Change of Pace

Casual Preview Show kicks off in the newly-redesigned Merchandise Mart

Jamie Sorcher -- Casual Living, 7/18/2013 10:10:56 AM

CHICAGO - The International Casual Furniture & Accessories Preview Show, which runs for three days, had its kick-off July 16 with vendors settling into new showrooms and buyers navigating consolidated floor plans.

Since early 2012, more than 65 residential and outdoor furnishings tenants have been relocated from floors 15, 16, 17
and 18 into new spaces on floor 14 (all residential) and 15 and 16 (which are now completely dedicated to casual/outdoor companies). Today, 55% of the Merchandise Mart is dedicated to showroom tenants including 45 casual showrooms totaling more than 256,000 square feet on floors 15 and 16.

The move was precipitated by Google, which signed a 15-year lease and moved its Motorola Mobility division to the Merchandise Mart, taking the four top floors along with 600,000 square feet.

"The relocation of more than 20 showrooms and extensive floor renovations couldn't have gone smoother and we're thrilled with the final result," said John H. Brennen III, executive VP, MMPI, earlier this year. "We're excited to welcome the attendees to the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in September and provide an improved venue for showcasing our casual furnishings offerings."

"Overall, we are very pleased with the market and our members like the design of the 15th floor," said Joe Logan, the International Casual Furniture Association's executive director. "It is bright, modern and really opens up the showrooms. We are anticipating the 16th floor to be redone for the September market. It is an ambitious time line, but MMPI says that is the plan."

The redesign improved the aesthetics, but also created some head scratching as several vendors said they looked down the sometimes barren hallways to determine if there was foot traffic at the show. On opening day, traffic started slow, but built to a steady flow with showrooms moderately busy throughout the day while the second day saw plenty of people on Floor 7 at the temporary exhibits early in the morning with bustling crowds in showrooms throughout the day.

At Windward Design Group, which is exhibiting in a temporary space on Floor 7, VP of Business Development Marc Morales said he was pleased with traffic both day one and day two. "Last year was a strong show for us, too, so expectations are high," he said. "For pre-market, we have set appointments and we know 90% of the people who are showing up. In September, we'll have more walk-ins, but our customers coming to this show want to get a walk through our entire line so they can come prepared for September."

Joseph Cilio, president of Alfresco Home, was settling into his company's new corner showroom on the 16th floor (formerly home to Gensun) after showing the past several years in a temporary space. "We couldn't be more excited," he said. "Traffic has been steady with 80% of our traffic appointment-based. People are not only seeing our Fornetto pizza oven, but they are getting a chance to view the furniture line for the first time the right way. We've been able to put some vignettes together which has turned out nicely."

Many manufacturers said pre-market remains key for showcasing new collections and getting feedback from retailers so they can tweak things for September, but that is not the only reason pre-market is essential for so many.

We'll buy in July

Retailers at the show wholeheartedly said they saw the pre-market as vital, especially those who have container programs and expressed concern with regards to the early Chinese New Year for 2014.

"This is my first time at pre-market," said Ajay Gupta, president of Housewarmings in Lexington, Ky. "This is definitely a market that is growing in importance because of the China factor. Retailers need to order early to make sure they have product in time."

Owners of Hockessin, Del.-based Casual Marketplace, Petey and Harold Fleischut, started appointments prior to the show's official opening on Tuesday, July 16. "We got here Monday and we've been working the show since then," Petey Fleischut said Wednesday afternoon. "This is my most important show. I like to order early and get my product early."

"This is a vital show for us," said Mark Smithers, purchasing manager for Roseville, Calif.-based California Backyard.
"We do a combination of container business and domestic so this is an important show so we can get our orders in on time, especially in light of the fact that the Chinese New Year is early this year."

The 15-day Chinese New Year celebration or Spring Festival, as it is also called, causes manufacturing plants across the country to shut down weeks in advance of the holiday in some cases as tens of millions of workers make long trips back to their home towns from the industrial cities where their jobs are. The impact is huge for companies that have product originating in China.