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High Point Furniture Market: 'It's our Super Bowl'

HIGH POINT — The High Point Furniture Market is back, live and in person. 

The fall market ran from Oct. 16-20 and is open to furniture manufacturers, designers and retailers -— both brick-and-mortar and digital e-tailers. It is the largest home furnishing trade show in the world.

The furniture trends that shoppers will see in showrooms next spring are on display now in the 11.5 million square feet of showcases in the heart of downtown High Point.

Asheboro’s Klaussner’s Home Furnishings occupies 90,000 square feet of that showcase space in a building that covers a city block at 101 N. Hamilton St. in High Point. The facility has been open since 2011.

Klaussner maintains its headquarters in Asheboro and manufactures over 70 percent of its products domestically through its five manufacturing campuses in North Carolina. 

Len Burke was in High Point on Tuesday, Oct. 12, along with many other staffers and independent contractors getting ready for the expected flow of customers. Burke is Klaussner’s vice president of marketing. 

From the lobby, he touched base with designers, electricians and market staff. As he monitored the last minute adjustments, the first orchids and floor palms were just starting to arrive to grace the company’s display areas.

“Those are the first plants that have been in here since 2019,” he quipped as he looked down from the building’s second floor open staircase.

To be clear, according to Tammy Nagem, the market only missed one opening over the duration of the COVID pandemic. Nagem, the High Point Market Authority chief operating officer, said the event closed for the spring calendar in 2020. That had not happened since World War II, she said.

However, every other market has gone on since the first whispers of a possible pandemic in fall of 2019, albeit with many restrictions in place to protect staff and attendees, Nagem said.

But Burke said this fall market feels more like those that preceded the pandemic. 

Nagem said each year the market attracts more than 72,000 attendees from all 50 states and around the world. She estimates more than 1,600 exhibitors will showcase their products in every home furnishing category. That’s down slightly from around 2,000 prior to 2019.

The market supports 25,014 jobs directly and a total of 42,427 jobs when auxiliary industries like food service and hotel/motel industries are included, according to an economic study performed for the authority by Duke University Global Value Chains Center (2018). Burke said that’s why the market isn’t just important to High Point. It’s important to the region because it impacts the livelihoods of thousands of people. 

“Market sets the tone for the next six months,” he said. “It’s our Super Bowl.”

Burke said, without a doubt, the pandemic made businesses change the way they were doing things. The spring and fall furniture markets were always important to the industry, he said, and they still are. But with retail and commercial partners changing the way they traveled and health restrictions in place, Burke said Klaussner had to evolve the manner in which it did business.

“A lot of people went dark with COVID – we didn’t,” he said. “We never shut down production. In fact, we ramped it up. And we never stopped developing new products.”

The company went to a 12-month operation at its showroom. Before the pandemic, Klaussner (like most other furniture companies in High Point) opened its showroom only twice a year. Displays were set up and then broken down in a mad flurry of activity biannually. Now, Burke said, retail and commercial partners can make arrangements to come to the showroom at their convenience.

“We had to be available when they want to come,” he said.

Klaussner also participates in the industry’s First Tuesday initiative, launched in January of this year. On the first Tuesday of each month, some of the city’s showrooms open by appointment for vendors to display new product and for retailers who might miss the spring and fall markets to touch base for more personalized networking opportunities.

The company moved heavily into the digital realm, too, he said. The marketing outreach is called “Klaussner’s showroom on the road,” he said. He said it allows Klaussner to digitally take the company’s 15 collections to retailers 12 months a year.

Those collections include Klaussner’s Curated Collection by Distinctions and six popular collections created in cooperation with country music celebrity, Trisha Yearwood. Branded as Trisha Yearwood Home, the collections feature furnishings for the bedroom, dining room and living room.

“Trisha has a wide and broad demographic reach from her country music fans to her cooking shows and affiliation with Williams and Sonoma,” Burke said. “We began our association with Trisha in 2015 with the launch of our Trisha Yearwood Collection and it is still a best seller.”

Even as Burke welcomes a return to a more normal fall High Point Market, he acknowledges a lot of what the company has done to stay competitive in the past two years will become standard operating procedure moving forward.
“Some of the changes were in the works — like expanding our digital presence. COVID just moved up the timeline,” he said. “Other things, like our 12-month marketing outreach, had to happen to keep us in business and we will continue to build on that.”

Nagem said the industry will continue to face challenges. Covid has been a difficult course to navigate but she said the current supply chain issues may turn out to be a tougher challenge. As materials and product from all over the world sat bottled up in harbors in Los Angeles, Charleston and Savannah, furniture manufacturers and designers will have to continue to innovate.

“The demand is there,” she said. “And we will be working hard to deliver.”