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March Came In Like A Lamb

March 25, 2010

OUR NEW OUTDOOR KITCHEN CONCEPT DISPLAY:

A while ago, in my last blog, I told you about the new barbecue area we were going to put in. As you may recall, we partnered with an outdoor kitchen contractor to do work for our clients. We used him to build our outdoor kitchen concept display. The build went very smoothly and we were finished within two weeks of starting the project. After the “build” part, we got in several barbecue heads and put them on display. We still have to put in the flagstone paver border because the pavers are taking a long time to come in. Once those go in, the contractor is going to put in a 36” square fire pit where we will show some of the fireplace glass we started selling a few years ago and a sample of his concrete counter tops. Here is a picture of the almost complete outdoor kitchen area.

 

We have had an amazing amount of customer interest since we put this display up. Even before the display was finished and consisted of just a frame with holes in it for cabinet doors and drawers, people showed interest. I am confident that this was a good move and will keep you up-to-date with how it works out.

BUSINESS HAS IMPROVED:

Frankly, one of the reasons I haven’t blogged lately is because business In January and February was just so darn terrible. I was too depressed to write. I have never seen business “stink” so badly in January or February. All of my friends tried to convince me it was a weather thing; but, I couldn’t be sure because we have had cold winters before that didn’t affect our business as badly as the weather this winter. If my friends were wrong and it was an “economy” thing rather than a “weather” thing, I was in big trouble. Thus, my depression. Did any of you go through that?

 

So, March started off like a lamb instead of a lion. The good news is business improved tremendously about three or four days into March and the weather improved. I understand from several of my reps that other southeastern retailers are having the same experience. Not only has business and traffic improved, my clients are still opting for the higher end items. That is not to say we aren’t selling a lot of entry-level stuff (5 piece wrought iron table sets and 5 piece extruded aluminum and sling dining groups); we are. But, we are also selling Brown Jordan, Pride, Woodard’s higher end wrought iron, Gloster, Ebel, and Summer Classic. The demand is there and people are responding to the good weather, our television campaigns, and their desire to reward themselves after a year of doing without.

 

REBATES AND FACTORY AUTHORIZED SALES:

I was surprised that both Brown Jordan and Summer Classics are offering factory-sponsored events again this year. Each is using the programs they ran last year; Brown Jordan is passing along an additional discount to dealers who sign up for their program. Summer Classic is using an instant consumer rebate program. The programs were very successful and have been well accepted by clients this year. In the past seven days each program has helped us close several big orders. I can’t help but thinking the days of these promotions are numbered, though. I think both companies were skittish about business in the first two months of the years and created these programs to “prime the pump” as it were. Perhaps they were a little premature because I think the good weather would have done the same thing and allowed us all to keep higher margins.

 

BEST SELLERS SO FAR:

As to what is selling, I am surprised by how popular the sectionals we brought in from Ebel and Pride have been. Surprised because the look is more transitional than my market has wanted in the past. I don’t think I have misunderstood what my client base wanted over the years; but, I do think I missed the trend last year. We had some sectionals from Gloster last year; but, they were so high end they didn’t move as rapidly as the ones I have for 2010. I also think their look was too traditional.

 

Gosh, I never thought I would say that anything in my store was “too traditional.” Not here in New Orleans where the homes are dripping with ornate wrought iron or wooden gingerbread decorations. But, the market is being exposed to the transitional and contemporary look more and more on home improvement cable channels and glossy catalogs. I recently watched a program on cable called “International House Hunters” set in Bangkok. Every house they showed had a patio with a transitional or contemporary outdoor wicker sectional in it. Even  some of the living areas used these sectionals, too. This has to have affected what our customer want.

 

IS THE GLASS HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY?:

I wonder if the brisk sales we have experienced in March can be sustained over the rest of the season. If it does go on, I am going to run out of inventory a lot faster than usual. Since the better part of our season is the moderate months of March, April, and May, I have to make a decision about reorders sooner rather than later. After last year’s debacle, I have lost the unbounded optimistic attitude I had earlier in this decade. That means I am still gun shy about placing reorders. I want to make sure I can pay for my early buys. I don’t think I am the Lone Ranger in this. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some vendors offer extended terms and discounts for stock orders placed in the next few weeks.

 

I hope each and every one of you experience the same up tick in business as we have in the next few weeks. My goodness, we deserve a break, don’t you think?

 

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce