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2009 Market Impressions

September 25, 2009

When the publisher of “Casual Living” asked me what the best thing was I saw at market this time, I didn’t have to think about it at all. The most impressive thing was the positive attitude of the vendors. In the middle of a terrible recession with stores and vendors closing left and right, it would have been easy for manufacturers to rest on their laurels for a year. But that wasn’t the case at all. Sure, many aren’t issuing new swatch books and some are going away from printed material, but everyone had new products for us to see. I expected a sea of tragedy; instead, I was surrounded by waves of enthusiasm. As retailers, we have to thank the vendors for offering us some positive perspective.


Now, as to what products or things I saw of interest, here are a few. And, remember, this blog is supposed to be short and sweet; so, I am sure I will miss something. If you saw something I don’t mention, let me know by posting a reply. Here goes, in no particular order:


Woodard: With their main competitor down for the count, Woodard was busy. Of course, this created an embarrassment of riches in the “distribution” department. Their clock line has grown leaps and bounds with new products that better use the Woodard design aesthetic. I liked the “leather like” texture of the spline on their new line, Manhattan. They also introduced Sterling, an aluminum frame with parabolic spline. Finally, if you have a commercial job and can’t find a chair in the extended Woodard line, it doesn’t exist!


Treasure Garden: They purchased Shademaker and presented a new line of cantilevered umbrellas that is cleaner than anything else in their line. I also thought their collapsible cushions storage box they call “The Treasure Chest” was one of those “Why didn’t someone think of this before” items.


Summer Classics: Lots of new stuff but the most interesting was their container program of value priced aluminum. Containers are not for everybody; however, whoever does this will have a competitive edge over “Restoration Hardware.” I also liked their Strata Chair. . . great value, good design, and comfortable.


Eon and Polywood: They will probably hate to have their names mentioned in the same sentence since they are competitors; but, they each had a version of engineered wood that is much different that the standard polypropylene recycled from milk bottles “wood.” This product looks and feels so much like teak that they have to put signage up saying it isn’t real wood. Polywood limited their offering to an aluminum framed chair with "teak" arm plates and slats and a sling version. Eon’s line is more mature including two storage chests made out of this faux teak which are much less expensive than their teak counterparts. They even had a flooring system made out of the product. They were forthcoming with the fact that the flooring was in warehouse club stores.


Shady Lady: The pictures of Shady Lady’s Phatty and Yin Yang designs didn’t do them justice.  The Phatty lighted cocktail and end tables and the Yin Yang table and standing lamps made me glad I came to market.


KuulAire by Port-A-Cool: We are always looking for outdoor cooling systems here is hot old New Orleans. We have sold “Swamp Coolers” in the past but they are usually as ugly as their name. The KuulAire is less industrial looking and would blend in to any patio.


Protégé Casual: I couldn’t wait to see their butterfly-expanding table in cast aluminum after seeing pictures of it in trade magazines. What a great idea! My biggest problem would be getting them in colors to match chairs from my cast vendor. They also had a transforming double chaise. It went from daybed, to adjustable back double chaise, to sofa with ottomans, to plain old sofa, and then folded up to become self-storing; all for under $1,000 retail.


Cast Classics: I really really need some deep-seated aluminum to compete with “Restoration Hardware.” Cast Classic has introduced four value-priced extruded aluminum lines with traditional styling cues. These will do the trick. There was talk about a warehouse program, too.


Pride: Of course, their design are good but did you realize they only had four days before market to move into their new space from next door? You would have never known unless someone told you because there was nothing that looked rushed in the space. Kudos to the aching backs of every one at Pride who pulled off this feat!


Ancient Mosaic: Who would have thought there could have been so many different styles of marble tabletops? Their new black herringbone design was extraordinary.


O. W. Lee: At only 24, Paul Rogers has proven he isn’t a one-trick pony with his new all aluminum deep-seated design called Ashbury. Although not cheap, it is no more expensive than their comparable wrought iron products. It adds great value and depth to their already long catalog.  In response to Meadowcraft’s problems, O. W. Lee brought back some old “bread and butter” wrought iron chairs along with some new ones. They are not as inexpensive as Meadowcraft was but they fill a void in the O. W. Lee catalog.


Brown Jordan: I made a point of passing their space every morning to see how they were going to arrange their Parkway curvilinear sectional group. Some days it actually extended out of the showroom. A showstopper, indeed. But, as you studied it more and realized how the cushions were attached to the frames, you began to fully realize how much attention to detail went into the group. With a remarketing of most of their line, expect consumers to have a higher perceived value of the line for 2010.


Suncoast: They introduced a commercial chair that looks like it is made of molded plywood. It was so new, they were still working up pricing and programs for it.


Ebel: Finally, after years of cajoling, they introduced what I call their new “grown up” catalog. It is worth the wait. They did more than just refigure their catalog; the introduced Cannes, a sectional with great potential. It comes with stainless steel or aluminum feet. While it is contemporary, it isn’t so far out that its uses are limited. It is most contemporary when done in a white spline. The java spline will sell better for us.


Telescope: As promised in an earlier blog, I sat in their Windward deep seating loveseat. Windward has polypropylene “wood” frames. The loveseat has two independent hidden motion seats. Very comfortable. They also have introduced a connection system for tabletops that allows almost any of their table bases to support the heaviest marble top. Speaking of heavy, their new introduction, Turnstyle, is cast aluminum, which is about as heavy as its namesake.


Winston: I need need need a value priced traditionally styled three seat, cushioned glider along with two motion club chairs and some end tables. I need it to have that retro wrought iron look. Winston’s Palazzo is in aluminum which is all the better. This has been a staple in their line for years; however, it is only this year that I realized how much my line-up missed this. And, talk about value priced, I had to go back to the space a day later to be sure I hadn’t misunderstood.


Skyline: You know what sold me on this line a few years ago? Their catalog! I got one in the mail and thought it was a coffee table book about the industry, that’s how big and well designed it was. I still marvel at it when I show it to customers. Well, they have come out with a new one even better than the old one.


TUUCI: Between the Stingray and their new cantilevered umbrellas, when does Dugan sleep? We can’t all sell high design like this; but, we can all appreciate it. By designing at such a high level, TUUCI keeps the industry moving forward.


Rock Wood: Rock Wood is becoming a “go to” teak line because it is well designed and aggressively priced. In the high end, they introduced a teak frame chair fully upholstered in outdoor leather. I don’t mean faux leather, either. This is a leather product made to go outdoors 24/7.


Outdoor carpets were everywhere; Capel, Couristan, Trans Ocean, and The Hammock Source to name a few. A few years ago, it was everything I could do to convince Couristan to show at this market. Now, I don’t think you could keep them away with wild horses.


Yours in confused retailing, Bruce