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  • Michael J. Knell

Orders please Toronto exhibitors

TORONTO - Business won't spring back to where it was before everything came crashing down at the end of 2008, but exhibitors decamping the International Centre here in the wake of this month's Canadian Home Furnishings Market are confident furniture retailing will experience an encouraging up tick over the coming months.
     The mood throughout the center's five halls was quite cheerful even though most executives agreed this was perhaps one of the most lightly attended Toronto markets in recent years.
     The Quebec Furniture Manufacturers' Assn., the owners and operators of TCHFM, hasn't published attendance figures for quite some time. In recent years, the average number of retail buyers turning out has been pegged at 2,100. This was the market's 40th anniversary edition.
     Despite the soft attendance, executives reported that Toronto lived up to its reputation as a "writing show," saying that those retailers who turned out were ready to buy. Indeed, there was an emerging consensus that Boxing Week - perhaps the single most important week at retail in this country - was very strong for most furniture retailers, independent or otherwise. This was a real change from 2010 and 2009 when the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day didn't produce the usual up tick in business.
     "Everyone seems to have had a good Boxing Week," said Cary Benson, president of sales at Palliser. "We've seen an up tick in the number of our own customers going through the space and we've had very good order writing."
     "From a traffic count, there were less people than we have seen in previous years," said Kevin Sisson, vice president and chief operating officer of bedding major Sealy Canada. "But the good thing is everyone was happy and they were writing orders."
     "Attendance was down for sure," said Faizel Sunderji, vice president of upholstery specialist Dynasty Furniture. "But everyone who came in was writing."
     Most exhibitors also agreed TCHFM attendance is driven by the buying groups - all four of which had a presence in the International Centre. All held meetings in conjunction with the show to roll out their 2012 merchandising programs.
     Cantrex retail furniture network director Pat Kelly said member reaction to the group's new Allura private label brand of upholstery and case goods was stronger than anticipated. Members also committed more floor space to Allura's companion mattress program.
     From a new product perspective, attending retailers had a sizeable menu to order from.
     South Shore expanded its juvenile offerings with its first-ever line of cribs, while Dutailier reported good retailer reaction to its new Urban Glider collection. Palliser added at least eight new models to its home theater seating offerings. Canadel launched new apps that will allow its UDesign custom design software to be used on iPad, iPhone and Android devices while also unveiling a self-storing leaf table and a line of smaller scale dining room furniture.

Steve BraniffSteve Braniff, left, director of the Dufresne Retail Solutions Group, accepts the Canadian Home Furnishings Alliance’s 2012 Retailer of the Year Award from John Power, CHFA steering committee chairman, at the Canadian Home Furnishings Awards gala during the Toronto market. Canada’s fastestgrowing buying group since it was founded in 2006, dRSG has grown to some 63 members operating 93 stores.
Laine Reynolds, left, chairman of the Canadian Home Furnishings Alliance, bestows the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award on Art DeFehr, CEO of Palliser Furniture, in recognition of his business achievements and for his contributions to society at large. At right is DeFehr’s wife, Leona.

     In a marked difference from the High Point and Las Vegas markets, TCHFM is gaining more support from the major appliance resources. Whirlpool Canada, Aga Marketing, Talia Distributors and Electrolux Canada were out in force showing off their latest innovations. The overwhelming majority of Canadian furniture retailers floor appliances and they note there really is no other venue where these suppliers can unveil new product.
     This was also an active market for the Canadian mattress makers. Sealy Canada rolled out its first-ever "developed in Canada" mattress collection, complete with a merchandising support program. Natura World rolled out its first "smooth top" mattress while Zedbed expanded its line of gel mattresses.
     Exhibiting executives agreed the trend seen among independent retailers in recent years away from buying and flooring imports to sourcing from domestic manufacturers gained considerable momentum at the 2012 edition of TCHFM.
     "Retailers are a lot more concerned about inventory," said Jean Favreau, vice president of furniture, bedding and appliances for Cantrex. "They are looking more and more at domestic manufacturers and distributors for their product needs."
     "There has been a shift back to domestic manufacturers," Palliser's Benson noted.
     Dynasty's Sunderji also attested to this shift, noting that his incoming order flow has jumped considerably in recent months. "We're working six days a week, so for us it's going to be a good year," he said.
     While retailers are always price conscious, exhibitors reported this was the first market in several years where price wasn't a key issue in the decision making process. This was attributed in the main to an emerging recognition among retailers that those consumers who are still willing to buy furniture aren't concerned about price.
     "No one was complaining about prices," Sunderji reported.
     While most industry insiders concur that 2012 won't produce record-setting growth for Canada's beleaguered furniture industry, they are confident this will be the year that the tide really will turn.

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