HNN Q&A with Tammy Covington Nagem, High Point Market Authority

In May, the High Point Market Authority announced that Tom Conley was retiring from his position as president and chief executive officer at the end of this year and that he would be replaced by Tammy Covington Nagem, the HPMA’s long-time chief operating officer. Nagem officially began her duties in mid-November, bringing more than 20 years of experience with the HPMA to the position. In this exclusive interview with Home News Now Editor-at-Large Ray Allegrezza, she discusses her goals for the position along with some of why she feels this is the best time for her to be taking the helm of the organization.

Home News Now: Let me begin by congratulating you as you transition into your new role as president and CEO of the Market Authority. I didn’t wish you luck, because luck is for beginners, and you’ve been with the HPMA for more than 20 years. How has that history prepared you to move the HPMA ahead in the coming years?

Nagem: According to Merriam-Webster, history is a chronological record of significant events, such as those affecting an institution. So, yes, I’ve been prepared by a history of almost 21 years of significant events. These include creating a Market-wide transportation system from scratch; reorganizing event security after 9/11; centralizing badge registration across all buildings; staving off a competing market in Las Vegas; withstanding the rise and fall of state funding; weathering North Carolina HB2, the “bathroom bill”; and canceling Market for the second time in over 100 years, due to a global pandemic.

Tammy Covington Nagem

From each of these events, I’ve learned to take nothing for granted and not lose sight of what’s important, which is taking care of people. I am grateful to have a team that is hardworking and loves High Point Market as much as I do. Together, there is little we can’t accomplish.

Considering all the changes the pandemic has had on our industry, a pessimist might say you are taking the helm at the worst possible time. The optimist might say it is the best possible time. As a journalist, I’ll simply ask you where you stand on this question.

Nagem: I believe this is the best possible time. Our Market events have made huge gains since Covid. It’s very clear our industry likes to meet face to face, and we love to experience the products in person. We want to hear the brand stories firsthand, along with what’s new from the experts who capture the trends. Experiential marketing had the highest increase in marketing spend prior to the pandemic; we understand the need for interaction is even greater than before. For these reasons, I am very optimistic about the future. I want to continue supporting the needs of our attendees with the current in-person format, versus finding other ways to do business. If we continue on this path, we will always be relevant.

My next question may seem very basic, but I often wonder if our community really understands the scope, functions and purpose of the HPMA. What is the purpose of the HPMA and has that changed over the years, or might it … and why?

Nagem: Simply put, HPMA exists to promote and coordinate the twice-a-year High Point Market. The organization was formed based on the needs of the industry, and in that way we plan to continue. Currently, our work includes setting the biannual trade show dates, marketing the event, handling registration, managing the attendee database, and directing all aspects of the on-site guest experience, for which our responsibilities extend to transportation, accommodations, educational programming, entertainment, security and more.

It’s true that some in our industry or community may not be aware of the extensive role we play behind the scenes of every High Point Market. You could argue this means we are doing our job. They do usually find us when they have a complaint! While we work closely with entities like IMC and the city of High Point, it bears repeating that we are an independent 501(C)(6) organization that functions as a public/private partnership.

Talk to us about your short-term goals and long-term objectives in your new role.

Nagem: Short-term, we are realigning the staff and addressing changes that need to be made for the upcoming April Market. Registration opens in mid-January, so the window is short to get things turned around for spring.

Long-term, I will be concentrating in three main areas:

+ Find new buying segments to attend the Market (and reengage with others). This comprehensive effort includes uncovering what prospects need to ensure their ongoing attendance, such as business education and mentoring, networking and other support.

+ Provide a frictionless guest experience, from the moment the attendee checks the box to register until they pack their bag to leave High Point. This has been a focus area for HPMA for many years, which we will grow to exciting new levels.

+ Engage with our communities. This includes the local High Point community as well as the home furnishings industry as a whole. High Point Market is a cornerstone for both groups, and I will ensure my team is continually seeking opportunities for meaningful

We have a solid foundation to build upon, and all indicators point to the fact that it’s time to take things a step further. I look forward to leading these efforts.

While the percentages change depending on which report one reads, they all agree that women typically are the decision-makers when it comes to buying furniture. Assuming this is correct, why don’t we have more women in key decision-making roles? Do you see this changing anytime soon?

Nagem: I think leaders are realizing that having women more present in higher roles improves their business. I think this is especially true in home furnishings where women have been key decision-makers since the beginning of time. I do feel I’ve been embraced by the industry as I prepare to assume the position of CEO. I trust this is because I have a proven skill set and because I will bring a new perspective to the role.

As a follow-up question, some would say our sector does not reflect the current gender/ethnic diversity of our country. Do you agree, and, if so, what can each sector (manufacturers, retailers, etc.) and the HPMA do to put things more in balance?

Nagem: We recently formed the Diversity Advocacy Alliance for High Point Market with this objective in mind. The alliance was created with a focus on advancing, improving and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the home furnishings sector. Our goal is to engage all areas of our industry in the work of the DAA, and to spread the word about the business growth potential that aligns with this very human-centric mission. As organizers of a major trade event serving the industry, we are uniquely positioned to bring DEI opportunities to the forefront.

Some say our industry is aging out. Do you agree and, if so, what can we, as an industry, do to attract young people?

Nagem: I would not describe our industry as “aging out” since several organizations within it work to cultivate the next generation of home furnishings leaders, such as the Bienenstock Furniture Library, the International Society of Furniture Designers and Women in the Home Industries Today (WithIt). The future is bright when the industry continues to expose students to the many creative, digitally savvy and design-oriented careers available in this sector.

For years, many in the industry have believed we could benefit from a catchy consumer-centric slogan like Got Milk? Or The Incredible, Edible Egg. Years ago, there was even a “Blue Ribbon Committee” charged with coming up with an industry slogan, but it never happened because they could not agree on one or who should fund it to get the message out. Should we have such a slogan and, if so, do we stand a better chance of the industry working together for a common good?

Nagem: As the organizer of an event open only to the trade, I’ll leave it to the many great furnishings brands within our industry to answer this one.

Last but not least — As an industry, are we doing a sufficient job engaging the consumer? If we could only tell the consumer one thing about our industry, what should that be?

Nagem: At HPMA, our job is to connect furniture exhibitors with buyers. I believe Market is a great platform for brands to share the stories of their companies and products which ultimately impact consumers and end users.

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