Monday, April 07, 2008

The Battle of the Furniture Markets

No one will ever confuse High Point, N.C., with Las Vegas, but that doesn't meant that there aren't some folks who prefer the former to the latter. Especially when it comes to the battling world furniture markets.

"When the World Market Center opened in Las Vegas three years ago, the furniture industry gasped: How could little ol' High Point compete with the bright lights of the Strip?" asks the Associated Press.

"But on Monday, when the High Point Market [opened] for its first show of the year, roughly 85,000 industry insiders will once again descend on the heart of North Carolina's furniture industry for the twice-annual home decor trade show that sets the table for what consumers will see in stores next season.

" 'Is Vegas good to have? Sure it is,' said Jerry Epperson, a furniture industry analyst with Richmond, Va.-based investment firm Mann, Armistead and Epperson. 'But I, like most people, don't go to a market to see Blue Man Group or Cirque Du Soleil, or heaven help us, a has-been singer.'

"Yet the owners of the market space in Las Vegas remain undeterred. They held their sixth furniture market in January and will have roughly 5 million square feet of showroom space by July. The group recently unveiled additional expansion plans — with the stated goal of replacing High Point as the home of the world's biggest furniture trade show by 2013. ...

" 'We've got to go where the business is,' said Alex Boyer, a spokesman for Furniture Classics Limited in Norfolk, Va. 'High Point still is, and for the very near future, will be the primary venue for us. But we had to look to Vegas. ... Some of our competitors are there.' ...

"The two cities couldn't be more different. Las Vegas is a convention haven: packed with tens of thousands of hotel rooms, restaurants, high-end shopping, casino gaming, golf courses and sunny weather. Life is a little slower in High Point, a city of roughly 85,000 where hotel and restaurant reservations are scarce during market season.

"While the Las Vegas market touts the city's amenities over High Point's more modest setting, vendors said it will ultimately succeed — and threaten High Point's place as the leading home decor trade show — only on the merits of the business.

" 'Vegas for us is still an unknown,' said Glenn Prillaman, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Virginia-based Stanley Furniture Co., which has 60,000 square feet of showroom space in High Point. 'What's unknown is if our retail distribution base is out there in the kinds of numbers that would drive us to be there.'

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