Unveiling the Great Outdoors
By Duke Ratliff
This year's International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market, scheduled for Sept. 20-23, is the place to witness the evolution of the outdoor furniture market.
Held at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, the Casual Market encompasses 350,000 square feet of exhibit space with more than 45 permanent showrooms and hundreds of temporary exhibitors. It's the only market exclusively endorsed and sponsored by the International Casual Furnishings Association.
This year's event will reflect the ongoing popular "outdoor room" with new styles and expanded accessory offerings. At the same time, show organizer Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (MMPI) expects to see more traditional furniture retailers as the segment as a whole is offering more outdoor collections.
"Outdoor continues to be a huge trend in home furnishings," said Jaclyn Kelly, MMPI's senior director of marketing for the Casual Furnishings Industry. "People are looking to the outdoors as a retreat, and it's become an important area of the home."
Reflecting the outdoor room's growing popularity, attendees of the show should expect to see more accessory-oriented exhibitors offering categories such as lighting, rugs and occasional tables.
Kelly said the still-struggling economy seems to be working in favor of the outdoor category--and the show.
"You might not be able to afford to remodel your whole home, but you can expand your outdoor space," Kelly said. "There are so many things you can buy for the outdoors."
Not coincidentally, the show's organizers expect to see greater attendance from traditional furniture stores.
"We're definitely seeing more interest from full-line indoor furniture stores," Kelly said. "Some manufacturers are starting to get distribution through those stores, and they can come here and see the entire scope of what's offered for the outdoor space."
The International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market will unveil numerous trends. Attendees will see, for the first time for some vendors, a move toward transitional and contemporary styles. Outdoor furniture has normally focused on more traditional designs, but as the category evolves, some of the biggest vendors, including Agio International and O.W. Lee, are introducing collections with smoother and cleaner lines.
Fire is hot, hot, hot for the outdoor category. While firepits have been popular for a few years, flaming accessories rise to a new level at this year's show. Look for bar-height tables and dining-height tables in Chicago.
Environmentally friendly items will have a larger presence at the September event. And some exhibitors are touting that their collections are made in the USA.
Permanent showrooms at the Merchandise Mart are located on floors 15, 16 and 17. Top vendors with full-line showrooms include Agio International, Brown Jordan, Gloster, Pride Family Brands, O.W. Lee, Lloyd Flanders and more. Market Suites/temporary exhibitors will display their new collections on the eighth floor. Examples of temporary exhibitors include Oxford Garden, TAG, Z-Line Designs and Saber Grills.
What They're Saying
"One of the trends that we continue to see hitting floors in a major way is porcelain top tables. Continuing from last year, these tops emulate the stone tops but their durability, light weight and colors have made them wildly popular with consumers." Doug Peppler, Agio's vice president of sales
"The International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market is our single most important marketing event. We invest the majority of our marketing dollars in both the preview show in July and the Casual Market in September." Terri Lee Rogers, O.W. Lee's vice president of sales & marketing
"Loll Designs will be exhibiting at the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market for its first time. Founded in 2005, Loll has partnered with a number of independent retailers around the U.S. and Canada and looks forward to expanding its outreach of modern, 100-percent recycled and recyclable products." Sharon Scheidel, Loll Designs' sales & marketing director