Editor-in-Chief Tom Russell takes some time to reflect on what made this past market a success
HIGH POINT — Coming out of any busy market cycle — one that typically starts just before premarket and ends right up to the closing day — gives you plenty of time to reflect on the event. That was certainly true following what’s been a breakneck pace of activity here at Home News Now, and we’re not just talking about preparing for and heading into market. This just happened to be one of our busiest periods in memory here with the publication of our latest Consumer Insights Now research, expertly fielded and presented by industry research professional Dana French. It also was our first cycle of daily newsletters published at market with the expert planning and execution by staff members of HNN and sister publications Décor News Now, Casual News Now and Bedding News Now — not to mention the sales efforts of our publisher Rick Harrison.
So coming off this market feels like a huge breath of fresh air not to mention a well-deserved recent weekend break as hopefully the rest of the industry got as well. In that period of well-deserved rest, I got to thinking of what made this particular market both vibrant and dynamic even if attendance felt a little off. Here are several key takeaways from what we saw and heard.
- Product introductions were quite robust in spite of reports that retail inventories are still extremely high. From everything we saw, suppliers came into market with the idea that they had to offer retailers enough product to choose from in case goods and upholstery. This ranged from Hooker Furnishings’ mix of product across its core brands including the newly named HF Custom, formerly Sam Moore, and its new M line, a modern lifestyle brand led by Becky Weber, a former Crate & Barrel merchandising veteran who is executive director of the new brand. We also saw numerous introductions at Bernards, which introduced its largest collection in years in collaboration with designer Stephanie Lena, to aggressive new launches at Magnussen Home, Klaussner Home Furnishings, New Classic, Lexington Home Brands, Bellini Modern Home, American Leather, Aria Designs, Sunpan, Nice Link Home Furnishings, Spectra Home, and Sherrill and its sister luxury brands, to name several that come to mind.
- The mood among bedroom resources was largely relief as they came into market with what appears to be a direction moving forward on tip-over. Just days before the market began, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission voted 3-1 to accept the updated ASTM F2057-23 as the mandatory stability standard for clothing storage units versus the previous CPSC standard that was originally set to take effect May 24. Just a day before the vote, one resource was vigorously testing to the CPSC standard in what appeared to be a complex interchange of weights added to the back of the case to determine the exact tip-over moment. This then led to a complex formula that would determine where their furniture rated on an ambiguous 1-2 scale to be identified on a hangtag applied to the front of the case on the sales flow. All that has been laid to rest as resources now will test their products to the ASTM standard with a more straightforward pass-fail test. Companies shared how they will plan to comply and what they expect to transpire between now and the effective date sometime in early to mid-September. Impacts on pricing remain unclear, but we expect that information to be available in the coming weeks.
- The social aspect of market was back in full swing with parties throughout the market. The message? These events remain critical to the relationship building and critical unwinding at the end of a busy day at market. Some of the major events were to be seen in new showrooms such as Hooker Furnishings and Legends, both of which sported stunning new showrooms this market, not to mention other events throughout the cycle ranging from the City of Hope at the Four Seasons Sheraton in Greensboro to the opening of the new American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame building to dinner parties hosted by Terry Seitz at his High Point home. To that list, we add a heartfelt memorial for industry veteran Bill Benton held at the PFP building in High Point that celebrated Benton’s many years in the industry with emotional and funny stories shared by family members and industry friends.
- Obviously it’s hard to know what type of business exhibitors will receive until after market as most large retailers don’t write orders for another few weeks. While that could be extended somewhat because of still-high inventories, most folks we spoke with at market said they received extremely positive reaction to their new products. However, a key message was that retailers will be very selective with their orders, in contrast with buying whatever they could get during pandemic-related product shortages. Buying in a more deliberate manner going forward will accomplish several key things: For one, retailers will likely better manage inventories. Secondly, they will freshen their floors with the most relevant, style-driven products suited for their individual marketplaces. Third, they will be buying product at more realist prices based on lower freight rates, a key factor needed to help fight industry inflation over the past 12-18 months.
- While mostly positive, the decrease in freight rates in particular also presents some challenges — namely the goods importers purchased when those rates were higher than what they are now. Those higher priced goods are now competing with product being produced and purchased at the lower freight rates so many will likely be taking a loss as they need to discount those products in order to clear out the inventory. Those discounts are also presenting a competitive dynamic for companies throughout the market —and between importers and domestic resources alike — as some might need to offer deeper discounts than they would like to continue to flow goods. The good news? As with the high inventories at retail, this situation won’t last forever as the product eventually will get sold. It just could take a little longer than some would like, which could impact overall industry sales and profits this year.
- Speed to market remains key as companies are refining their logistics strategies to become more efficient in the way they flow goods. A key example of this was Bellini Modern Home’s partnership with Normandin Transit which will allow it to ship its products directly from its Toronto warehouse instead of shipping from there to a warehouse in North Carolina. This added efficiency is expected to shave days off shipping times for those products, meaning that its customers should get products more quickly. And heading into market, A.R.T. also announced its plans to move its warehouse from the West Coast to Greensboro, North Carolina. In addition to product for A.R.T., it will also stock product for sister brands Caracole and Jonathan Charles. Others we spoke with at market also are shoring up their logistics positioning with new warehouse facilities that are expected to bolster their own shipping efficiencies to better serve customers. We will continue to report these developments as they arise.
That said, we believe market overall was positive even if attendance appeared slightly down. Remember that there will be another High Point Market five and a half months from now and another in Las Vegas in July — and so on — to add to these stories moving forward. For now, we will take all the positives and lessons learned from this past market as another big step forward as the industry continues moving ahead to its next challenges and opportunities.