Order-writing picks up in seating

Gary Evans, Powell Slaughter, November 2, 2009

Stationary upholstery makers at the market here said they saw more buyer optimism than they had in recent markets, reflected by better order-writing.

Now they're back in their factories, hoping the enthusiasm will hold.

Attendance at the fall event varied from packed to sparse in showrooms, and ebbed and flowed throughout the week as market started slowly on the weekend, got busier Monday and Tuesday, then slowed again on Wednesday. By closing Thursday, traffic was sparse.

Overall, nobody seemed to complain — at least very loudly. Several executives said orders were up, with the caveat that the last couple of markets provided a low base for measurement.

“We found that people are buying and there was across-the board acceptance of our products,” said George Jordan, president of Miles Talbott, which has an outlying showroom on English Road. “I can tell you from last market it's been a big jump.”

Richard Graves, vice president of sales and marketing for Southern Furniture, said buyers were slow getting to market, staying in their stores over the weekend despite the official opening on Saturday, Oct. 17.

“We had some quality people, and not just tire-kickers,” he said. “They're not complaining. They're buying what they see and what they want.”

Exhibitors said upholstery buyers at market focused on looks and color to freshen their sales floors, and on good values to entice consumers.

Two-year-old Westgate, which has moved from importing to domestic production in Taylorsville, N.C., said it benefited from both trends.

“We opened 10 to 15 new accounts every single day,” said Jean Brown, named the company's president and CEO in March. She said buyers filled “a need in the mid tier” for products that have been upgraded with better fabrics, looks and construction amenities that include feather blend construction as standard.

Upper-end upholstery and case goods vendor French Heritage also saw traffic pick up Monday after a strong pre-opening Friday and a “quiet” Saturday and Sunday, according to Henessy Wayser, executive vice president, and Laura Whipp, the company's public relations specialist.

Whipp said buyers made stronger commitments than at the previous market here in April. “It's finally turning around,” she said, adding, “They said it was going to be better in 2010, and we're seeing some increase.”

Meredith Younger of Younger Furniture, which shows at 220 Elm, said the company “had good steady order-writing so we've been very happy with it.” The company's best seller was Flair, a transitional group with roll arm and a lot of look to retail for $1,200 to $1,300.

Younger said price isn't always first on buyers' minds.

“They're looking for that new fresh look to get sales up, and to get back into the game,” she said.

Tom Jordan, president of Michael Thomas, who doesn't usually mince words, also was pleased with market.

He said “the level of enthusiasm has been the best we've seen in a long while.”

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