The ebb and flow of furniture markets

A strong market for some often ends up being a bad one for others

HIGH POINT — It’s often hard being the messenger in this business, even if the message appears to be good news. Perhaps especially when the message is good news.

That’s what happened recently when we reported the High Point Market Authority saying that this was the strongest spring market since Covid.

“Are you guys smoking crack?” one source asked.

“It sure didn’t feel that way,” another source said.

“Some folks may have had a good market, but from my perspective, the streets didn’t appear to be too busy,” said another.

The fact is, not everyone had a strong market. We figured this was an obvious, given the challenges at furniture stores, which continue to trail most other retail segments based on monthly sales tracked by the U.S. government.  

So in deference to those that didn’t have a good market, yes traffic was down significantly for some, perhaps many. These sources noted that while the major buying power was in town, traffic was noticeably less from smaller independents.

Others took us to task for our reporting on strong early order-writing at market, reminding us that in typical market fashion they mainly got commitments on newer product, which may or may not turn into written orders in the coming weeks.

In fact, there’s still some catch-up taking place as some retailers reportedly finally placed orders on products they saw six months ago or more.

Think about that — introductions from six months ago, if not longer, still haven’t made their way to some retail floors. Yet this remains a huge introduction market, particularly for case goods and upholstery.

The message? With all this new product being shown in more than 10 million square feet of showrooms in High Point, there’s a glut of product still making its way to furniture retailers, or should we say the real world. It’s not a message many want to hear, even if it’s also true in many other segments of today’s economy as well, from gifts and accents to apparel and musical instruments.

But given the number of places to shop at market, combined with a dwindling number of independents, i.e. those retailers going out of business as the owners retire, it’s no wonder market is better for some than others.

But this is nothing new. For someone who’s been covering market longer than they’d like to admit, it’s always been a competitive race for the most traffic, the most commitments and ultimately the most orders.

And what may be a good market today could end up being a bad market several months from now.  

This calls to mind an interview I had with a rep nearly 30 years ago, when the streets of downtown High Point were teeming with crowds of people not much different than the streets of Manhattan or Chicago. Times were good so you can only imagine the level of order writing and commitments back then.

“I had a lousy market,” the rep said. Makes you wonder what that same rep would say today if he’s even still with us.

But here’s a sobering message for the industry. While markets are something many of us still look forward to every few months, they don’t appear to be getting any easier for wholesalers or retailers to navigate. Faced with so many resources, retailers are going to be more discerning in not only how they shop the market, but also what they end up buying.

As one source told Home News Now, many retailers were shopping based on their needs for the next few months, choosing what they believe will move traffic on their floors, particularly during a typically slow season for furniture.

But the same source noted that looking further ahead, they also were shopping for newness, inspiration and must-haves. In other words, they’re trying to find the diamond in the rough in what otherwise might be viewed as a sea of sameness in both case goods and upholstery.

That said, some sources interviewed by Home News Now said they had an excellent market with traffic up from April of last year, again aligning closer with the market authority’s assessment than those who didn’t.

Regardless, the question for suppliers of all kinds of furniture is how they approach market altogether. For some, it might be finding a better, higher-traffic location. For others, it could be more focused introductions developed in partnership with accomplished industry designers. For others still, it could be honing bestselling collections in new finishes or fabrics, or adding new function or technologies to some of those same collections, thus offering a version 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and so on just as Apple does with its popular iPhone.

Traffic and business generated at markets will always ebb and flow. The last thing we can expect is for every single one to be as good or better than the last.

But making the product stand out and thus flourish amid all the 10s of thousand of market introductions everyone hopes to be a winner at retail will not only make for a good market. It also could help your customers win with the end consumer.

Is there a way to get them as passionate as the rest of us are about home furnishings? That could be the toughest job of all.

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at and at 336-508-4616.

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One thought on “The ebb and flow of furniture markets

  1. No question business has changed especially with the concentration of retail into major branded stores with multiple locations. A lot of these stores go to Asian markets as well so the overall purchases at the High Point market must be lower and nobody can track that and the exhibitors would lie anyway (^^).
    What is sure, is that worldwide, there are just too many shows. Those shows may make money for the organizers but the cost of exhibiting has become prohibitive.
    All I can say is that after attending and exhibiting in about 100 shows in my career, between the US, Paris and Asia, I am so glad to no longer have to worry about whether the upcoming market will be successful or not. Especially since the definition of “successful” has changed from writing a lot of firm orders you could take to the bank, vs getting vague commitments that may be written later and only taken to Sunday prayers 😊

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