The new coronavirus continues to disrupt the design industry’s spring events calendar. This morning, American Leather Holdings, parent company of Lee Industries, announced that they would not be attending High Point Market in April, due to concerns about COVID-19.
“With so many of our employees in attendance, as well as the travel required to get there, with deep regret and frustration, we have decided to not show at this April’s furniture market,” Bruce M. Birnbach, CEO of American Leather Holdings, wrote in a statement to employees and dealers.
Birnbach came to the decision after one of the company’s sales representatives told him that if the choice were up to them, they would not attend Market. “That was a ‘whoa’ moment,” Birnbach tells Business of Home. “I hadn’t stepped back that far in my thinking, but I felt that I had no right to put people in that position.”
Despite a growing number of postponed industry events, including annual staples like the Kips Bay Decorators Show House and the AD Design Show, High Point has expressed no plans to postpone or scrap the Spring Market. Two weeks ago High Point Market Authority president and CEO Tom Conley told BOH, “It will be a different Market, there’s no question about it,” but expressed hope that the majority of usual attendees would make the trip.
“It’s important that we focus our efforts on how we can put together a new experience,” says Birnbach. “Now I can take this opportunity and instead of preparing for something that may not happen, we can prepare to bring an amazing experience out to our customers.”
In his statement, Birnbach emphasizes that Lee Industries will be coming up with a way to present its collection experience digitally. He’s currently working with the company’s creative and marketing teams to figure out what form their pivot will take, saying that they’re considering everything from webinars to podcasts.
“Obviously, it’s costing us a lot of money to go to Market, so why not take that money and use it in different ways?” says Birnbach. “Honestly, I’m seeing this as a chance to learn. What a chance this is for all of us to see the world through a different lens and to consider: Is there only one way that Market can be done? I looked at it as an opportunity for all of us—not only as a company, but for our dealers, as well—to learn. This is a chance to experiment and do things a little differently.”
From a manufacturing standpoint, the two companies remain well-stocked and fully operational, according to the statement, and the companies look forward to returning to Market in the fall and re-engaging with the design community as they have in past years. Until then, Birnbach says, “[We] extend our thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by this outbreak, and especially to the good people of High Point, North Carolina who depend on these events. We will continue to support them any way we can.”
Homepage image: Courtesy of Lee Industries