retail watch | Feb 9, 2023 |
Top takeaways from the winter home and gift shows

A funny thing happened on the winter gift and home trade show circuit: The new normal turned out to be very much like the old normal.

At shows that unfolded throughout January and early February in Dallas, Atlanta, Las Vegas and New York, home retailers got back to the business of placing their orders for the new year. Without the wild swings in supply chain logistics, consumer demand and inflationary pricing, the twice-yearly ritual of buying and selling in the decor, gift, lighting, rug and accent furniture categories looked remarkably like it did before COVID turned the industry upside down.

Attendance at these wholesale shows—albeit an inexact way to judge the strength of such events—appeared to be closer to 2019 levels. And while there had been some apprehension that a lackluster Christmas season and still-overloaded inventory levels were going to put a damper on buying, most vendors said that was not the case.

There was some stratification, with inexpensive items moving faster than pricey goods. “Anything under $40 was good,” one exhibitor told me. “Above $40 we were having difficulties.” But in general, while order writing was not quite at the robust levels of 2020 and 2021—when retailers bought anything that wasn’t nailed down (and even a few things that were)—the winter show circuit was largely a pleasant surprise all around.

The primary customers at these shows are generally specialty and independent retailers, designers and accessory buyers for larger stores. As such, their buying habits don’t tell the full retail story. The national home chains don’t typically work these events, instead focusing their major buying efforts in March with a housewares show in Chicago and a home textiles event in New York, followed by furniture sourcing at High Point Market and tabletop shopping in New York come April. By the time that tour is completed, we should have a more accurate picture of how the overall home furnishings sector is doing and what to expect in the retail category for the back half of the year.

Show organizers, as is their wont, issued positive post-event reports, offering varying degrees of detail to illustrate their successes. The Dallas Market Center, while not sharing hard numbers, reported a year-over-year rise in attendance, making the show its largest in more than a decade. A notable percentage of that interest was from newcomers: “The number of new buyers in Dallas continues to set records, with the number of first-time [visitors] outpacing pre-pandemic shows,” added a spokesperson. Its Lightovation show, held the week after DMC’s gift and home event, also posted strong numbers with a 130 percent increase in buyer, specifier and designer attendance over January 2022, which put it ahead of pre-pandemic attendance as well.

In Atlanta, International Market Centers reported double-digit attendance growth over the 2022 edition of its January show. The newest addition to the event was the soft opening of the outdoor and casual furniture showrooms, which will have their official debut later this year. Many exhibitors had their new spaces up and running in Building 1, providing another key product sector to the show at AmericasMart. Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, IMC reported a 25 percent year-over-year attendance jump, driven by an influx of new buyers (about one-third of attendees were new to the market), as well as a strong cohort of buyers returning to the market for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Broken down by sector, IMC said it saw a 50 percent increase in furniture buyers, a 40 percent increase in interior designers, an 18 percent increase in home decor attendance and an 11 percent increase in gift. IMC also noted the benefit of show timing, which coincided with several other home-oriented events in Las Vegas.

In New York, the NY Now and Shoppe Object shows continued to run in tandem as they have for the past several years. At the Javits Center, NY Now has continued its expansion into fashion accessories with categories like jewelry and apparel, while also adding several aisles of toys and kids products under the Play USA banner. Across town, Shoppe Object kept its focus on home, expanding its footprint by 30 percent with a new tented pavilion next to its Pier 36 home that brought its total to more than 500 exhibitors.

If this first run of trade events is any indication, the shows, as they say, must go on.

Homepage image: Las Vegas Market provides thousands of cross-category furniture, gift and home decor resources for buyers, designers and exhibitors | Courtesy of Las Vegas 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.

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