Weekend in High Point: Furniture Market, the Sequel

       

       

 HIGH POINT, N.C.–It’s not light yet … but it’s getting there.

With all due apologies to Bob Dylan, the furniture industry is beginning to see the first tangible signs of a recovery from what has been arguably the darkest days in its modern history.

The High Point Market—the biggest furniture and accessories show on the planet—kicked off over the weekend and while hard numbers are few and far between, the overall mood up and down the 11 million or so square feet of exhibition space around town was the most positive it had been in a number of markets.

“It’s about time,” said Brian Casey, who heads up the Market Authority, the organizing group for the market, at an opening morning press conference. “We’re trending ahead of the last four markets for opening day traffic and it’s one of the strongest markets we’ve seen in a long time.” Attendance numbers will not be released until after market closes at the end of the week.

Executives with major exhibiting companies echoed those sentiments, with perhaps just a slight hint of skepticism that the recovery was really happening. “None of our dealers has been able to put together three straight weeks of good business,” said one case goods company president, in acknowledging that at least there were finally some strong stretches of business out there.

Furniture has traditionally been one of the last home furnishings categories to come out of a business downturn simply because it is a big ticket item that is usually highly postponable. Unfortunately it is also one of the first into recession for the very same reason.

While the mood was upbeat over the opening days of market, there was no disputing that the scars of the past few years were clearly evident around town. Extensive vacancies in outlying showroom buildings all throughout town showed that more vendors have left the market than perhaps many people thought. Leasing activity continues to be robust in the core properties in town, particularly the main International Home Furnishings Center complex.

Nevertheless, the majors were showing plenty of new product at all levels of the market. Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic line debuted at several vendors while other celebrity names, from Kathy Ireland to Jane Seymour to B. Smith all showed new products. Esquire became the latest media property to lend its name to furnishings while the Keno Brothers of Antiques Roadshow fame also launched a new namesake collection.

It remains to be seen if the enthusiasm at market will translate into sustainable hard numbers. But psychologically, the tide has certainly turned. “People are feeling encouraged about business this year,” said Ireland, the former model turned home mogul. “It’s a new day for the industry and it’s a good day.”