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Larry Thomas

Market ends on high note

HIGH POINT - Despite the industry's prolonged sales slump, most exhibitors departed High Point on a high note following an October market that saw an unusual amount of order-writing and a generally upbeat attitude from buyers.
     Exhibitors said many product introductions were well received, as buyers were interested in stocking their floors with fresh merchandise that would increase store traffic.
     Following a pattern of the past several years, Top 100 retailers and other large furniture stores shopped the market early - many were here several days before the official Oct. 22 opening - while department stores and big-box retailers sent their buying teams here toward the end of the market's six-day run.
     But in contrast to recent High Point Markets, exhibitors reported a considerable amount of order-writing. They said buyers often wanted a product shipped quickly and were willing to write an order on the spot to make sure they received exactly what they wanted.
     "People took their hands from their pockets and actually wrote orders - even though our reps could not remember how," quipped Tom Jordan, president of upper-end upholstery maker Michael Thomas.
     However, there was no joking about his company's success at market.
     "All of our new introductions were well received and a majority of the groups were sold for prompt delivery," said Jordan.
     His thoughts were echoed by Lorri Kelley, vice president of sales for the western U.S. at Palliser Furniture's upholstery unit.
     "Our (attendance) numbers were up over both April and last October," she said. "And we had an unbelievable order-writing market."
     Palliser's experience was typical of exhibitors throughout the 220 Elm building, said Heinz Kattenfeld, manager of the four-story structure.
     "Order writing was very significant in all of our showrooms," he said. "It wasn't just commitments."
     Doug Bassett, chief operating office of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture, said that attendance in his company's International Home Furnishings Center showroom was up 15% from last October.
     "We were not expecting our attendance to be up that dramatically," he said, adding that written orders and commitments were up as well.
     "Commitments were up. If we can put that to paper, then it will be a very good market," he said. "The next 60 days will confirm that."
     Rob Sligh, president of home office and home entertainment resource Sligh Furniture, said the company benefited from showing in the showroom of its new owner, Lexington Home Brands.
     "We had four times the amount of traffic we normally experience during an October market," he said. "We expected a big increase, and it was a very good market for Lexington as a whole. There was a lot of excitement generated by the combination of the two companies."
     Sligh added that confirmed market orders were the highest in two-and-a-half years.
     "We opened up new dealers where it doesn't conflict with our existing distribution," he said.
     Exhibitors said items available for quick delivery were popular across all furniture categories, and companies with domestic production were especially sought-after. That was especially evident in the popularity of the 16,000-square-foot Made in USA pavilion in the Suites at Market Square, said Tom Mitchell, president of home furnishings for International Market Centers, the building's parent company.
     "We're seeing a lot of interest in expanding that area," Mitchell said. "We're trying to encourage other exhibitors to have a display in the pavilion even if they have another showroom."
     Mitchell and other market executives said they were impressed by the upbeat frame of mind of nearly every attendee they encountered. The lengthy sales slump has made them only more determined to survive and even thrive during these tough times, executives said.
     "The attitude of the retailers coming here, despite the economy, was quite good," said Kevin O'Connor, CEO of Samson Marketing chairman of the High Point Market Authority's board of directors.
     Tom Conley, president and CEO of the Market Authority, said market registrations totaled 75,859, a 6% increase from October 2010 and 5% ahead of April.
     Of that number, 44,799 were buyers. That represented a 6% increase from the previous October and a 4% increase from April.
     "Economic numbers were stronger in September, with housing starts up and gains in consumer spending for furniture," said Conley. "In addition, many retailers had terrific Labor Day weekend sales, so inventories were depleted."
     Registrations for international visitors were up 13% over April and 11% over October 2010, and interior designer registrations were up 9% over April and 6% over October a year earlier, the Market Authority said. It did not provide the numbers of registrants.
     Editor-in-chief Ray Allegrezza, Associate Editor Thomas Russell and Senior Editor Gary Evans contributed to this story.

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