retail watch | Oct 7, 2021 |
Low attendance and high spirits at New York’s in-person markets

Suppose they gave a wholesale market and just some people attended? Well, that’s what the retail home textiles and tabletop sectors experienced this week in New York as both held their fall markets under continued unusual conditions.

Even though both industries conducted live, in-person shows, they were sparsely attended at best, and some vendors chose to minimally staff their showrooms or not open them at all. A complete list of retailer attendees was not available, but anecdotally, home textiles exhibitors said they met with buyers and merchants from a limited number of companies, including Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair, Dillard’s, Belk, Big Lots, At Home, Ross, Burlington, Bealls and Roses. This list is noticeable for the absence of the big national accounts that still have corporate travel restrictions or otherwise chose to meet virtually, including Walmart, Target, Costco, Kohl’s, JCPenney and TJX brands such as HomeGoods.

For the home textiles sector, which comprises bed, bath, window fashions and decor accessories for the big-box retail channel, Home Textiles Week was really the first in-person event in two years. And though there were some attendees, many companies continued to schedule virtual online meetings with the retailers who did not attend in person.

The situation was similar at the New York Tabletop Show, which has had some in-person events over the past year, but last week marked the first large-scale vendor representation in more than a year. And while this show, at the 41 Madison building that is the heart of the tabletop sector, also attracts national accounts, it also appeals to specialty independents and interior designers, giving it a somewhat different demographic makeup.

Neither show has a massive attendance draw in the best of times (retail markets tend to be small), but this time around, the numbers were even lighter. The good news was that those who attended almost universally expressed an enthusiastic feeling for the in-person shows, particularly after more than a year of largely virtual buying meetings. They also said they looked forward to the next round of shows for these industries in the spring of 2022, with the hopes of returning more closely to the traditional live format.

Of course, in addition to focusing on new products, buyer and seller conversations were dominated by the key issues driving the business today: supply chain, pricing and the outlook for continued good times.

  • Supply chain: As with virtually every consumer product category, getting enough goods is the number-one area of concern. Most believe there won’t be much in the way of relief until well into 2022—and even then it’s going to be spotty. Reduced capacity at factories, shipping companies, ports and on-the-ground transportation look like they will remain a fact of life for the foreseeable future.
  • Pricing: For industries not known for their abilities to raise prices, many home furnishings sectors are being forced to seek increases in their selling prices—and they are getting them. Nobody wants to go on the record with how big those percentage increases are, but they appear to be at least in the high single digits and low double digits in many cases. Increased shipping costs—particularly as containers have gone from $2,000 to $25,000 and up—are being passed along within the B2B process and are now starting to show up on retail selling floors, both physical and virtual. Many think this is just the beginning and that consumer prices will continue to rise over the next year.
  • Business outlook: Even with higher prices and limited supplies, there was general optimism that strong business conditions would continue. At least one vendor on the textiles side said they had expected business to start to drop off as people ventured outside their homes again this summer and spent money on other things, like travel and entertainment, but that it was barely noticeable in his business. The rates of growth the industry has seen over the past 18 months may start to slow, but growth overall is expected to continue.

As strange as these New York market weeks were—especially for textiles, which no longer has the showroom building at 295 Fifth Avenue as its anchor—there was a certain familiarity to buyers and sellers meeting face-to-face again. If it wasn’t cathartic, it was about as close to it as the business world gets.

Homepage photo: © Assja Sav | Adobe Stock

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