"Grace is Given of God but Knowledge is Bought in the Market" Arthur Clough

September 15, 2011
Here's some knowledge I bought at this year's market. If you bought some and I don't cover it, please leave a comment. After all, knowledge is best when shared.

While I don’t want to minimize the importance of fabrics to our industry, it is rare that I leave market thinking a swatch book was the best thing I saw. However, this year the 2012/2013 Sunbrella Furniture Grade Swatch book did blow me away. The colors, the patterns, the textures all prove that our industry is as fashion forward as any. Even though our store doesn’t do much COM, I am considering Sunbrella’s Fabric Kiosk. It looks like something you would see in a designer showroom and would add credibility to us as an EXterior Decorator.

The Mamagreen Collection on the temporary floors stopped me in my tracks. I don’t sell a lot of contemporary; but this line makes me want to; especially the Zudu deep seating and the Icon chaise lounge. Both collections combine stainless steel and reclaimed teak. Even if the designs weren't so great, the idea of using reclaimed teak makes a great selling story. I am hoping they can add new life to our otherwise stodgy teak offerings.

I couldn’t walk around market without tripping on a firepit. I think firepits are so important, I am going to carry them from at least two companies this year. Last year, I missed the boat when I overlooked O. W. Lee’s value priced pit, the 42” round Santorini. This year, they added a rectangular version and I am not going to miss out again. The other line I am going to carry is from Oriflamme. Not only are their pits value priced, the burner systems are the most unusual I have seen. Instead of the everyday overall flame, their flames form designs like flowers, Yin/Yangs, stars, even a martini glass. The pits come complete with colored glass used to fill in the spaces around the burner. When the flame isn’t lit, the colored glass makes the top look like a complete table.

Since “chat is where it’s at,” I was naturally attracted to a series of chat tables from SOFI. They have several sizes of chat height tables with either a fire pit or a cooler in the middle. What sets them apart, though, is that each side of the table can be raised up independently and brought closer to the user. In that configuration, the table is much more comfortable for dining. The designs are simple and generic, ideal for mixing with any style chat chair.

If I wasn’t tripping over firepits, I was surfing through an ocean of outdoor wicker. Even though they have been slow to update their designs, l have been successful for years with outdoor wicker from Ebel, Inc. I am not sure if it was their move from the temps to a permanent showroom or what; but, their designs are now as good if not better than anyone’s. I gotta have their Dreux collection in Driftwood, Martinique in Walnut and Driftwood (only available by container), and Napoli in Driftwood.

While it might not be for everyone, the Treasure Garden umbrella in Swiss Dot Hot Pink was a show stopper. I want to show it over a wrought iron group with coordinating Sunbrella Canvas Hot Pink cushions right in the middle of my entrance. If that doesn’t light up customers’ eyes, nothing will.

Suncoast decided the best way to make “everything old new again” was to lower prices and create some of the best valued priced chairs I saw at market. Their Renaissance sling chair has always had style, now it has a price point that  will have Asian manufacturers shaking their heads wondering how they can do it.

For Jamie Lowsky who says I haven't mentioned him in my blog lately, “Hi, Jamie.” Seriously, I had mucho carry over of Pride going into 2011. A lot of that had to do with pricing. Jamie is a sharp business man and realized this was a problem for Pride; so, he started addressing that issue at the 2010 market with some value priced products. For 2011 he has expanded these selections. Cannes, Lucerne, Madrid, and Veranda got my attention. If you still think of Pride as the PVC people or the high price people, they deserve another look.

Speaking of PVC, if you still think of Telescope as the aluminum people, you haven’t visited them in a while. They have nine, count em nine, marine grade polymer collections. Not only are the designs good, the construction is unbelievable. Ask you sales rep how they get the corner on the arm of the Richland collection. You have to see it to believe it. As Steve Lowsky told me at market, if you had told him 20 years ago he would be in the aluminum business and Henry Vanderminden  would be in the plastic business, both would have said you were crazy.

Congrats to Scott Coogan who won not one but two Design Excellence awards for Woodard. Scott’s a good guy and a good designer. Our industry is lucky to have him.  But Woodard wasn’t content having award winning designs, they showed an innovation I have been wanting for years - - - a wrought iron extension table from their Lyon Shaw import line. Not only was it an extension table, it was had a butterfly leaf. Hot, hot, hot! I just wish they would bring the design into their domestic line along with higher quality standards.

Finally, a personal congratulations to a good friend of mine, Mary Freuhauf and her store, Freuhauf’s Patio Furniture Store, for winning the Apollo Award in the single store category. Mary is one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. She is the compleat retailer and a fount of inspiration for other retailers. I don’t know where she finds the time to do everything she does for our industry and still run her business. She also sends out the prettiest and most personal Christmas cards. If you don’t know Mary, you should make a point of introducing yourself. You will become a better retailer and person for it.

Yours in confused retailing, B