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Jenny Heinzen York

Though retail climate remains tough, vendors report solid business

High Point Market brought with it the usual combination of mixed economic news and mixed reports on traffic and business during the show, leading to the oft-repeated phrase, "traffic down, orders up."
     Most vendors interviewed by Home Accents Today said that although they did feel a dip at the retail level over the summer, the dip was shallower than in years past, and the fourth quarter looks promising.
     Lendell Glassco, president of Paragon, said October is regularly his company's biggest product introduction, and 2012 was no different, with a "couple hundred" new items for Paragon, and about 50 wall décor and lamp designs for division Kinder Harris.
     While he said business has been largely flat for the year, he is optimistic about this market and the fourth quarter, particularly once the presidential election is out of the way.
     "Retail has been tough, but the design business is getting better," he said. "Hopefully, once we get through this election, we'll have a great fall season."
     Paragon offered a number of show specials during market give retailers incentive to attend the shows and buy.
     "We are trying to do everything we can to build market orders," he said. "We spend so much time, effort and money on these showrooms, so we need to give our customers reasons to come. We are offering these show specials to make it worthwhile to be here. ... We are doing our part to make market beneficial and encourage people to come and stay a little longer."
     Woven Workz is tracking well ahead of 2011 so far this year, due largely to success with online retailers, according to Wozen Workz President Raphael Wolf.
     "Our business this year is considerably ahead of last year and the year before," Wolf said. "We're probably 70% ahead of last year. It's all due to considerable efforts on our part to do business with all the dot com/Internet guys, whether it's Overstock or Amazon or Fab. We now do business with all of them. That's where the lost volume from '09 and '10 has more than come back to us. The flash sales are driving a huge business."
     At Ibolili, Michael Fisher said despite the ongoing economic situation, the company is having its best year to date.
     "We're having a record year," Fisher said. "It's the biggest year in the history of the (13-year-old) company. There's no big number that's taken us over the top. It's just understanding our business and creating a lot of really cool niche product, and a new catalog."
     Avenue B, a new accent furniture and accessory source headed by former Bailey Street president Greg Waylock, made its High Point debut last month.
     Waylock said early response has been fantastic, and as the company just began shipping its products in September, very rewarding to see it all come together. The company made its industry debut last July in Atlanta, and he said the timing is just right for this new line.
     "It's really exciting - it's great to see so much energy back in the business," he said. "We're tapping into that. We're the new kid on the block, we have a new strategy, and it's great to see the genuine excitement coming from the customers."
     Avenue B specializes in small accent furniture pieces with excellent design and function, at a value-sensitive price point.
     "Our customers like the fact that it's in stock, they like the value, but most of all they like to see the style," he said. "The overall sense from the customer is ‘yes, we love it.'"
     At Interlude, this season's product related to the latest trends coming out of fashion, according to Creative Director Wendy Philips. The company is focusing this season on refreshed mid-century-inspired designs, mixed media pieces, metallics and cleaner lines. Carl Philips, company CEO, said business has remained steady, even as retail faltered somewhat over the summer.
     "There are fewer people buying, but the ones who are buying are buying more," he said, adding that the companies positioned in the middle to upper ends of the business are doing best. "People like us are going after better business and better merchandise."
     Wendy Philips agreed that statement-style, investment pieces are very important right now.
     "People are establishing a point of view more than they have in a while, and they are investing in it," she said.
     At Loloi Rugs, father-son team Amir and Cyrus Loloi said that they did feel the third quarter slowdown, but with a good first half under their belts, they are still looking forward to late-year success.
     "For the most part, the first and second quarters provided good business at retail. In the third quarter, there was a dip. In the fourth quarter, everyone I have spoken to is very happy. Retailers are upbeat and they want to refresh their inventory with new product."
     They also indicated that the presidential election is a factor at retail right now.
     "(Retailers) have been waiting for the election to be over - no matter who wins - to put that behind them. This should be a very strong market because by the time retailers receive their product from this market, the election will be over."
     Nancy Reib of Wildcat Territory shared the opinion that the climate is still pretty challenging at the retail level, mainly because the reactions are all across the board.
     "It's a mixed bag at retail right now. Some of our customers have seen an increase and they are very encouraged, while some feel it is slow," she said. "We can't get a real beat on the market. What we are noticing is that our individual orders are getting bigger. We are also getting more custom orders - pricing is not an issue.
     "Our year is going OK. It's not stellar, but it's not terrible either. We have been working on a lot of new initiatives for 2012, including a new interactive website, a new database and a social media campaign that will include a blog. We really believe this is going to pay off."
     The designer business and contract opportunities are also growing, she said.
     "The other thing that is happening - that never happened before - is that we are getting calls for contract work," she said. "There are definitely signs of life out there, and although it hasn't necessarily always translated to orders, there is movement in the air."
     According to Allstate Floral's Larry Gottlieb, 2012 is going fairly well.
     "We are receiving positive feedback from our
customers, particularly in Florida, in relation to the housing market," he said. "For example, there are less foreclosures around the country, building starts are on the rise, and so are existing home sales. The more new homes being built, the more product being put into the homes and that will drive sales."
     He said the past two years have shown a steady increase in business, and he looks for that to continue, especially as we enter the fourth quarter, an extremely important time period at retail in the floral business because of the holidays.
     "Business in the past 24 months has been slowly increasing. Overall, this is a gradual climb out of the recession," he said. "Our year is tracking, again, gradually in an upward spiral, and we are fairly pleased with that. This last quarter of 2012 is very important because we have to clear out back-orders from previous Christmas shipping. We are conducting end-of year promotions and trying to reduce inventories as best as possible."

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