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To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

July 12, 2008

Even though Mother Goose encouraged me, I didn’t buy a fat pig at market. In fact, I haven’t bought anything yet; but, here are my impressions.

Kudos to the Merchandise Mart and the six furniture manufacturers who are pioneering on the 15th floor. The six showrooms, Ebel, Ancient Mosaics, Veneman, Lane Venture, Jardin De Ville, and Summer Classics, are all self-contained except Ebel whose front entrance appears to be a continuation of the elevator waiting area. However, they are not showrooms in the sense of the showrooms on the 16th and 17th floors. They are all little jewels that up the ante for the entire market. Be sure you don’t miss them and the merchandising ideas you can get from them in September.

Speaking of the next market, it looks like we only have one more year of premarket to endure. The newly formed ICFA has opted to discontinue the premarket after next year. There will be no officially sanctioned premarket in 2010 and ICFA is trying to decide when the regular market will be. Right now they are thinking about late July or early August. I don’t know about you but I am offended by that idea. Retailers use those two months to clear their warehouses in preparation for the new season. Until those sales are over, we don’t know how our season will end and aren’t prepared to make the kind of buying decisions vendors want us to make.  I may be in the minority about this and encourage all of you to contact Joe Logan, Executive Director of ICFA, at:

jlogan@ahfa.us

with your input. This is not a decision manufacturers should make without considering what retailers want.

As you can imagine, everyone at premarket was consumed with next season’s price increases. To make matters more confusing, most manufacturers were offering discounted 2008 prices on orders written in the next few weeks. These discounted prices also came with 2009 dating. Most companies limited you to 2008 goods although some let you put 2009 goods on the order but at 2009 pricing. Some of the deals weren’t just good, they were spectacular. Do I detect manufacturer desparation?

But, back to "price increases. . . " Before market, a seasoned sales rep called on me and helped me put “price increases” in perspective. He encouraged me to look at them from the perspective of the consumer instead of my perspective as storeowner. I have been in the business so long, he said, I remember Brown Jordan Tamiami chairs selling for under $50 in the sixties.  However, most of our customers are buying outdoor furniture for the first time or for the first time in a long time. They don’t remember thos $50 chairs; therefore, they are not going to be as "shell shocked" as you or I!

He makes a point and I encourage you to remember that when you go to market. I went and didn’t even look at prices. This market was to find new things and to start putting together what I want my floor to look like next year. That is not to say we shouldn’t consider prices at all. We all need to be looking for items that represent a value in design, comfort, and quality. In fact, we all may have to find a replacement for that entry-level extruded aluminum sling group. Here’s a thought, consider one that is slightly more expensive but has more style or more comfort or an alternate tabletop — anything that will differentiate it completely from what consumers will see in the mass market.

Talking about design, there were some real "WOWS." Summer Classics and Agio have taken outdoor wicker to a new level. Both are showing designs using large diameter, multi colored "wicker" that looks and feels like sea grass. This look is an order of magnitude better than what has been on the market for the past few years. I congratulate both of them for being so innovative.

Pride keeps knocking my socks off with new designs year after year. This year they introduced the "formal" dining chair. This chair is a companion to the fully cushioned dining chair they offer in all of their designs. Instead of a seat and back cushion, they use a thick seat cushion with an all aluminum back detail. This detail is done in their version of outdoor wicker, which is actually woven aluminum. Jamie Lowsky told me he was inspired by an ad for an indoor dining chair he saw in a magazine. It’s a great alternative to slings for furniture that has complete exposure to the weather. I think this is the next big thing in the industry. Hats off to Jamie and his team.

Finally, I am pretty impressed with a fabric called Crypton.

http://www.cryptonfabric.com/shop-online-crypton-fabric/main_html.do

The fabric has the hand and look of a natural fabric; however, it is completely waterproof, stain resistant, and bacteria resistant. The product has a big presence in the hospital industry and is preparing to make a significant impact on our industry. Last year, Woodard had an exclusive on the fabric. This year, Tommy Bahama and Meadowcraft have jumped on the bandwagon. Be sure to visit those showrooms in September and let them demonstrate how easily they can remove wine and ink stains. I think you will be impressed, too.

Finally, BJI and Lay-Z-Boy are bringing a jointly developed product to the specialty channel. For any of us who envied the recliners and deepseating groups Sam’s Clubs have shown for the past two years, that product is now available to us. All of the product has been upgraded for our market segment including all aluminum frames and a new memory foam cushion system. The product is offered in containers only; however, they product mix can be two groups and up to four fabrics in each group. The recliners were big sellers for Sam’s and some customers were ordering containers of just recliners grouped with end tables. 

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce