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Outdoor Furniture Resurgent at this Year's Las Vegas Market Event

After a notable drop in the market following the 2008 recession, it has taken the US outdoor furniture sector a long time to get back on its feet. There are now signs that demand has been restored, particularly at the high-end of the industry.

Photo: Outdoor furniture goes outré: Customisable chat chairs.
Outdoor furniture goes outré: Customisable chat chairs.
Photo: Outdoor furniture goes outré: Customisable chat chairs.
Outdoor furniture goes outré: Customisable chat chairs.

The 2015 summer Las Vegas Market notably turned up the heat, showcasing a host of new initiatives and trends in all things furniture, gifts and home. The year also marked the 10th anniversary of the founding of International Market Centers (IMC), the show's organisers, with the event being marked by the company's largest show to date, with more than five million square feet of exhibition space on offer.

Commenting on the growth of the event, Robert Maricich, IMC's Chief Executive Officer, said: "The Las Vegas Market has experienced explosive growth and continues to evolve. What started as a furniture market has been transformed into the only major home furnishings market in the West, the fastest-growing gift and home décor market in the US, as well as the only national bedding market in the country."

Among this year's new initiatives was the introduction of The Pavilions, a covered outdoor space that welcomed visitors into an air-conditioned treasure cave of temporary exhibits. Sharing the same setting, The Discoveries was home to a host of antiques and vintage-inspired items, one of the top trends at this year's Market. Indeed, a number of attendees commented that they had spent most of the market in this new space, largely on a hunt for brands and boutique labels not yet represented by major distributors.

In terms of the permanent exhibits, however, housewares, gifts and outdoor furniture all got their own dedicated floors this summer. While not completely occupied this time, the organizers expect that they'll be up to 75% capacity before the next show in January.

According to Shauna Hallawith, Owner of Phoenix-based Muir Sales LLC, she was excited to have her houseware showroom on a dedicated floor. As a result, she is now planning to rent out an additional 1,000 square feet at the next Market in order to showcase her crystal and glassware lines.

When asked as to just what was currently selling, she noted it wasn't houseware items, but rather her line of salts and lotions. She said: "It's been phenomenal. It wasn't where I thought the industry was going, but people like the story behind them and those products also help us personally. People like personal."

Overall, she believes that both lines do well in a retail environment as they complement traditional houseware, saying: "They fit right into the kitchen. Whenever you do dishes, you put lotion on."

What happens in the kitchen doesn't stay in the kitchen anymore apparently, at least not for the many American consumers who are expanding their living space outdoors. The traditional outdoor furniture sector got a distinctly hip vibe this year courtesy of the UK-based Trans-Continental Group and its contemporary Cosi line. Its off-white items are all upholstered with Nautilex, a waterproof fabric traditionally used on yachts.

Explaining the thinking behind the range, James Marshall, the company's Sales Director, said: "In the UK, there's a strong trend for modern-style furniture that you can expose to the elements. Over there, people are looking for rain-resistance. In the US, it's more about UV.

"While we have been very successful selling online through Amazon and Zulilly, the Market has exposed us to a lot of new designers who said they've been looking for this type of product."

Photo: Las Vegas recycled, courtesy of BluMarble.
Las Vegas recycled, courtesy of BluMarble.
Photo: Las Vegas recycled, courtesy of BluMarble.
Las Vegas recycled, courtesy of BluMarble.
Photo: Flirty Slippers: For the woman who has everything else.
Flirty Slippers: For the woman who has everything else.
Photo: Flirty Slippers: For the woman who has everything else.
Flirty Slippers: For the woman who has everything else.

Marshall said that, while spending on outdoor furniture dropped during the recession, the tide has now very much turned. In light of this, then, it was perhaps only appropriate that, this year, the event had an entire floor dedicated to the sector.

At the more expensive end of the market, higher price points didn't seem to be a deterrent for would-be customers of New York's Kaufman Allied, especially with regard to its Patio Daddyo range of laminated bamboo and cedar outdoor furniture.

According to Charles Curry, the company's Stand Manager, certain consumer demographics are now more than willing to upgrade. He said: "Wood is definitely a minority interest in the outdoor furniture sector, but there does seem to be a market at the high-end. People are now building full outdoor kitchens and spending US$25,000 on a range.

"It's not just the older demographic either. Younger people want to up their game too. They're tired of folding aluminum chairs giving out on them."

In order to prove its contention that "cedar doesn't have to be boring" – while promoting their line of  customisable cedar chairs – the company ran a contest throughout the event, allowing a number of artists to use unfinished Chat Chairs as their canvases.

Explaining the thinking, Kevin Kauffman, the Chief Executive of Patio Daddyo, said: "By offering dealers unfinished cedar chairs in classic designs, customers can personalise our offerings. Most people don't have the time or equipment to build outdoor furniture, but they can gather with their family and friends, throw a barbeque, chill their favorite beverages, and turn their inner artist loose by painting their unfinished cedar chat chair."

Over on the gift floors, these were all bustling with holiday shoppers. According to Maureen Malone, a manager with Grace by Catherine Sullivan, a Los Angeles-based gift distributor, this was one of the best markets for the company. Indicating a table of flirty slippers, she said: "For this coming season, slippers are selling insanely well. They're an easy gift for a woman you've bought a lot of gifts for over the years as they are new on the market."

A hot selling item for guys was decorated glassware and tumblers, all made out of recycled bottles from the hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. BluMarble, based in Las Vegas, turns spirits and wine bottles into gifts and everyday use products from the "drinking capital of the world." Commenting on the success of the range, Malone said: "People recognise the brands, such as Patron and Belvedere. They like the story and also the fact that it's a socially responsible thing to do."

Meanwhile, silk velvet pumpkins of all sizes and strawberries sparking with crystals were attracting a considerable crowd over at the stand of Hot Skwash, an Oregon-based designer of high-end table top décor. This year, the company had opted for traditional fall colours, all augmented with plaids and a checkered black-and-white line that looked straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

Commenting on the new range, Maria Knowles, the company's owner and lead designer, said: "We try to make our pieces versatile. They can be quite straightforward all the way up to very high-end, complete with beading and the same feathers as those used in hats at royal weddings. For the holidays this year, it's about mix and match. Several designers are using plaid and checkered together with some greenery. It's not just for fall anymore."

Larry Rogers, a design professional with the Stone Creek Nursery in Kansas, for one, already has his winter displays figured out. He said: "We're doing a water scene with upside down Christmas trees spinning, a full elf section and a fairy garden scene." As for the Market, he noted the move back to traditional and shabby chic, saying: "I found a lot of vintage stuff. Restoration pieces are just gorgeous. They'll do well in our store."

Photo: Funky furnishings: Cheery cushions from Natural Life.
Funky furnishings: Cheery cushions from Natural Life.
Photo: Funky furnishings: Cheery cushions from Natural Life.
Funky furnishings: Cheery cushions from Natural Life.

Billed as "the most comprehensive furniture, home décor and gift market in the Western United States," the Las Vegas Market ran from 2-6 August at the World Market Center in Las Vegas.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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