Party for the Patio

Whitney Gillespie, MMPI

Whitney Gillespie, MMPI

By Duke Ratliff

This year’s International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market, scheduled for Sept. 12-15 at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, will look to address—and benefit from—consumer trends.

At the same time, the show will include a slew of new vendors—both permanent and temporary—to expand the market’s already significant offerings of outdoor furniture and a vast selection of accessories of every kind.

“We’re finding more design-driven and European companies coming to exhibit at the market,” said Whitney Gillespie, vice president of Casual Sales and Leasing, MMPI. “Everybody’s looking to take advantage of a market that’s turning up. As in years past, the outdoor segment is continuing to grow.”

New exhibitors at this year’s show, which is endorsed by the International Casual Furniture Association, include Pelican Reef Wicker, a manufacturer of rattan and wicker furniture; Padma’s Plantation, known for its use of natural materials; Crimson Casual, makers of extruded and cast-aluminum furniture; Skyline Design, which utilizes synthetic weaving materials; and Zuo Modern, known for its cutting edge design.

Whitecraft, which has exclusive license agreements with Biltmore, Woolrich and Chateau Reserve, has expanded and relocated its Merchandise Mart showroom in time for the show. Whitecraft added approximately 65 percent more space for a total display area of 3,500 square feet.

Casual industry observers have speculated that even penny-pinching consumers will spend at least some money to extend their homes into the great outdoors.

“As the economy grows, people still are investing in their home, as opposed to spending $10,000 on a vacation.” Gillespie said. “It’s a good investment.”

In response to increased consumer interest for the casual category, vendors will expand their offerings. In addition to dining areas, vendors will highlight sitting areas along with a seemingly endless list of accessories including pillows, side tables, bars, umbrellas, rugs and decorative items.

This year’s show will see a plethora of fire outdoor flame providers including some that burn propane, and others using gel fuel cells. Companies are also expanding and customizing their outdoor heating options. “The term ‘fire pit’ does not do justice to what you’ll find at this year’s show,” Gillespie said.

The Casual Market will once again feature the Garden Accessories Courtyard, a 10,000-square-foot area. Exhibitors at the Garden Accessories area include Black and Stone USA, makers of patio burners; Couristan, a rug maker; and Dayva International, known for its umbrellas and furniture covers.

Doug Peppler, Agio’s vice president of sales, said the company had a good response at last month’s Casual Pre-Market and is optimistic about going into the show. He said that Agio’s new collections Balmoral and Classique “got a lot of buzz” at the Pre-Market.

“I think we’ve managed to keep hitting our sweet spot—those value-priced collections that offer great retail price points,” Peppler said. “That’s where we exist. And while we didn’t show as many new collections as in past years, I think the six or so new designs we showed were received very, very well.”

The International Casual Furniture Association will hold its Apollo Awards during the show.  The awards dinner, honoring retail excellence in the outdoor furniture industry, will be held on Sept. 14. The program will include recognition of Robert Vanderminden of Telescope Casual Furniture, who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. A fashion show of outdoor furniture fabrics will take place during the banquet.

Apollo Award finalists in the 2011 competition include, in the Single Store category: Authenteak, Atlanta; Fruehauf’s, Boulder, Colo.; Ken Rash’s, Little Rock, Ark.; Leisure Living, Salt Lake City; and Sunnyland Furniture, Dallas. Finalists in the multi-store category are: ABSCO Fireplace & Patio, Birmingham, Ala.; Carls Patio, Boca Raton, Fla.; Greenhouse Mall, Austin, Texas; Seasons Leisure, Atherton, Calif; and Summer House, Tukwila, Wash.