This is the second in a series of interviews Home News Now conducted with retailers during High Point Premarket to discuss everything from consumer demand and supply chain constraints to the shifting role of markets.
HIGH POINT — This new invigorated Premarket is working for Jackson, Miss.-based Miskelly Furniture.
At a typical April or October High Point Market, the team of buyers from the Top 100 company would work for five or six days. Here at Premarket, it was more like three and a half days, “so we cut our time down by probably a third,” said CEO Oscar Miskelly.
“There are definitely more people than we saw last (Premarket), but it’s still much easier to work than the normal spring or fall market,” he told Home News Now. “And we’ve heard that from a lot of other retailers, that they love the way you can (get in and out) quicker, that you don’t have to fight the crowds and designers and everybody at the elevators. You just get a lot more done.”
So much so that Miskelly won’t be back for the June Market coming up in another few weeks. And that’s something else he’s hearing from his counterparts here, too. They won’t be coming, or they won’t be sending as many people in June. There’s just no need, he said.
“The challenge is shipping,” Miskelly said. “We’ll see it again before it ships, anyway. We’re seeing stuff we’ve had on order for almost a year that still hasn’t shipped. It gets to be redundant after a while.” A second look to clarify things before it ships is always helpful, he said, “but I don’t need to see it a third or fourth time.”
Yes, there were a couple of prospective suppliers Miskelly said he would have liked to see here this time around, but they weren’t showing. And even if they were showing, it would have been a pointless visit, anyway, because they’re not opening new dealer accounts, given the trouble they face taking care of orders already on the books.
As has been the case for many retailers HNN contacted during Premarket, the importance of one furniture market over another has been shifting dramatically for Miskelly ever since the start of the Covid pandemic and since unprecedented supply shortages and freight holdups began disrupting the industry last year. Premarket has risen to the top. The seven-store retailer hasn’t been to a Las Vegas Market since January 2020, and Oscar Miskelly said he doesn’t know when it’s going back, “maybe February 2021,” he said.
Miskelly hasn’t yet to come a First Tuesday event in High Point, either, and doesn’t plan on attending in the future for the same reason it won’t be back here in June. “We’re shopping every six months and still seeing the same thing,” he said. “If it was driveable, we might come (occasionally), but it’s not cost-efficient.”
So the question is: When things finally do return to normal, will Miskelly’s market attendance shift back to normal, too, or has this taste of smaller crowds and easier shopping changed things for good?
“That’s what we’re going to be looking at and making a decision on this fall,” he said. The pandemic and whether or not it is under control by then will affect that decision some, he said. But as it stands now, if the same record-setting numbers of exhibitors are showing at the next Premarket, he’ll be back for Premarket and maybe only Premarket. And that’s a new realization.
“We thought we’d come back to the regular market in the fall,” he said, “but if Premarket is still available like this, we prefer this.”
Here are some more takeaways from Oscar Miskelly and business partner
(and brother) Tommy Miskelly.
Maybe there’s room for more domestic goods. HNN caught up with the brothers in a very busy Vaughan-Bassett showroom here in the International Home Furnishings Center. Oscar Miskelly said his company doesn’t currently do business with the vendor, but with all the disruptions, and especially the soaring container rates on containers, some domestic goods are starting to look more competitive than pre-pandemic times.
About those container prices. Miskelly joked (sort of) that “$12,500 is the new $8,500.” He’s concerned that those prices aren’t fully factored into the actual prices retailers are paying for the imported goods they’re pulling from suppliers’ domestic warehouse programs. When that day of reckoning finally arrives, “we’re going to see some real inflation,” and it’s likely going to squeeze the smaller retailers who don’t flow their own containers. “So we’re trying to go more direct ourselves and price it accordingly,” he said.
Even without factoring in freight, price increases continue to hit retailers fast and furiously. “And we’re like deer in the headlights,” said Tommy Miskelly. “You cannot shock the retailer with price increases. We’re almost numb to it.”
A $1,499 bedroom group before freight and price increases, is now a $1,999 group, Oscar Miskelly said, “but consumers are still not blinking.” They will eventually, but for now, sales are hitting new records. Delivered business for Miskelly was up about 20% in 2020 over a strong 2019, even though stores were closed for three or four weeks during the lockdown. This year, business is tracking up 110% on a written basis. March was the retailer’s biggest month in history. April will be its best April ever.
How long will it last? Oscar Miskelly heard someone say that over the past year or so, we’ve been able to forecast fairly accurately three days into the future. “Three weeks is foggy and three months is fictional,” and he pretty much agrees with that assessment. That said, he’s expecting these levels of consumer demand to continue at least through this year.
Stimulus money continues to drive business, particularly at the lower-end, he said. When the checks hit bank accounts on Thursday, Miskelly sees a 35% to 40% spike in business at its promotional Miskelly Roomstore on Friday. “It’s immediate,” he said, not a drawn-out spending cycle as the business sees during tax refund season.
As long as interest rates remain low, Jackson’s housing market will continue to boom, too, as more and more Millennials take the plunge into homeownership, he added Despite rising home prices, Jackson’s housing market is stronger today than it was back in 2004 and 2005 when the housing bubble was inflating.
Despite all the backlogs, Miskelly was here looking for new product, too, not just anything suppliers could ship today. “We’re buying stuff that probably won’t ship until 2022,” he said. “Right now we’re buying whatever we can and hoping some of it will ship.” Miskelly has groups on its floors it would love to discontinue, but it just can’t find anything to replace it with, and there hasn’t been a rush to switch it out because the demand remains so strong. He knows that will eventually change and he wants to be ready with fresh looks and values when the day comes.
“What’s that saying?” he asked. “When the tide goes out, you see who’s swimming naked? Well when the tide goes back out (in the furniture industry), we’re going to find out what groups are really good, because right now, the customer is buying anything you can get.”