An Insider's View

W.W. "Jerry" Epperson Jr. is a managing director of Mann, Armistead & Epperson Ltd., 119 Shockoe Slip, Richmond, Va., an investment banking and research company that specializes in the furniture sector. Online at
  • The I’s have it: Imports, inflation having their impact

    Do you ever feel like you are running in place? That can be explained if you are selling furniture. Truthfully, we are selling more units for fewer dollars, and sadly those more units have other costs like warehousing, inventory costs, transportation, home delivery and more, so fewer dollars can be really painful. But inflation has been running at minimum levels in the past 15 years, hasn’t it? Yes, generally speaking, that is true and one major reason interest rates have stayed low as well. Our problem is larger. We went back into our studies and looked at the 1980s ... Read More
  • After the storm: Finding the silver lining and other good thoughts

    We share everyone’s concern about our friends in eastern Texas with Hurricane Harvey. I cannot fully relate to their experience, but seeing the visuals on television is frightening. Our prayers go out to our friends at Gallery Furniture, Mattress Firm, Star Furniture, Dickson Furniture Manufacturers, Largo Furniture, Ladco Design Center, Chair King and many others. Houston has always been an interesting furniture city to me. It is like eight different smaller cities that offer different socio-demographic opportunities blended in one huge media market. Natural disasters are not pleasant to discuss, but the business side might deserve some mention. Decades ... Read More
  • Take heed … but be cautious and consider the source’s motivation

    Beware! This is the silly season for both economists and stock market mavens. All are seeking a rare opportunity at fame and fortune. The stock market, at 22,000 on the Dow, is an all time high, which flies in the face of the various market watchers who have claimed we are moments away from a free fall. Many are tempted to time a big report or press release saying, “Today is the peak; the market will fall __% from here.” I saw one just yesterday. The idea is that if you happen to be the one who is right ... Read More
  • Industry money makers: Mattresses vs. lift chairs

    At the April 2017 High Point market, it was interesting to see the contrast in two quite different product categories. Give Tempur-Pedic and Serta credit for creating specialty foam mattresses that consumers responded to and have been willing to pay up for. The mattress industry could use an iComfort-like introduction every year. High Point is not THE mattress market like Las Vegas, but there were several new imported mattress offerings that were almost too good to be true. They had premium exteriors with questionable innards but looked great. The intention is to offer these to retail at premium margins, pricing ... Read More
  • Remember the ‘good old days’? They sure were fun

    The furniture manufacturing industry that I grew up in was 92% domestically produced, dominated by North Carolina with upstart Mississippi gaining ground. The large case goods companies were adding upholstery to leverage their brand identities so the highly defined line between wood furniture and upholstered got blurred. Our pre-markets back then were Dallas and Atlanta, both in the off season from the spring and autumn High Point markets. If you were a key retailer or a friend of the president, they might let you peek at the top secret new collection that was coming in High Point, 90 days away ... Read More
  • A matter of logistics: There's no such thing as free freight

    Anyone who watches television will recall seeing many novel but completely unnecessary items offered for sale. Most, available if you act in the next 20 minutes, will give you the deluxe version with a built-in light, and tonight only, if you act fast, they will double the offer! You get two of the miracle things for the price of one if you pay the additional postage and handling. The additional postage and handling is always more than you would expect, but how can you pass up such a value, especially for something you will forget you own almost instantly? We ... Read More
  • Not too old to spend money on new furniture

    My wife and I are enjoying our new condo looking over Richmond. Some days we can see the planes going in and out of the airport, which only reminds me how much I dislike flying. We have been to several social functions and visited a few neighbors. Most are older that my wife and me, or as one of my friends describes it, our condo is for “the elderly and their parents.” Being as close to Williamsburg as Richmond is and being in the OLD South, we have always thought of Richmond as a dark wood, traditional furniture town. The ... Read More
  • New year may not mean big changes, but it brings hope for improvement

    "Just sit right back, and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful election ..." Just before November 8th, I was so exhausted from hearing the political babble that I began to watch reruns of Gilligan's Island and episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants. I can relate to SpongeBob's cynical neighbor, Squidward. We all know that January 1 st is just an arbitrary date, no different from any other day, but there is something refreshing about a new year. Add a new administration, even a controversial one, and we feel like there is hope for improvement and progress in ... Read More
  • October market proved to be a pleasant surprise

    Given the weakness in home furnishings sales in the September quarter, I was braced for a disappointing High Point Market last month, but the fall event was a pleasant surprise. First, the traffic was consistent for four days, a real rarity these days. Even Tuesday had nice traffic in the International Home Furnishings Center, especially on the accessory floors 2 and 4. Of course, this is despite several of the larger furniture store buying teams leaving on Saturday or even Friday before the market opens. Second, the exhibitors did not hold back on the new merchandise. There seems to be ... Read More
  • Slow growth or no growth: Where is our economy?

    Economics is called the dismal science. I have always thought of economists as people who are not afraid to be wrong all the time. The vast majority of economic statistics are showing very anemic, slow growth. Historically, the benefit of a slow growth economy is it can be sustained over longer periods of time. In the past, as growth accelerated, the economy would overheat, then go into either a no-growth or declining economy. That occurred about every six to seven years. The economy this decade has had very unusual and heavy burdens. First, it had to overcome the residual impact ... Read More
  • A few thoughts on the election and what looks good

    Halloween is almost here, but the real scary event is coming Tuesday of next week. Thinking about not voting? You are not alone. I made the mistake of going on Facebook recently, and some people are posting extreme messages full of undisguised hatred about the candidates and repeating them endlessly. Folks, get a life. Here is a clue: I do not care who you support, and no one else does either. The rational person — not necessarily me — knows that all this political jousting is exaggerated blather. Generalizations that someone hates an entire religion, race or sex cannot be true. Believing ... Read More
  • Baby Boomer homes, memories hitting market

    My wife and I will have been in our same residence for 30 years this August. It holds many memories of raising two kids, hosting friends and relatives, as well as now-gone pets and neighbors. Soon it will become listed as a “4BR, 2.5 bath, updated kitchen and bath, downstairs master, full acre, golf course lot, pool and much more in the prestigious Salisbury neighborhood.” Using the county tax assessment, the home is now worth 3.5 times what we paid in 1985. I am sure we could have done much worse. Although 17 miles from downtown, the golf ... Read More