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The Fortunes of Fortunoff and Hearth, Pato & Barbecue Expo

February 6, 2008

Well, it looks like another large high-end outdoor furniture retailer is having problems. Fortunoff’s, a company with stores mostly in New York, sells up-scale home and jewelry. Last week, they announced they were filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. As the week progressed, the news got better with the announcement that NRDC Equity Partners, the owner of the Lord & Taylor department store chain, was going to purchase Fortunoff’s out of bankruptcy protection.

According to an article in the February 4, 2008 HFN Daily Email Newsletter:

“We are excited by the opportunities presented by affiliating with Lord & Taylor,” said Arnold Orlick, Fortunoff’s chief executive officer of the home goods and jewelry chain, in a statement. “It has been a difficult retail environment and capital constraints have limited our expansion opportunities. This transaction will help realign our capital structure and provide an avenue for future growth.”

We can only hope. Fortunoff’s is one of the larger retailers of high-end outdoor furniture. If they get out of the category, either as a result of bankruptcy or as a business decision by their purchasers, it will be another blow to our manufacturers.

Add to this the continuing bad news about the economy and the stock market, and I wonder what 2008 will look like. As I have said before, New Orleans is a special case because of the customers who are replacing Hurricane Katrina damaged furniture. That being said, January was a great month for us. Something unexpected because I didn’t think the Hurricane Katrina effect would carry on for so long. But, I have heard from other CFR members that they see glimmers of hope, too. January wasn’t a bust for them and they see some activity associated with the coming of spring. Even in Florida, where the housing market has declined by 60%, reps are seeing activity which is giving them hope.

I still don’t have a good understanding of how early buys for 2008 went for manufacturers. I think manufacturers are on tenterhooks waiting for a break in the weather to gauge exactly what 2008 will bring for them.

On another topic, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo (HPBE) is at the end of this month (Atlanta, Feb 26 thru March 1. For more info go to: www.hpbexpo.com). As most of you know, hearth is the contraseasonal category-of-choice for many of us. This show is to hearth industry what the International Casual Furniture show in Chicago is to an outdoor specialty retailer.  I mention this for two reasons: if it is convenient for you, you should go, and it is such a different show that our casual furniture market. The HPBE show does consist of a vendor show floor; and, while that is an important aspect of the show, training is right up there as a show priority. You can get your National Fireplace Institute Certification at this show. The education module, which does cost extra (you get what you pay for), goes on for three of the four days of the show. Each day has different tracks, Business Management, Sales and Marketing, Technical and Safety, and Outdoor/Living Room.

Because hearth is a small aspect of my business - after all, it was 80 degrees for Mardi Gras this Tuesday and who thinks about fireplaces in that kind of heat ¬- I still am envious of this completeness of this conference. I know some outdoor furniture specialty retailers who don’t go to the casual market but wouldn’t miss HPBE because of the training. CFR has been discussing what our next Mid-Year conference should look like when we have it. The most popular sessions have been the round table discussions where retailers talk to retailers about common problems and solutions. Granted, installing a dining table and four chairs doesn’t take technical training like installing a gas-burning stove, but there are areas in outdoor furniture where I could use classes run by industry experts.

CFR and I would like to hear what you would like to see at a mid-year conference. What are the most problematic aspects of your business? What could the mid-year conference do to help you with these problems? We also would like to know when you want the conference. HPBE does it at the same time as their product show. Do you think you would have time to do all of the buying you need to do at the casual market AND attend CFR sponsored classes and round tables? Or, do you want to continue seeing it in the first quarter of the year? Let me know what you want and think. I promise, CFR will listen and incorporate any and all suggestions we get.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce