Mood is upbeat at Trillium Awards with expectations met for excellent new products and a continued strong economy.
The spectre of Y2K has come and gone and, in a sea of fiscal uncertainty, world markets appear to reflect even the smallest white cap. Yet, the mood at the twenty-sixth annual Trillium Awards was positive, optimistic, even downright euphoric!
Ten leading retailers from across Canada spent two arduous days together, intensively studying the offerings of a record number of highly competitive home furnishings manufacturers. The Trillium Awards, initiated and managed by the Ontario Furniture Manufacturers' Association, "recognize achievement in the marketing, production, design and value of household furniture manufactured in Canada --- utilizing criteria based on appearance, construction, styling and saleability", a quote from the brochure distributed by the OFMA.
The Awards event is held the night prior to the opening of the big annual Toronto International Home Furnishings Market, organized by the Quebec Furniture Manufacturers' Association. Labeled this year as "Canada's High Point", the Market occupies three quarters of a million square feet at the International Centre, including the 65-plus permanent showrooms of Canada's Furniture Mart.
According to all reports, both the Market and the Awards experienced their best year yet. Stefan Wille, President of Aktrin Furniture Research, wasn't the least bit surprised. His recently published "Financial Health of the Canadian Furniture Industry" is an affirmation of dramatic progress in the industry, particularly during the late nineties.
Jean Francois Michaud talked about the "phenomenal growth" of the Market. Executive Vice President of the QFMA, he reported, "Over the past four years, we've seen a 40 percent increase in terms of square footage, and have welcomed 30 percent more exhibitors including many from the United States and a number of other countries, such as Holland, Turkey and Taiwan." In 1998, the Market added 50,000 square feet of space and, for the Year 2000 Market, an extra 30,000 square feet to accommodate about 100 new exhibitors.
In a release issued just prior to Market, Michaud reported, "The total value of home furnishings shipped in 1998 was $2.7 billion, with an increase of over 10 percent projected for 1999. Exports, which account for 50 percent of shipments, have risen by an average of over 25 percent each year for the past years to reach a record of $1. 3 billion. Figures for the first nine months of 1999 are already up by more than 20 percent over the corresponding period in 1998." This success has been reflected in the creation of nearly 20,000 jobs in the Canadian furniture industry since 1996.
Just after Trillium Judges had returned to their stores for the pre-holiday push, we interviewed a few of them to get reactions to the shapes, colors and trends seen during their Trillium trek to factories and showrooms assessing pieces destined to appear on their floors in a month or two.
Dave McCurdy, Lounsbury Company of Moncton, New Brunswick, talked of change. "Leather is a rapidly growing factor. There are more upholstered suites tailored without skirts, and we're seeing show wood and all types of shaped and turned legs. There are some good fabric and leather combinations; we've done quite well with them since they meet the requirements of a different price point. The European look is well interpreted, and there is a unique new look in animal prints. There's some really good stuff in casegoods, and much of the lighting is totally different."
Doug Piatt, Sears Canada, Toronto, was also enthusiastic about the leather presentations. "Leather quality, both grades and protection, is getting better and better and, accordingly, customers are getting a better deal. A few manufacturers are matching the legs of sofas and loveseats with accent tables, pulling a package together. That makes life easier for us and for the customer. There is a real market for leather/fabric combinations. Some manufacturers are dealing effectively with the condo mentality, scaling down to smaller sizes like the 82" sofa and less chunky sectionals. Lighting seems more contemporary. In casegoods, there are some new dark finishes and nice styling."
Smitty's Fine Furniture is well represented in four locations in southern Ontario, Pickering, Barrie, Hanover and Cambridge. Wanda Gillis, Purchasing and Merchandise Manager for Smitty's and, like Dave and Doug, a Trillium Awards Judge, shares their elation. "The wood trim of upholstery marrying with tables simplifies the purchase of occasional tables for the consumer. I like the wonderful big, tufted ottomans, great for seating and to use as tables. The surrealistic animal prints are fantastic, too! Canadian upholstery can hold its own anywhere now. It runs the gamut from country to traditional, and collections are assembled in a variety of sizes, again making it easier for consumers.
"There are many attractive variations in accent lamps; they can help the customer achieve an eclectic look without taking risks. In woods, the winning trend is countrified, less formal. And it's scaled down in size. It's sufficiently in the middle that it could well appeal to both country and traditional customers.
"Then there are some millennium 'space-ship' designs. There are some good metal sectionals and wall units. There's a contemporized glider/rocker that is more sleek and modern looking. And the bedding is extraordinary, with covers you don't want to cover up, some with gold and silver threads at the middle price point. At the higher end, beds are opulent, just beautiful, and supremely comfortable. Then there's the return of the feather bed!"
Durham Furniture won the Grand Trillium again this year for their 19th century Glengarry County Collection, a solid maple bedroom. The Summit Award for Canadian Content went to Dutailier for their "Avant Glide", an ergonomically designed glider-rocker, and the Summit for Design to Concordian Chesterfield for their plush traditional sofa. Once again, Decor-Rest took the greatest number of Awards, eight Trilliums and one Merit Award, for their upholstered furniture, both fabric and leather.
We extracted crystal ball comments from each of our Judges. Said Dave McCurdy, "We're anticipating a strong new year. People are buying, the factories are working flat out, business has been good and we feel sure this will continue." Doug Piatt remarked, "The economy looks really great. Y2K might create a little blip, but it's our opinion that things will just keep going. (Canadian Editor's Note: He was right, thank goodness!) Manufacturers are busy, and retailers are doing well. We're very optimistic that business during 2000 will be just as strong as this fall." And Wanda Gillis enthused, "We should all be excited about the boom in the economy. We're gearing up for a fantastic year!"
After the Market, we talked with Anthony DaSilva. Art Nova Furniture, a family business, has two outlets, one in Toronto at Bloor and Dovercourt downtown, and the second, Anthony's bailiwick, in the City of Guelph, Ontario. Also a Judge, Anthony discussed quality leathers, different looks in upholstery and cutting edge lighting, together with "some great new accessories". He also found the Market to be a good experience. "It was upbeat, very positive thinking. We had an interesting 1999 and people are perceiving the year 2000 the same way. There was more interest in accessories and that's good. It's about time retailers paid attention to accessorizing their floors. It makes it much easier for the retailer to sell and the consumer to buy, one stop shopping for rugs, lighting, matching tables." He praised Decor-Rest for producing an elegant match between rugs and upholstery. "I think the year 2000 will be a more consistent year, not so many highs and lows. The fear is gone, along with Y2K, and consumers will have more confidence. The stock market has been very active in the last six to eight months and I do see a correction, fluctuations of possibly 15 to 20 percent over the next year. But I don't think that will have a great effect. People are waiting to have good news, and I'm convinced that sales will carry on strongly for the next 12 months. People are sick and tired of doom and gloom. They want to have some fun, live a little!"
George Sinclair, Executive Vice President of the Ontario Furniture Manufacturers' Association, said, "I believe we are going to have a little less business in the year 2000 than in 1999, but between six and seven percent growth in real dollars. I expect the U.S. economy, our principal export target, to subside slightly, but not dramatically. If we come in at slightly more than six or seven percent, we will be flying again as we are now."
I chatted with a few retailers and designers during the last hour of the Market. Angela Simone, Martin Daniel Interiors, Toronto, said "Very nice merchandise, a good mix. The Canadian furniture industry is waking up!" Art Wynan, Wynan's, Port Alberni, British Columbia, "A pretty good Market with more lines of higher end furniture. I'm hoping for great things." Vicki Booth, Roomscapes, Richmond Hill, "In my area where my store is located we're having a housing boom. I've got to be busy, definitely!" Donna Jonynas, Caledon East, "An interesting and good Market with some unique items that certainly get the attention. I've ordered some really nice things and I'm definitely optimistic. I'm opening a new store in April." And Karen Timms, Decorating Den, "A great show! Merchandise is more streamlined, we're getting away from the ornate carved pieces. I think 2000 is going to be great, nowhere to go but up. The hard times of the past few years are beginning to turn around."
First figures from the QFMA tell us that eight to 10 percent more retailers attended the January Market. Not surprising when you consider the crowded halls and exhibitors' happy smiles!