Comments from retailers regarding the economy and the recent Toronto International Home Furnishings Market.
Frowns were few and far between at the national Trillium Furniture Marketing and Design Awards 27th celebration, or the big annual Toronto International Market at the International Centre. The Toronto Show is organized by the Quebec Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (QFMA). Attendance broke all records, enthusiasm was high and the pleasant scratch of pen-on-order-pad was heard everywhere!
Obviously, this bodes well for the consumer, too. The choices in all sectors, upholstery, leather, wood, metal, lighting, bedding, accent and accessories, are more enticing than ever and quality and value for dollar are unequaled this season.
The Trillium banquet is absolutely the only place to be the night before the Market opens. If you’re a manufacturer, you go with your fingers crossed, hoping to find yourself one of the winners of these coveted awards. And retailers are eager to spot "most likely to succeed" amongst this year’s offerings. The most prestigious Awards are the Grand Trillium and the two Summits, one for Design, the second for Canadian Content, all three regarded as the industry’s "top of the heap".
The competition is judged by 10 prominent Canadian home furnishings retailers from across the country. It’s an arduous task, ably honchoed by Linda Smith, Director of Member Services for the Ontario Furniture Manufacturers’ Association, founders and sponsors of Trillium.
No one must know the winners’ names before the magic moment when, just like the Oscars, the envelope is opened at the conclusion of the banquet and the victors are announced. This year’s Master of Ceremonies was the ebullient Dennis Novosel, President of Stoney Creek Furniture and the exciting new Decor Centre.
Another scrupulously kept secret was the presentation of a well-deserved lifetime achievement award "as an industry leader and mentor" to popular Orville Mead, President of Durham Furniture. Much loved in the industry, Orville was recognized by a resounding standing ovation.
And the applause was reduced not a decibel when, later in the proceedings, Durham Furniture took the Grand Trillium Award, the fifth time in six years, for the Chardin Collection, an outstanding traditional country French bedroom suite.
Trillium Judge Wanda Gillis, Smitty’s Fine Furniture, a mid-range four store chain, said, "Stylewise it hit in every category we were judging, wonderful design, marketability, construction, quality."
Decor-Rest Furniture took the honors with the Summit Award for Canadian Design with a beautiful high back traditional leather occasional chair, part of their successful Avid Readers’ Collection. Two other occasional chairs from the Collection, in the transitional and modern leather categories, also took Trillium Awards.
The firm again won more Awards than any other company, 12 this time with a total of 67 over the years of the competition, including three other Summit Awards.
Wanda remarked, "Decor-Rest’s leather chairs are an outstanding value. They are well designed, great sitting chairs and the leathers are good. The Summit winner is innovative and the proportions are excellent."
The Summit for Canadian Content went to Bogdon and Gross Furniture for their solid ash Harvest Collection dining room, a nine-piece suite that includes a charming multi-functional sideboard.
Each and every Trillium Award celebrates excellence in its category. (See all the winning designs posted to www.furninfo.com/trillium2001.)
Throughout the Market, animal prints abounded, some subtle, some in your face. Many conservative manufacturers predicted a few years ago when the trend first emerged that it was all a fad, a passing fancy. No way! It just goes to show that due attention should be paid to fashion pundits, both apparel and home furnishings. Leopards, tigers, panthers, giraffes and other assorted creatures of the wild are still prancing down couture runways and this augurs well for at least another three years at the fabric mills.
Look for "skin" covered chairs, chaises, accent cushions on classic sofas, and imaginative lamps in the shape of elephants and giraffes. Merrick Engel of Engelite Lighting, another Trillium multi-winner, is a designer with a real sense of fun and profitability, and an attractive menagerie is flowing from his plant to retail floors all over the world.
The Market was rife with evocative rattans and bamboo that match this adventurous mood. They are not at all like the stuff grandma used on the front porch and that some of us still harbour at summer cottages. These are sophisticated, quality pieces, antiqued, woven, Mondrian-shaped or with a strong Art Deco feel, like Decor-Rest’s unique Trade Winds desk.
The Trends Display was the Market’s newest attraction and received much favourable comment. Conceptualized by designers Andre Caron and Pierre d’Anjou as a floating booth, slightly elevated, the display consisted of 20 modules showcasing more than 60 pieces of furniture and accessories fabricated by Market exhibitors. The purpose, to illustrate creative, exciting ways of displaying furniture and accessories in the store. These "Trends Display" home furnishings can also be seen on FURNITURE WORLD’s information rich website furninfo.com at www.furninfo.com/trends.
Both Wanda and Smitty’s well-seasoned founder, Lloyd Schmidt, confided they had experienced "A really solid January" in their stores. "Even with the U.S. slowdown, we had a very good, upbeat fall and a successful warehouse sale. We think it will be a great year. There might be downturns, but the consumers are out there buying. They are buying wisely, carefully, and asking intelligent questions."
Lloyd added, "We’ve had an intensive two-day marketing meeting. We’re planning all our advertising for the entire year, month by month. It’s up to each retailer to make sure that sales won’t slow down. I’m going after sales aggressively. We’re going to be out there stimulating each market area. Certainly the automobile and travel industries will advertise more, and we want our part of that disposable dollar. I’ve never been able to understand retailers who say, ‘Oh, dear, sales are slowing so we should cut our advertising.’ That’s nonsense! That’s the time to increase exposure, and we are working towards it.
"I took 25 staff members from our four stores with me to the Market. They need to be in touch with the activity, to meet their peers and see what the industry has to offer. I wonder why more retailers don’t do this."
Dave McCurdy, Lounsbury Company Ltd., Moncton, New Brunswick, another Trillium Judge, advised us to look for both Durham Furniture and West Brothers for "fine, solid wood furniture.” In casual dining, Dave recommended Reflections’ collections.
He commented that "January is always a tough month, but we are moving along nicely."
Another happy camper, Dennis Watson at Butcher’s Furniture, Hillsburgh, Ontario, said "It was one of the busiest Markets I’ve seen in a long while. Everyone had apparently worked their inventories down.
"There were more solid colours in upholstery but they were accented with contrasting toss cushions. Leather Craft produced a good leather and fabric mix sofa." This was Dennis’ second stint as a Trillium Judge and he is "very optimistic about the year ahead". He’s an Engelite fan and was pleased to report that Butcher’s was acquiring some of "those whimsical animal lamps" for the store.
"We’ve had no slow down. People are generally optimistic. We should all stay positive. If you talk doom and gloom then it’s likely to happen."
In overview, what’s in store for 2001? Firstly, lots of fun if our attitudes are adjusted! It’s all there, all the razzle dazzle, the bells and whistles. But behind the beautiful finishes and fabrics, quality has certainly skyrocketed in importance.
Manufacturers have learned that consumers want fashion, yes, but durability, quality and value for the dollar are equally if not more important. You can pick, choose, refuse from early 2001 stylings, let your imagination go just a tad berserk, and still feel confident that most of our excellent manufacturers will back their offerings and both retailers and consumers will benefit. Service has become dominant in the marketplaces of North America; long may it reign!