Showtime shows some spark
Larry Thomas , Gary Evans -- Furniture Today, December 12, 2011
HIGH POINT - Packed appointment calendars were the rule at last week's Showtime fabric fair here as suppliers of fabric, leather and trim showed off their newest goods to an eager flock of furniture producers and designers.
Most exhibitors said traffic was brisk, and many of those in permanent showrooms reported a large volume of "walk-ins," which is unusual for a show that historically has been appointment-based.
But given the furniture industry's protracted sales slump, nobody was complaining.
"We ran into a lot of unexpected drop-ins and had to shuffle our schedules ... which are good things," said Martin Roy, general manager for residential at fabric supplier Victor.
Sackett Wood, president of leather supplier Moore & Giles, said his company's booth in Suites at Market Square was "slammed every day," while Jim Ennis, president of fabric resource Vision Fabrics said his booth's fabric viewing rooms were booked solid throughout the 3 ½-day event.
"We were showing fabric until seven or eight o'clock at night," Ennis said. "Our traffic was up quite a bit from June."
Graham Buckner, president of Golding Fabrics, said traffic was "very good," with record appointments and walk-in attendance one day and strong participation for the remainder of the event.
"We were run over with people," he said, noting that Golding has an open-door policy that encourages buyers to drop in without an appointment.
One strong area of business for Golding was retail fabric stores, but he said upholstery makers were also giving the supplier fair play. "They've been pretty steady upward for this year. The October market was a lot better than people thought and they're optimistic for Las Vegas and April (in High Point)," he said.
Roy was among several exhibitors who were encouraged by the increased interest in higher-end goods.
"Business is picking up a little bit," he said. "The customer is more open to higher-end product. Where they were going for patterns at $6 (per yard), they're now open to $8, $10 and $12," adding that the company even had heavy sample request on a $32 per yard fabric.
He said customers also were pleased that Victor's product is now 100% American-made with a lead time of four to seven weeks. And after acquiring fabric giant Quaker nearly five years ago, Victor "has proved to the market that we're stable and know what we're doing."
"We're here now and will be here 25 years from now," Roy said.
Another domestic fabric supplier, Se7en, also reported increased interest from furniture producers.
Mike Durham, CEO of the Burlington Technologies unit, said the company's jobber and drapery businesses are going strong, and incoming orders from upholstery manufacturers have been gaining in the last several months. He said the company had just made the decision to shut down its factory for Christmas week despite a need to keep running.
"Getting a cup of coffee or going to the bathroom felt like a vacation," he quipped about his busy schedule during Showtime.
Most leather suppliers were equally upbeat about the show, and several reported increased interest in color, which in the leather upholst ery business means anything but brown and black.
"We showed articles in shades of purple, orange, green and teal that generated a lot of interest, said Juan Diego Casaretto, president of Zenda Leather. "There were a lot of crazy colors, but crazy in a good way."
Wood, of Moore & Giles, added that colors delivering soft, pearlized looks were especially popular last week.
"We tried to focus on colors that are relevant for the season," Wood said.
Several leather resources also reported favorable reaction to new leather articles that were produced with a vegetable tanning process, which makes a hide more flexible.
"They were clear home runs for me," Rick Colford, president of Hulshorf Leather USA, said of his two new vegetable-tanned articles. "It was a great show."
Executives at Universal Leather reported favorable reaction to the company's recent decision to begin sourcing most of its goods from tanneries in Mexico. Universal previously relied solely on Chinese and South American tanneries, but believes the shift to Mexico will allow it to offer more competitive pricing and maintain a better in-stock position.
In addition, the company used Showtime to unveil its first offerings in bonded leather, which has become the cover of choice for entry-level leather sofas.
"We fought it for a long time, but we had to go with the flow," said Universal President Ken Kochekian.