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Slower Traffic at High Point

Gutsy Vendors Make Gains

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, October 15, 2007

A dearth of new customers walking the market contributed to the visible drop in attendance at the High Point Market here earlier this month.

Home textiles exhibitors that came to market with lower expectations in terms of attendance and order writing seem to feel that their lower estimates were met in terms of business.

The cliché— the buyers that were here wrote — seemed to hold true for many home textiles suppliers, some of whom actually termed the market a good one. But for many, it was the lack of walk-ins that was the major drawback, and one that apparently has been growing in recent markets here.

The handling of the market, from a show management/exhibitor perspective, is also an issue that is growing — from the services in the IHFC building, to the competitive lowering of pricing between the IHFC and the Merchandise Mart's temporary spaces, to the actual timing and duration of the market.

Among the specific challenges was the apparent arrival of waves of buyers — those who came for Monday and Tuesday and left Wednesday; and those who came in the second shift from Thursday to Saturday.

"We had a good show, no complaints," was the way Judith Rose, principal of Textillery, summed up the week even though she said traffic was down. "And High Point is such an unwieldy market, you have to be on someone's list." The company saw some new shoppers "but not a lot; that's the difference between High Point and Las Vegas."

Rose added, "They still have to change the opening to a weekend. And there were no services in the IHFC on Sunday afternoon as people were closing down."

For Ann Gish, "Market was fun for me, I'm not unsatisfied." For her namesake company, the customer base was retail stores, serious interior designers, and people opening new stores in small towns, especially in the northern part of the Midwest.

Concurring that traffic was off, Richard Downing, president of Leggett & Platt's Southern Textiles division said, "On a positive note, the people who came seemed to be buying. Our new introductions were very well received in the collections by Donna Kaiser — especially Affluence."

"As I anticipated, there were not as many people and we worked a lot with designers both in hospitality and high-end housing," said Pamela Kline, ceo of Traditions by Pamela Kline. She also commented that buyers came "in two waves, the first beginning Monday, the second Thursday."

For Bob Pearce, vp sales DreamFit, "It was a great market; our product speaks for itself." To create interest, the company had major graphics featuring the products on the outside of its show building — as well as forging alliances in other showrooms and lots of salesmen's pre-market efforts, he explained.

The result, Pearce said, was "fresh foot traffic and orders, as well as orders from existing furniture stores and interior designers. Our product was more upscale in price points and design."

"It was pretty good but foot traffic was missing," noted Jesse Galili, vp, Hallmart Collectibles. "It's been slower and slower over the past few markets and it's a reflection of what's going on all around. The major retailers are hanging in; the independents are having a tough time."

To counter this trend, Galili explained, "Our philosophy is bring out more and change more and give more value. Buyers are looking for unique things."

A special asset, Galili added, "is our licensing program with Kathy Ireland. She opens doors; she's known."

"The market was only average in sales. But we only write a low single-digit percentage of our business at shows," explained Walter Chapin, president of Company C.

One element in creating a positive market for the company "was a big shift in perception that we are in the bedding business. It's taken some time, but we no longer are just a rug company."

Overall, he noted, "We saw mostly core customers, fewer new people — and there was a little more caution than usual."

The length of the market day is also of concern to Chapin, who sees the mandatory opening of 8 a.m. as too early. And he noted that the two major market buildings are vying for tenants with lower rents.

For Thief River Linen, "It was less than spectacular for us as we transition from fabric to bedsets," said Scott Bentson, co-principal. The company is developing a collection of bedsets that will cost between $500 to $800 — a program geared to designers and furniture stores. On a positive note, he remarked, "We took orders for the catalog that isn't even printed."

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