WMC founder launches Virtual Market Center

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Jack Kashani, who co-founded World Market Center in Las Vegas more than 15 years ago, has created a new Virtual Market Center for the home furnishings industry.

Kashani launched Virtual Market Center, a digital platform, late this month. It features 3D exhibitor showroom tours and a slate of related tools designed to connect B2B home furnishings buyers and sellers anywhere and at any time. The plan is to launch soon into related sectors,  too, including commercial furnishings and kitchen and bath.

VMC can produce turnkey “digital twin” showroom tours, or it can upload existing tours already developed for suppliers. Exhibiting customers then have the ability to customize the experience with features that — offered in full — make the platform unique, the company said.

Through VMC, suppliers can connect buyers with their sales representatives in real-time and engage via chat or video conference. They can control showroom access, customize tours around specific visitors, curate products and generate purchase orders. And they can collect data on showroom visits and product engagement among other things.

It gives brands year-round use of their showrooms, and, “It’s also designed to give retailers and designers a convenient and engaging way to shop for new product and get content to help them sell their customers,” said VMC founder Kashani.

The new Beverly Hills, Calif.-based technology company is starting with three levels of service, each with customization options. Pricing for participating suppliers starts at about $5,000 and can top $50,000, depending on the level of customization and the experience the vendor is looking to create.  Kashani said VMC doesn’t charge fees to retailers, designers or any other customers of its vendor participants, nor does it charge commissions or transaction fees to exhibitors conducting business on the platform.

Jack Kashani

The VMC marketplace isn’t necessarily designed to replace physical furniture markets or market buildings, but Kashani told Home News Now it eventually could lead to fewer markets and the expenses associated with operating multiple showrooms, thus solving a problem both suppliers and retailers have complained about (and Kashani has been thinking about ) for years.

And at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has raised safety concerns, overturned travel plans and hindered participation at tradeshows, VMC is giving furniture suppliers and other brands a “second door” buyers can enter safely to see and buy products not only during a narrow market window but year-round, “maximizing their ROI in this new market reality,” Kashani said.

“When we began developing the VMC platform a year ago with the idea of helping manufacturers maximize their physical showrooms and reach more customers, we had no idea that we’d be launching at a time that this powerful platform and sales tool would be an absolute necessity,” Kashani said. “The market and showroom visit experience are possible from the comfort and safety of an individual’s office or home.”

That’s not something Kashani and former World Market Center partner Shawn Samson had to consider in the early 2000s when they began developing the Las Vegas market center complex. Kashani, Samson and other investors broke ground on the first nearly 1.3-million-square-foot WMC building in late 2003 and opened for business in July 2005.

World Market Center initially was considered by many as a threat to the High Point Market; now VMC is challenging the concept and practicality of physical markets altogether — or, at least, multiple physical markets.

It’s been about 10 years since Kashani was connected to WMC, but his earlier involvement did inform his development strategy for VMC.

“One of my concerns has always been the limited use of a physical market center and a tradeshow,” he told HNN.  “You have companies there that are showing for three days, four days. We all know markets are short or overlapping each other, and maybe there are too many of them. And they’re expensive and time-consuming and overwhelming.”

Kashani said he was thinking about all these concerns during his WMC days, “and it has helped in designing this project in a way to overcome some of those issues that a tradeshow or physical market center may have.”

Asked if a supplier would even need a physical showroom to have a VMC virtual showroom, he said, “I believe this could definitely replace the need for having any physical showroom.” But for now, with most suppliers exhibiting somewhere and usually operating multiple showrooms, the key advantage is, “They may now have less need to attend too many markets or too many tradeshows.”

While VMC said it’s the package of tours and services taken in total that makes Virtual Market Center unique, it should be noted virtual showroom tours have been around for a while now as have home furnishings B2B e-commerce platforms that connect buyers and sellers. Indeed, International Market Centers, which operates World Market Center as well as many of the buildings that make up High Point Market, has its own ShopZio platform. The headlines on the hero images at the top of the ShopZio website even convey a similar message: “It’s market every day,” Market is everywhere,” and “Stay connected to buyers.”

VMC is just now launching but already appears to have added virtual showrooms for many brands, including Phillips Collection (featured prominently in a promotional video), AICO, Prestige Art and Coaster. Kashani declined to say how many brand customers the Virtual Market Center has signed on or the degree of their participation.

Here are some of the key tools and features VMC promotes on its website:

vTour: Described as “an immersive 360 virtual walkthrough tour of any showroom from any mobile, tablet, desktop or laptop.” The tours can be self-guided, autoplay or curated.

vChat: The chat feature matches the visiting buyer with the appropriate sales rep and can include multiple participants.

vPlay: This refers to the pre-recorded and narrated tour feature, or edited product viewings that can be tailored to the showroom visitor.

vTag: “Dynamic content, from images to video to 3D models,” VMC said, designed to increase engagement.

vPOR: The purchase order request form embedded in tours, making it easy for a buyer or rep to add products and simplify the sales process.

vBiz: A business-center feature for exhibitors to access, control and keep track of inventory lists, tours, tours, contacts, analytics and more.

“I know a lot of companies are starting to have their own virtual showrooms produced,” Kashani said when asked about some of the digital competition. “Our platform is built as such that we provide the kinds of services (to) enhance the experiences. We improve the experience.

“They would be leveraging our marketing strategy and be able to draw in more visitors as opposed to just housed on their websites. So we’re giving them that marketing power  behind it.”

 In addition to the broad furniture and mattress category, VMC will serve verticals including commercial furnishings, home decor, lighting, kitchen and bath, and building finishes industries.

“What I say to everybody is … it’s instant access, instant selection, instant information, instant connection and instant trade,” Kashani said of the new digital platform. “I can find something in your showroom in a matter of five minutes, and then I can connect with you immediately. I can buy (a product), pick it up, and sell it somewhere else.

“That’s magical.”

Clint Engel

Clint Engel is a veteran home furnishings industry journalist and executive editor of Home News Now. Please share your feedback with him at clint@homenewsnow.com

View all posts by Clint Engel →

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