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Tupelo to increase marketing, promotion

TUPELO, Miss. - This year marks a milestone for the Tupelo Furniture Market as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. With that in mind, Furniture/Today's editor in chief, Ray Allegrezza, spoke to Kevin J. Seddon, who recently was named the market's president.
     Furniture/Today: Who makes up the management team at the Tupelo Furniture Market?
     Kevin Seddon: The current team is composed of V.M. Cleveland, our CEO; me; Adam Cleveland, director of operations; Janice Coleman, marketing director; Debbie Henry, exhibit sales director, and Patsy Harris, our buyer recruitment director.
     F/T: What are the current stats for the market?
     KS: Today, the Tupelo Furniture Market utilizes nearly 2 million square feet of space across six buildings and is home to as many as 800 exhibitors and 20,000 attendees.
     F/T: What are some of the more significant changes the market is making?
     KS: After every market, TFM performs a complete review and evaluation of performance and of course, we take into consideration all input from both our exhibitors and attendees. For this upcoming fall show and for the upcoming show in February/March of 2013, our show participants can expect the following:
     ► Additions to the management team
     ► Expanded and more aggressive marketing to both exhibitors and attendees
     ► New exhibitor incentives
     ► Aggressive attendee, buyer outreach program
     ► New on-site promotions to generate traffic to every building
     ► New opportunities for associations and buying groups
     ► New offerings online for exposure
     F/T: Has the mission of the TFM changed since its inception and if so, how and why?
     KS: After 25 years and many, many successful events, it seems that we all forget why the Tupelo Furniture Market was so widely accepted and successful from its inception. V.M. Cleveland, who was then and continues to be a very successful real estate developer and business entrepreneur, noted the growth of furniture and upholstery manufacturers in north Mississippi. In fact, there is currently more upholstered furniture manufactured within 50 miles of Tupelo than anywhere else in the world!
     In any case, Cleveland performed a detailed due-diligence of the furniture industry and found that there was a desperate need for a large, one-level, furniture market facility in the heartland of the United States. He noted that the other market at the time was multi-level, expansive and difficult to navigate. It was also a somewhat expensive experience for a very large segment of the marketplace and provided more of a convention atmosphere and was not conducive to writing orders and transacting business.
     So, Cleveland was inspired to build a market that was centrally located in the U.S., easy to navigate, and would offer a no-nonsense business-to-business environment - all at a price that was affordable and allowed an almost immediate return on investment for all parties!
     One forward-thinking and unique aspect of the facilities built that was and continues to be well-received is the exhibit space itself. All six buildings and nearly two million square feet have been constructed to include a large, traditional open exhibit hall. Yet, this "pipe and drape" space is surrounded by high-end, built-to-specification showrooms. Manufacturers may choose to showcase product in a temporary pipe and drape setting, or they may showcase in more permanent showroom space - essentially, the best of both worlds.
     So, in answer to your question, our mission has not changed. However, on our anniversary of 25 years, we are re-committing ourselves to our mission of creating a streamlined B2B experience for buyers and sellers that is focused on profit rather than pretense!
     F/T: What does the TFM see as its core strengths and advantages and how is it maximizing them?
     KS: Among our many core strengths, I would list our central location, affordable exhibit costs, affordable hotel costs, high concentration of upholstery offerings, all-day shuttles before and during market, shuttles from all local hotels, complimentary buyer breakfast and dinner, one level, one-complex shopping, and the fact that close to half of the Top 100 buyers attend our market.
     F/T: What area or areas of the TFM is it seeking to strengthen?
     KS: Our plan is to greatly strengthen our communication with both our exhibitors and attendees. We will do this for marketing our event and through offering new services year-round for connecting buyers and sellers. We will do this through a variety of means, including but not limited to increased mailings and e-marketing, more outreach from sales, marketing and customer service personnel and a better utilization of our website.
     F/T: How has the recent merger of the lion's share of the High Point Market and the Las Vegas Market impacted the Tupelo market?
     KS: We look at it as an opportunity, frankly. Tupelo's strategy from the beginning has been to provide a cost-effective, streamlined, B2B experience for buyers and sellers that is focused on profit opportunities for our exhibitors and retailers that attend our market. Our focus is on business and not necessarily industry politics or to provide gaming entertainment. We do, however, have our share of things to do in the region - the third largest concentration of gaming establishments is located an hour away, Memphis' Beale Street is also an hour away and we provide events and entertainment for our guests each evening locally and on site. But again, our focus is on business and profit.
     I also have concern that this merger between the East and West coasts has no great benefit to the furniture industry at large. One could argue that it limits competition and creates an oligopoly of sorts. These types of acquisitions sometime only benefit the investment bankers or venture firms in the end. Only time will tell.
     Without Tupelo Furniture Market providing competitive pricing, this group would have minimal competition and this could lead to higher exhibit rates. Even with Tupelo Furniture Market, located in the center of the country as a very viable alternative, I assume many new companies, small and medium sized companies nearer the two coasts, probably cannot afford the price to exhibit at these other shows you mentioned.
     So, again I believe it will prove to be a positive for Tupelo. We have already begun to expand our marketing efforts to exhibitors and attendees nationally and within the central region of the country and we will attract those businesses that are searching for a fair shake.
     F/T: The Tupelo market has always had a reputation for being the place to shop for promotional upholstery. Is that still an accurate description of the market?
     KS: Yes. This has not changed. The upholstery business is still strong in this region and many furniture and upholstery companies from this hotbed region of the country, only exhibit in Tupelo. You have to come here to see what is available and take advantage.
     F/T: Are there new product categories or segments you intend to pursue?
     KS: Our focus has been on promotional and mid-range furniture and upholstery. However, we have expanded our marketing and targeted more accessory companies nationally. We have also set aside areas within one building where we will expand into home wares, art and accessories that would be of interest to buyers that attend the market.
     F/T: How is the TFM different today than it was five or 10 years ago?
     KS: Just as with every company in the country, we have had to deal with the downturn in the economy in 2008. Unlike other markets, we had no change in ownership or upheaval in terms of our financial position. With that said, the contraction in the marketplace had its affect as it did on everyone. Of course looking backward is not productive except where we can learn from history. Our plan moving forward is to invest in marketing and promotion and expand our reach nationally so that we can bring more buyers and sellers to our events. And, we will diversify and look for new product offerings and retail establishments that will benefit our target audiences.
     F/T: What are the TFM's short-term and long-term objectives?
     KS: Short-term: increase promotion and marketing of our events nationally, specifically focusing on our comparative benefits, which are many.... Increase "top-of-mind" by creating business trade opportunities for our buyers and sellers year-round rather than just during the fall and spring events. Long-term: be known as the premiere industry event for order writing. Simple, but isn't that what it's all about?
     F/T: What will the TFM look like 10 years from now?
     KS: Look for an even more
robust business that will focus on a multitude of ways in which Tupelo Furniture Market can be a conduit for business transactions between buyers and sellers. Also, look for diversification into ancillary or subsidiary markets, and a more national and international presence in the industry. We have already begun planting the seeds and some of what we plan to do will become evident in the coming months.

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