retail watch | Jan 21, 2021 |
Early home markets point to new show patterns

With the conclusion of the year’s first two major home and gift trade shows—two weeks ago in Dallas and last week in Atlanta—a new pattern of how retailers and designers work markets is starting to evolve.

Both the Dallas Total Home & Gift Market and the Atlanta Market were significantly better attended than their counterparts last summer, although they still trail historical levels of buyer activity. Each reported lower head counts but ordering numbers much closer to pre-pandemic levels. Both the Dallas Market Center and AmericasMart Atlanta had strict safety protocols in place, and they were largely adhered to by both buyers and sellers.

Much as the market weeks were defined by the sight of buyers wearing masks, the avoidance of tight quarters like elevators, and the absence of social events, other new models and paradigms have emerged, some of which could transform the business for years to come.

  • Traffic patterns in buyer attendance veered from historical levels. Both Dallas and Atlanta reported as many as a quarter of those who showed up were first-timers, indicating that retailers and designers may be choosing events that are more convenient to get to or that they feel safer attending.
  • More buyers seem to be attending market complexes off-market. Day-to-day business has always been a strong component of the Dallas Market Center, but now it is on the rise in Atlanta, as well. High Point Market has instituted a First Tuesday program to encourage retailers to work its furniture buildings between markets. And Las Vegas Market, which was postponed till later in the year as the city struggles with the pandemic, will hold an appointment-only event during its previously scheduled market week later this month, as stores look to minimize social interaction.
  • Exhibiting vendors and sales agencies are adapting to the new environment with enhanced digital tools that make virtual appointments more effective. These include better, tripod-mounted cameras for showroom tours that include the sales rep in the picture, touchless ordering procedures and more scheduled appointments.
  • Virtual marketplaces continue to gain traction even as some of the platforms are still in development stages. Both Dallas and Atlanta—the latter as part of a cross-market effort under its parent company IMC—have virtual markets as well as third-party platforms from Faire, Brandwise and others vying for attention. Many people believe these will end up supplementing rather than replacing physical markets, and will primarily be used for reordering and replenishment.
  • Buyers at both shows were drawn to merchandise that was available for immediate delivery—or at least reliable delivery later on. With the supply pipeline still backed up due to factory stoppages, shipping and trucking delays, and a general slowdown in deliveries, availability has become as important a consideration as price or style. Suppliers say they don’t see any relief for this situation until at least spring and more realistically, later in the year.

Given all the issues surrounding the ordering process, business at both venues was better than expected, with average order size generally up, conversion rates in attendee order-writing strong and most retailers encouraged about the continued strength in the home business. Merchandise for home entertaining, cooking and outdoor use were among the bestsellers as the home decor side of the business outperforms more traditional gift categories.

The world may still have a rough year in 2021, but at least the business of buying and selling at trade shows is starting to look more like its old self … starting being the operative word.

Homepage photo: AmericasMart in Atlanta | Courtesy of AmericasMart

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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.

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