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Furniture Industry Weighs In On the Value and Future of Markets

Is it Covid that has changed the way the industry looks at trade shows—or was that already happening before the pandemic hit?

In 2021, there were fewer markets because of Covid, and that may be the case in 2022 as well.

Just look at all of the markets that were already postponed in 2022—CIFF, VIFA Expo, Salon De Mobile, Malaysia EFE, Maison Object—and that’s not even the full list.

But in terms of the markets that did happen, how were they in terms of productivity?

EmmaMason CEO Lenny Kharitonov, says markets were less significant, and that we might see that continue.

“As a retailer, we have a number of different retail operations in the furniture space, and I think the markets are becoming much less important,” he says. “The reason for that is because markets offer an opportunity to see a new product and figure out where the design direction is going and meet with vendors, and right now, the industry is really depleted. Plus, what I see in my own business, and that of my peers, everyone’s focused on logistics, and everyone’s focused on getting product. When I go to market, I’m not interested in the new introductions that you have. Just please give me something that you haven’t already sold.”

However, he doesn’t see markets as a waste of time. He says they provide excellent networking opportunities, which are “always valuable.” 

“People will continue to go to markets, but I don’t know what the attendance numbers are,” Kharitonov continues. “I have to believe that they’re way down from 2018 and 2019, and I think we’ll continue seeing that.”

Tom Conley, president of the High Point Market Authority, says he heard a great analogy to sum up the situation: With Covid, it’s a whole new ball game. But we’re only in the third inning.”

“That’s a great quote, and I wish I I wish I’d said it, because, quite frankly, I don’t think anybody really knows what the end is,” he says. “We all have a lot of ideas and suspicions but we just don’t know for sure.”

What Conley says he does know, is that there will continue to be people going out of business, and there will continue to be mergers and acquisitions. And so the pool from which people that sell space can pull from will be smaller. “There’s no question in my mind about that,” he adds. 

He explains that networking is extremely important, specifically for sales reps who sometimes only get the opportunity to talk to the principles of the company at markets, but that brick-and-mortar retail buyer attendance continues to shrink while the designers and architect segments grow. 

“From a tradeshow perspective, we’ll see the same or more buyers coming to the market, but the mix will be very different,” he says. “And that’s just a reflection on reality. The supply chain has not been fixed. It isn’t even close to being fixed, as I’ve seen estimates from six months to 18 months. It will be a gradual fixing.”

However, there’s no idea of when things might settle down. Freight prices are coming down for trans ocean shipments, but the shortage of truck drivers is not abating. 

“So does that mean that if I can’t have as many new products as I had before—if the new products are more expensive— do I as a buyer need to attend quite so many trade shows?” he questions. “That’s going to be a real challenge—figuring out how to enhance the value proposition, for any trade show.”

And that’s just one big question the FAM came upon when it reached out to industry members.

Others include: 

  • What is the market competition like for me? 
  • What is the market cycle accomplishing for me? 
  • What creates success along the way? 
  • What role does the market serve for me today? 

Lael Thompson, chief operations officer at Home Collections Furniture, says that because of questions like these, there’s a shift in behavior when it comes to trade shows.

First off, the educational component has become even more important. ”One of the big reasons we go to market is to learn—and whether we’re learning from each other or from the speaker—we want to go home with something we can put to use in the business to make more money, be more efficient, and run a better business,” Thompson says.

With Covid preventing people from coming to the usually event-full market, networking hasn’t been as strong as it was in the past. This temporary end to in-person interaction and the related extended safety measures also put a temporary end to the personal feel markets. 

Thompson says the future of the market depends on what level of value show providers are able to give to the attendees. “Because if you can’t make it valuable to the attendees, then you’re not going to get that attendance, the vendors aren’t going to want to pay the rents—it’s the snake eating the tail,” Thompson explains.

“I think the future markets is good if we can continue to evoke the old school passion of the industry,” Thompson continues. “And the heart of the industry has always been people and the relationships”

Will markets ever get back to normal?

Thompson and Conley both think there’s a good possibility, but it could take years. And if Covid continues to keep surging in waves, that very well might be true.

Kharitonov is more optimistic. “There’s a new focus on the home,” he says. “And there’s a new focus on people working remotely. Once things like the pandemic and logistics kind of normalize, I think markets will come back and be stronger than they were in the past.”

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