, this is a very big market physically. It is spread out over three large buildings. I don’t know how many square feet the market encompasses; suffice it to say it is big enough that my feet and shins are still aching. It is a very well attended market and the big crowds of buyers set up a positive buying atmosphere. Don’t expect to get anywhere fast, especially in the first few days.

When I leave, I always ask myself what was the best thing I saw at market. This time is was the outdoor lamps from Shady Lady. We have carried this line for several years; but, I  wasn’t able to see the 2008 line at the Chicago Casual Market. Their new lamps are different from any other outdoor lighting I have seen. They have gotten away from the standard floor and table lamp design. Their new models are standing cylinders with translucent covers. The light it provides is very romantic and warm. Here is a picture of one floor lamp. You can see the rest at their web site:

http://www.shadyladylighting.com

The other thing I always ask myself when leaving a market is how was the buying atmosphere. Sometimes I leave market depressed that attendance was low, showrooms were empty, and buyers were gloomy. Not this market. Even though the news of the economy is not good, there were lots of buyers who seemed to be spending lots of money, including me.

I found lots of accessories, artificial plants, plastic serving pieces, barbecue utensils, lighting, and fountains. Like you, I have found that accessories do sell; more important, they make our furniture look and sell better. I ordered a lot of artificial plants and trees and great silk flower arrangements. We have carried things like this for several years. Our main line is NDI (http://www.ndi.com) which is very expensive. It always surprises me when a customer buys one of their $200 - $300 arrangements, but I invariably sell out between markets.

While at market, I had the opportunity to spend time with other specialty outdoor furniture retailers. One conversation revolved around a particular retailer’s desire to spend more time with grandchildren and less time at the business. We started talking about plans for retirement when something a rep told me last year came to mind. Our industry leaders are aging. Many of them don’t have children or employees who will continue the business once they retire. Their retirement will be based on the income they get from renting the property their stores were on. Where will vendors get their business from in the future?

If you don’t think this is a problem, ask yourself what is going to happen to your business when you retire? And, how long will it be before you retire? My best friends in the business are baby boomers like me. 2008 was the year when baby boomers started reaching 62, an age when they could begin collecting social security. My children have their own careers and none of them involve outdoor furniture retailing; what about yours? So, with major specialty outdoor furniture chains closing up and other retailers going into retirement, a vendor has to worry about their future. Some are opening retail outlets, some are expanding distribution to warehouse clubs and big boxes, and some are going to use distribution we haven’t thought of yet. What are your ideas about this? Let me know.

Finally, the most exciting thing that happened while I was at market occurred during a CFR board meeting. CFR is initiating a monthly series of conference call round table panels. Round table panels are always the most popular activity at our conferences and markets. Starting in March, members of our industry will be able to participate in a free conference call to discuss a different subject every month. March’s topic will be:

How to work with designers and commercial accounts, can you make a profit?

As I said, the conference call will be free for the first year. You don’t have to be a CFR member or retailer just a member of our industry . . . vendor, rep, retailer, designer, everyone is welcome. CFR will be sending a blast email announcing the date, time, and telephone number to call. To be sure you are on the list contact Janet Svazas at:

jsvazas@integrated-solutions.com

She will add your name to our contact list. Upcoming topics will include advertising strategies, advantages of automated inventory, web strategies, and the advantages and disadvantages of custom order programs. Please let me know if there are any topics you would like us to include in the future.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce