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The Big Move

April 18, 2012
A fortunate aspect of being in the outdoor furniture business is that I get to shop markets all over the United States and Europe. (Some might call this unfortunate because of the work and travel involved; but, I am a half-full glass kind of guy!) I’ve been to Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, and Cologne to name some.

Looking back, some of these shows are huge beyond comprehension. The Atlanta Gift Market covers three buildings, 12 floors in one building, four or five in another, and at least three in the third. The Chicago Hardware Show was in three buildings, too. Although each building was only one or two floors, we are talking about humungous floors that were each at least a gajillion square feet (or so my feet thought after each day spent there.) The Cologne market is in several buildings on a permanent fair grounds. Getting around from building to building required as much walking as doing any single floor of any market I've worked.

Then there’s the Chicago Casual Furniture Show. Compared to other markets, this one is small. There is only one full floor devoted to outdoor; the temps on 8. The other three floors, 15, 16, and 17 are only partially devoted to outdoor. I think 16 has the largest concentration, with 15 and 17 coming in second and third respectively. So, I was more than slightly interested when I heard the news that MMPI and ICFA were in talks to reconfigure the layout of those permanent casual showrooms.

As I understand the article discussing the changes in Casual Living, MMPI wants to consolidate all of the permanent casual showrooms which presently are spread around 15, 16, and 17 to a more concentrated buying experience on floors 15 and 16. The motivation of MMPI has been the subject of at least one email from ICFA. However, regardless of the motivation, it looks as though the move is going to happen.

When I first read about this, I was disappointed that MMPI was throwing its considerable weight around to move showrooms that, up to this point, had no reason to consider moving. After some thought, though, I am beginning to get more comfortable with the consolidation. If the design resembles anything like The Gardens in Atlanta, our shopping experience is going to change for the better. If nothing else, there will be fewer treks up and down those dark stairways or slow elevators to get from floor to floor.

I do pity the permanent showrooms who are going to have to move. Having not seen any layout, I don’t know if vendors who have been in the same showroom for years will be moving. If so, buyers are going to be confused. But, I have always seen we buyers as a hardy and inventive sort. We’ll learn where everyone is in short order and soon won’t even remember where the old showrooms were. (Anybody remember where Meadowcraft was in the 1990’s?)

Still, there is an aspect of the move that saddens me. The gift industry shops at huge markets like Atlanta and New York.  Indoor furniture buyers shop at High Point, a virtual city of showrooms. We are going to be shopping on two permanent floors and one temp floor of a relatively small building. Am I the only one who thinks this speaks volumes about the state of our industry.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce