The furniture industry always seems to have a hot topic of conversation during market weeks. In the past, it was about moving manufacturing out of China, the emergence of e-commerce or, more recently, insanely high ocean freight rates.
So as the industry gathers starting this weekend in High Point, it seems an appropriate time to talk about … well, what people will be talking about. Here’s my prediction on the top five questions that will be asked among retailers, suppliers, designers and those who come to town just for the love of big wooden boxes.
1. Who’s next?
With the demise of four significant furniture suppliers over the past 12 months, tensions are high on whether there are more to come. Bankruptcies among Lane brand owner United Furniture, Klaussner, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams and Noble House have clearly spooked many, leading many to wonder if this trend is just the tip of the sawdust iceberg.
2. How do we get off the housing cycle treadmill?
The furniture industry and the housing market are inextricably linked. Real estate has been in a slump for most of 2023, and next year promises only a slightly better housing environment. Since the endless promotional parade is no longer working its magic—at least not enough to offset the current market doldrums—retailers and suppliers alike are looking for new business hooks. Nothing has emerged at any scale yet, but credit to those who are talking about new ways to sell furniture.
3. Are markets back, bigger and better?
Based on the wholly unscientific tote bag-and-mimosa index, High Point has largely returned to pre-pandemic attendance and exhibitor levels. Still, maybe showrooms are a few square feet smaller, retail buying contingents are a little scaled back, and interior designers continue to make up an increasingly large percentage of visitors. The industry is still doing its postmortem to evaluate what the new normal actually is.
4. What is the fate of High Point off-season?
The city has perhaps its best shot in decades to establish some kind of year-round presence for the industry and tourists alike. Open-all-year showrooms, including the Congdon Yards complex, and the opening of the Hall of Fame, are strong signs of life after market. Combine that with minor league baseball and a major league university, and there is potential for the year-round retail economy that’s been talked about so long.
5. When will things get better?
Since the explosion of business in the early stages of the pandemic, the industry has been struggling with its post-Covid hangover. As inventory levels across the supply chain are processed, and demand and stock levels stabilize, there are hints that business is getting a little better, creating a climate going into 2024 where conditions will improve. Probably.
How many of these conversations will you be a part of this week … in between the mimosas and tote-bag snags? Have a good market!
Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.