Considering the furniture industry is a pretty accurate reflection of the entire American economy, the just completed fall High Point Market wasn’t too bad at all.
While it was clear that quantitative attendance numbers weren’t going to be impressive, many exhibitors surveyed informally by HFN said their business during market was OK, some even going further and claiming gains in orders.
The fact that any business was being done at all could be viewed as surprising given the overall state of the industry.
At an opening morning press conference, industry analyst Jerry Epperson of Mann, Armistead & Epperson said the furniture business continues to suffer from a tough one-two punch: first the slowdown in the housing market and second, the tightening of the credit market. Both affect the big-ticket furniture business more than any other home furnishings classification.
“The credit problem will be short-lived,” Epperson said, indicating he sees a freeing up by the end of the year. The housing market, however, will remain soft through 2010, he said, when a robust recovery is forecast.
“This is the most challenging time for the industry,” agreed Brian Casey, head of the Market Authority, which oversees the show, “and the level of buying will not be what it has been in the past.”
But Casey said this is still the market where most companies make their major product introductions. “High Point is here to stay,” Casey said.
Preliminary attendance numbers have not been released, but Casey said more than 6,500 new buyers had pre-registered for the market and that attendees represented some 80 countries.
The worst hit area of the business is undoubtedly the middle, as both promotional product and the high end seem to be holding up, Epperson said. “The mid-market is what’s soft.”
“Anyone caught in the middle is in trouble,” agreed Farooq Kathwari, president of Ethan Allen, the big retailer that has pursued a trade-up strategy over the past several years. “We’ve seen more changes in the past 10 years than in the last 100 years.”
Kathwari tried to put things in perspective. “People are still buying. Even if 15 percent are not, that means 85 are. The sky is not falling.”—Warren Shoulberg