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August 23, 2011
I didn’t go to the Pre-Market in July so I have to see what is new by following the trade mags, going to manufacturers' web sites, and reviewing pix my reps show to me. However, lack of information has never stopped me from having an opinion and I thought I would share a few with you.

Two or three years ago, one of our national competitors with stores in malls showed a brand new color in outdoor wicker. It was greenish grey with a lot of variations though out the weave. A fully woven piece looked like it was finished in driftwood or aged wicker. I thought it was going to be hot and was very disappointed no one showed anything like it at the 2009 market.

At the 2010 market, Summer Classics introduced the color in their Rustic design. Not only was the color good, so was the design. We brought it in for this season and sold every piece we brought in. Just wish we could have gotten more.

It looks like we are going to see a lot more of that colorway in the upcoming market. (Geez, can it be true market is less than three weeks away?) Just by going through one trade magazine, I found that Ebel, Inc., Erwin and Sons, Ratana, and Lane Venture are going to follow suit. I am glad and will be looking for driftwood in everything from entry level to high end price points.

Several years ago, I was bowled over by a sofa design that appeared to be fully upholstered in faux leather. It was almost indistinguishable from an indoor sofa. I liked it so much I talked it up with everyone I met during the market. I was surprised that other retailers were nonplussed about it. Finally, one retailer put it into perspective when she said it reminded her of the used sofas she imagined people would drag out to the front porches of their trailers.  And, guess what, that design was phased out after only one year. Glad I didn’t buy it.

I mention that because I have seen at least two new designs which sort of remind me of that idea. These are chairs which are “slip covered.” I always thought slip covers for plain wrought iron or resin chairs were a great idea. They could make a cheap chair look more expensive. I think I was right on with that idea - - - in the 90’s. Now, not so much! The look is dated and I don’t think it will have legs in the retail market.

As dated as slip covers are, sectionals are as hot as pistols. I think the trend is going to last for at least one more season. While style is still important in this category, frame material isn’t. Cast aluminum, outdoor wicker, teak, or wrought iron all sell equally well. I would like to see some motion in this category. Perhaps a recliner with pop-up foot rest or hidden spring chairs.

I am pleased to see that Gloster is introducing motion into their teak. Motion has been shamefully missing in this category. I am not sure I like the design aesthetics of the swivels Gloster is using. Have to see them at market myself. I think hidden spring is a better design choice here. But, some motion is better than none.

Speaking of teak, I don’t know about your customers but mine walk into the store with their minds either set for it or very much against it. The “antis” don’t like the way it looks when it turns silver. And, they absolutely don’t want to do the maintenance required to prevent that. So, it seems contradictory that one of our hottest lines this year was Croquet Aluminum by Summer Classics. The line is all aluminum but looks like teak. The finish makes it appear aged, just like real teak. I guess this makes sense when you consider how hot the driftwood colorway was in outdoor wicker. This finish looks a lot like that. Go figure!

I am very excited by all of the new fabric designs coming our way. Do any of you remember the 60’s and 70’s when the only colorways that sold were turquoise to match the color of the pool water and avocado to match the grass? Times have changed.  As Maggie Prescott played by Kay Thompson sang in “Funny Face,” think pink!

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce