follow us

Random Thoughts From a Random Mind

July 20, 2011
I was saddened to read about the recent closing of Shady Lady. This family-owned business has been coming out with innovative designs at good price points for several years now. If a manufacturer of their caliber can't make it in our industry, one begins to wonder who'll be left when all of this is over. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I wish the Morter family good luck in their future ventures and hope that somehow they will become reassociated with the industry.
Uncertainty and insecurity seem to be the watchwords of our industry these days. Certainly the most recent premarket didn't do anything to raise my comfort level. Price increases ranging from 5% to 10%, or higher, were the norm before and at premarket. Everyone had their reasons for raising their prices: increased labor costs in China, raw materials price rises, a decrease in cargo ships we have become so dependent upon, and increase costs of packing materials and cardboard all contribute to prices escalations. I am sure we are all asking ourselves, “How will our customers react to these price increases?”
Made in the USA looks to be gaining more and more traction, or maybe I should say more and more publicity. ABC news has found the topic so popular, their “Made in America” segment runs at least once every two. There is a new term for people who try to eat exclusively locally grown food; they are called "localtarins." Will people who want to buy outdoor furniture produced in the United States become known as "Ameritarians?"
Is it my imagination or have the high end catalog houses stopped mentioning well-known brand names? Sunbrella® has been replaced by "high performance acrylic fabrics." Furniture brand names have been replaced with phrases like, “our cast aluminum,” or “our teak.” This can only mean one of two things: catalog houses don't think brand names have much cachet left, or they are increasing profits by going directly to the Asian factories. I think it has to do with the money, don't you? Run the brand name product as a test in your catalog. If it works, skip the middle man by finding the off-shore manufacturer or having it redesigned by your own factories in Asia.
When Brown Jordan says it's not going to participate in the premarket they really mean they're not going to participate in the premarket. I understand the showroom was boarded up while it was undergoing a complete renovation in preparation for the September market. On the other hand, their sister company, Winston, was not only open, they were showing enough new designs to spin a buyer's head.
While I didn't go to premarket this year, I am beginning to get a picture of the trends for 2012. Aged wicker or natural wicker with a green tint in it is catching up to java frame. Mint green and other retro colors are overtaking antique beige fabric. Dining groups are becoming passé. No one is dining formally outside anymore. Instead, people are doing casual, adult entertaining. This means comfortable lounge chairs with thick cushions, cocktail tables or firepits and more and more sectionals. And who would've guessed the outdoor wicker category could've grown so much bigger than cast aluminum and wrought iron put together?
I don't know about you, but we are having a tougher and tougher time getting our customers approved for six months same as cash financing programs. For years, we did business with a company that had partnered with CFR. Another company purchased them at the end of last year. That company raised out discount rate from 1% to almost 3%. We searched around and found another company with a more reasonable discount rate. At first, things went great. Then, that company started to turn down more applications than they accepted. I understand much of this has to do with new banking regulations and declining credit scores. No matter - - -  we still lost sales because of it.
Finally, a short update as to how iPads are working out for our store. Two weeks ago, we launched software that allows us to look up inventory status from an iPad while we are working with the customer. My sales staff immediately took to it saying it was the most productive thing we have done in a long time. We are also able to pull up a customer's account to find out what they have purchased or ordered from us in the past. We are probably a month or so away from being able to write invoices and orders on our iPads from anywhere in our store. We have been trying to get this done since the end of last year. Now that I see the light at the end of the tunnel, all the hard work that we have put in looks like it will pay off.
Yours in confused retailing, Bruce