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Chicago Furniture Show

Chicago International Casual Furniture Show

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Wholesalers and retailers attend the Casual Furniture Show. It’s a place where manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers go to strengthen old and forge new relationships. It’s the place where retailers see and buy the latest designs in new innovative outdoor furniture that they offer to you in stores and on websites. Reading this article will provide you knowledge about the cyclic annual activity that the trade goes through to bring the latest selections to the retail market.

The Merchandise Mart

The Casual Furniture Show is held in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. The building is very large with showrooms and exhibitors set up throughout 4 floors dedicated to furniture. Many companies have permanent show rooms year round at the Merchandise Mart whereas; others exhibit only during the 4-day trade show.

The Vendors

The vendors are diverse and originate from all around the world. Products are made in the USA and others are made and imported to the US. Some vendors import products to warehouse them and resell them at wholesale to the retailers. These types of vendors are depended upon to be able to refill orders through out the year. Others vendors who import, flip containers to other wholesalers or retailers. Flipping is the process by which the vendor has access to overseas products and imports containers filled with the furniture and sells these containers to wholesalers or retailers by the container. These vendors never really take possession of the product they simply are a middleman. Retailers who directly buy containers from vendors usually get a really good deal by purchasing products this way, rather than placing orders a few at a time through distributers who warehouse the products.

The Retailer

One thing a retailer does not want is to receive bad product after going through all of the work of trying to find a quality product. So, seeking out a vendor with an attractive quality product is imperative. The bulk of the furniture is made overseas so as a retailer, one has to be very careful who you are dealing with and make sure you can trust the vendor and the product. That unfortunately usually takes experience.

Show Space

Casual Furniture Show
Chicago Merchandise Mart
For the vendors with permanent show rooms, which take up about 3 out of the 4 floors, it is a lot like walking into a retail furniture store when you enter their space. Large square foot areas with well laid out furniture displays. For the most part, much like a shopping mall, solid and glass walls separate these permanent showrooms from the other permanent vendor showrooms. One floor where most of the 4-day exhibitors are set up is noticeably different than where the permanent showrooms are. There is less privacy, makeshift walls or lines of demarcation to define the exhibitor’s space. The booths are generally small as compared to the permanent show rooms on the other floors but exhibitors can buy as much space as they need.

How It Works

As you might think, vendors are there to sell, or find parties they can sell to in the future and buyers are there to buy, or at least find vendors they can do business with in the future. Here is what goes on at the show. Vendors showcase their popular, new and unique furniture and accessories hoping to attract prospective retailers to their product line. Vendors are full of information about the latest trends in design, color and new fabric. The retailers listen carefully and ask a lot of questions. The vendors explain why the retailer should deal with them and what type of deal they can provide. The retailers wander from booth to booth trying to decide where they should spend their fixed amount of dollars earmarked for next years stock. Almost as important as the product itself is the perceived reputation and perceived ability of the vendor to provide the product. Retailers are dependent on vendors to supply the products when scheduled and warrant their products according to their Terms of Service. Deals offered by vendors at the 4-day show tend to drive the retailers buying decisions. Vendors will offer discounted deals on certain furniture that they are running specials on to those who make purchasing commitments at the show. Otherwise, retailers end up paying the vendors regular wholesale price if they commit later. These decisions to buy lesser expensive products definitely influence what the consumer sees displayed in stores. Not that it is a bad thing, because that generally keeps the retail prices lower with adequate quality merchandise, but it slices away at other retailers offering more interesting pieces because money is spent on the deals, not on the more expensive unique pieces not available with deals.

Predominant Displays

This year’s show was overwhelmingly predominated with wicker vendors followed by a much smaller percentage of steel furniture dealers. There is a good reason why wicker is the strong leader. It’s because this type of resin furniture is durable and will last a long time as compared to other types of lesser quality furniture. While strolling through the show, one could not help to notice the similarities in the furniture designs. Modern boxy style wicker collections of chairs, sofas, settees and sectional units were in just about every exhibitor’s floor displays. Not only were the designs very similar, the colors being shown were limited to about three basic colors, dark brown, gray and black. As a retailer, if this is the type of furniture you came to the market to pursue, it takes a long time to vet through all the different vendors and make a decision of who to deal with. There were a few dealers that offered unique designs, but they are far and few between. The higher end dealers had some very elegant designs that were simply to die for. Vendors such as Lloyd Flanders offered Made In USA outdoor wicker constructed in their Lloyd Loom All-Weather wicker process that was extremely elegant.   Although Lloyd Flanders offers resin wicker, this wicker is derived from special processes and materials that are not resin allowing them to develop quality. Whether looking for popular styles or uniquely designed furniture, retailers could find it at the furniture show.

Under the Hood

What’s not visible on the floor is product material quality, service and warranty handling by the vendors. In as much as that you find a good deal price wise on certain products, care needs to be taken into consideration to ensure the materials used in constructing the furniture are of high quality and who you’re dealing with can perform to high standards. Trying to determine the authenticity of the materials and wading through the jargon takes time, practice and networking. Talking to others and sharing information about different vendors can help in the decision making, but is not always a practical solution, especially when your looking to make deals while your at the show.

Related Furniture and Accessory Vendors

In as much that this is primarily a furniture show, it attacks other crafts as well. Exhibitors showed outdoor lighting, carpets and rugs, barbecue equipment, patio umbrellas, cushions, hammocks and more.


Attending an international furniture show of this sort and size is mind boggling to say the least. Vendors prepare and set up their product displays and retailers come by the thousands to review them and perhaps buy them. The volume of product is above and beyond what any individual wants to wade through on a given day. Preparing budgets, traveling and getting to the show and finding a match between the vendor and retailer can be quite stressful. One must search for quality products, ensure the quality is as advertised, ensure that offers of service and warranty are true. The work to evaluate the products and vendors is time consuming and at times futile. They all tend to present a good face.   Ultimately, retailers must move forward by making decisions about what products they want to buy and bind into contracts for that will bring the consumers new desirable products and profits the retailers need to make it through another year. Don’t forget to Like Us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter to receive more blog updates.  

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