retail watch | Apr 15, 2021 |
In Las Vegas this week, a tale of two Markets

If you open it, they will come.

It might not be quite that simple, but this week’s Las Vegas Market for gift, home and furniture showed that retailers and vendors alike are anxious to get back to the business of in-person trade shows—and some semblance of normalcy.

The show, held off-cycle from its original late-January timing, continued the trend of renewed attendance and buying activity seen earlier this year at markets in Dallas and Atlanta. As the overall retail home furnishings sector continues to experience strong business, there is a need for product now, in addition to ordering for the fourth-quarter holiday season. Exhibitors said they were writing orders, as retail business remains solid and stores have to put more merchandise on their shelves.

Las Vegas, however, was a tale of two Markets. On the gift and home decor side of the venue, traffic was brisk and vendors reported robust buying activity, particularly for seasonal goods for summer and Christmas. For the furniture sector, it was very much the opposite, with some showrooms closed and others sparsely populated.

Some furniture suppliers—led by Ashley Home, the biggest player in both the overall sector and the Las Vegas complex—decided not to show. The brand reasoned that with the supply chain so backed up, due to increased demand and a reduced ability to service it, they didn’t want to frustrate customers who would not be able to place orders. Though the majority of Las Vegas Market’s furniture and mattress showrooms did open, many reported light traffic due to dealers that chose to sit this hand out.

The World Market Center forecasted that attendance would be at about 50 to 60 percent of a usual Winter Market, which nonetheless represented a substantial increase over the meager 2020 events. If anything, the event and the individual showrooms seemed to under-anticipate the traffic level.

Exhibitors like Phillips Collection and Global Views reported that the ability to service orders quickly has increasingly become a major factor in Market success. Over the past year, retailers have become more dependent on getting goods fast from their suppliers, a development that can be traced to direct-to-consumer shopping, where two-day or faster deliveries have become the standard. That kind of fulfillment requires suppliers to carry more inventory, particularly as the global supply chain remains backed up due to manufacturing slowdowns in Asia, shortages in containers, and delays in processing those containers in ports on both sides of the Pacific.

In both gift and home decor, this demand was generally viewed as a good problem. After all, anyone who came to Las Vegas Market was not there to “kick the tires,” as one vendor put it; the crowd was filled with serious buyers who had the open-to-buy to prove it.

On the furniture side, having goods in stock was the equivalent of a Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka. Norwalk Furniture, which produces most of its upholstery products domestically, found itself in the enviable position of being able to ship much faster than competitors who rely on imports for either finished products or components like fabric, and the company had strong traffic to make the point.

As well as Market went for many attendees on both sides of the food chain, the big question that popped up in virtually every conversation was: How long is this boom going to last? As Americans start to venture out again after being cooped up at home, will they remain focused on improving those homes? For a show in a city like Las Vegas, where the conversation is usually about how you did at the tables last night or where you’re having dinner, it was quite a change. But as with those casino games, it was an outcome virtually impossible to predict.

Homepage photo: World Market Center in Las Vegas | Courtesy of Las Vegas Market

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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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