Atlanta market heats up
Thomas Russell -- Furniture Today, January 23, 2012
ATLANTA - Furniture vendors showing at the Jan. 11-18 edition of the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market continued to broaden their distribution to smaller furniture retailers and specialty accent and gift shops in and outside the Southeast.
And based on buyer traffic and order writing patterns, many said activity at the show bodes well for the next few months, if not for much of 2012.
Bob Lynch, a Southeastern rep for Century Furniture, said traffic was up 50% in the first two full days of the show. He attributed that partly to improved weather compared with the snow and ice storms last January. However, he also believes it could be a sign that the economy is improving.
"We had 50 sets of (accounts) the first day," he said. "A lot of people are shopping and feel that business is picking up. We are getting a lot of buyers. We usually get a lot of lookers."
The company had some bedroom furniture on display as well as upholstery groupings. But much of the mix consisted of accent, occasional and dining furniture designed by North Carolina designer Pride Sasser and sourced in the Philippines, Lynch said.
Upper end resources such as Hooker, Bernhardt and Wesley Allen also showed bedroom pieces as part of their lineup in the Charles Ray and Associates showroom on the 14th floor of Building 1. However, most furniture showrooms focused on smaller case pieces heavily adorned with floral displays and other accessories.
AICO primarily showed its top-of-bed line and some accent furniture in a new permanent Atlanta showroom. The goal was to open up distribution to a broader segment of accounts, including bedding stores and designers.
"We've had great traffic and what's really been wonderful is that we're seeing a largely different customer base," said David Koehler, AICO vice president of sales. "At High Point and in Las Vegas, we see the case goods buyers. Here, we're seeing specialty bedding stores, designers and many of the accessory buyers of the companies we are doing business with."
Chris Miller, national sales manager at home furnishings importer Four Hands, was especially excited by the strong attendance from West Coast dealers as well as from retailers from the Midwest.
"Lots of our customers have been telling us that their business is improving, and when you have strong representation from the West Coast and Midwest at a show in Atlanta, that tells me that the business is turning around," he said.
Miller echoed the observations of other exhibitors when he said, "There is lots of optimism here, and the successful retailers are investing in exciting new products for their business instead of dwelling on the economy."
He said he believed Four Hands' showroom was busy because "many dealers have a tough time trying to source globally. Since that is our forte, we are a one-stop shop for retailers looking for lighting, rugs, upholstery, case goods and accent pieces. I've had retailers tell me that we have become like a candy store for home furnishings retailers."
Marc Abrams of home furnishings importer Port 68 said the best aspect of last week's market was the optimism conveyed by his customers.
"Most of them told me that their business was better and they were open for new goods," he said, adding, "But perhaps best of all is that they backed it up with orders."
Upper end case goods importer Starbay USA showed a line of desks, dining tables, chairs, consoles, vanities and bars. Many pieces made with rosewood solids and veneers had British campaign style influences that have become the company's signature design theme. A newer group called Avant Garde features a line of Art Deco-inspired desks and other accent pieces made with American black walnut solids.
Company President Mark Hafer said that traffic was steady. "Expectations weren't high, but it seems to be exceeding everyone's expectations, so we're excited about that," he said.
While his company wrote some orders at the show, Hafer said most of the orders will come later, from interior designers and retail gift and accessory buyers.
Case goods specialist Furniture Classics showed a line of accent and dining furniture ranging from tables and chairs to drawer chests and vanity sinks. This market, the company expanded its space by about 25%, which allowed it to spread out the mix and "display it with the retailer in mind," said company President Michael Ricks.
He said he had seen new accounts from places like Montana, Wisconsin and Iowa.
"It seems to be a fair amount of new business," he said, noting that the mix of accounts included high-end interior designers and furniture stores. "Christmas seemed to be strong for a lot of people."
Englishman's Fine Furnishings showed mostly inline product bearing British traditional design influences. These included dining, occasional and accent pieces in its Charles Ashton collection as well as dining and occasional pieces in its rustic Age of Oak collection.
The company, which primarily produces furniture in England but also sources product from China, reported steady traffic from designers, small furniture retailers and seasonal retailers looking for smaller furniture pieces to outfit their stores.
A number of designers visiting the showroom had even picked up some new clients, said Anita Vreeland, Englishman's president of marketing and design. While not all the new showroom visitors wrote orders, she was optimistic that the Atlanta showing may yield new business down the road.
"There is some new business designers are picking up," she said. "They are having to gather information and go back to their clients, so it is not as quick in terms of decision making."