High Point gets mixed reactions

Gary Evans, Carole Sloan, April 28, 2003

HIGH POINT, NC In a market that began with significantly lower than usual expectations, the International Home Furnishings Market here earlier this month wasn't as bad as anticipated, according to a number of home textiles exhibitors.

In fact, the home textiles exhibitor base is expanding, a number of long-time exhibitors noted, but exact numbers are difficult to come by since rep firms are counted as single exhibitors and often have several non-competitive home textiles suppliers within their networks.

Interior designers and furniture stores are the major distribution channels for the home textiles exhibitors here, although a number observed that there are more and more mainstream retailers — Costco, Linens 'N Things, Strouds and the like — shopping here for new suppliers.

For those exhibitors in the bedding segment, customization is the hallmark of their lines. Price points for complete beds including decorative pillows and accessories often come to several thousand dollars at cost.

International customers, a major distribution target for home textiles exhibitors here in the past, have been declining in recent years due to a succession of reasons — the high dollar value, terrorism fears and, this time, the war in Iraq.

But while High Point offers distribution and marketing elements different from New York, there are a few who are pulling out. Susan Sargent closed her showroom here, primarily as a result of her expanded licensing activities. And this was the last market here for Anichini, said Marty Dollenmaier, vp. "Traffic was terrible. We did OK in the end. But though we wrote enough to cover expenses, we can put the three of us on the road and do more."

At the same time, Dollenmaier noted that 45 percent of the company's business in High Point is from designers vs. 10 percent to 15 percent overall for the company. "We're really focusing on them this year across the country. They can be really loyal customers — and very lucrative."

"We're reaching more designers," said Linda Bentson, president of Thief River Linens, "but we're working with furniture stores as well; and they're using our customized programs." Home builders are a new target market for the company, Bentson added. "It's a whole major market we hadn't looked at before."

Thief River, which moved to a larger space here this market, "was satisfied with the new people we met, as well as our old customers who found our new location. We didn't come in with huge expectations."

For Ann Gish, owner of Ann Gish Inc., "The market here is very serious. No one does it unless they have to." Despite the low expectations, Gish added, "We opened a lot of new accounts among interior designers, retailers and furniture stores. We find there are a lot of people who shop here because they're looking for new looks."

Comparing New York market with the market here, Gish added, "There's no comparison. We show during that market as a courtesy. Many customers are going to the gift show instead."

For Adam Tager, one of the new owners of Mystic Valley Traders, the market here was a learning experience. The company focused on its strengths — two quick-ship programs and two custom programs — that are targeted to furniture stores and interior designers.

For Eastern Accents, the company's international customer base was largely absent, "but we saw 85 percent of our regular customers," said Karen Jacobson, director of sales and marketing.

"It was a fairly good market since we are increasing market share" across distribution channels including furniture stores, interior designers, home accent stores and model homes, Jacobson said.

The Eastern Accent line and the new contemporary Feathersound collection are designed across the board, while Leyla is geared more to the gift and novelty markets, Jacobson explained. Savoy is the luxury sheet collection "marketed as accessories to Eastern Accents and Feathersound, and shown in both showrooms," she said.

For Christian Mosso, a rep firm with 42 companies on its roster, a hit this market was Settings by Mona, a luxury bedding company. "We see half specialty gift stores and half furniture and home accessory stores," Mosso explained. "Mona had a wonderful market."

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