retail watch | Jan 27, 2022 |
Trade shows are starting the year off with a bang

Omicron, supply chain meltdowns, price increases and travel restrictions notwithstanding, the home and gift business has gotten off to a strong start for 2022, with January’s wholesale markets and trade shows showing serious strengths.

The sector traditionally starts the new year on the heels of the holiday selling season with January buying events in Dallas, Atlanta and Las Vegas, then a New York show in early February. So far, all indications are that the strong business conditions the industry has experienced since the early days of the pandemic in 2020 are in no danger of ending anytime soon. Word on the street is that consumers are still out shopping for their homes—and suppliers and retailers alike are moving fast and furious to meet that demand.

Attendance at all three markets so far has been strong, with independent specialty retailers and designers out in full force, even as national big-box account activity was limited following last-minute cancellations due to the surging omicron numbers. Store shelves are often lightly populated following the robust Christmas season, so the buying and selling activity at these markets was spirited, to say the least.

Several factors have defined the B2B season so far for furniture, home decor, gifts and accessories. Here’s what I’ve seen and heard:

Attendance is up…
Traffic at all three markets to date—Dallas Market Center’s Total Home & Gift Show first, followed by Atlanta Market at AmericasMart in Atlanta, which ended last week, and the Las Vegas Market at World Market Center in Las Vegas earlier this week—was strong, particularly at the first two. Independent specialty retailers and designers showed up in force with their checkbooks open.

…except from the biggest retailers
The only players missing were the big-box national accounts—which was especially noticeable in Atlanta, which has traditionally been the market they attend over the other two. Many were booked to attend but canceled their plans just days before the fair due to the sudden spread of the omicron variant. Corporate caution is likely to be a factor for shows in the next few weeks.

European shows are on pause
It’s worth noting that in the U.S., the shows did go on—unlike their European counterparts, such as Maison & Objet, Salone del Mobile, and Ambiente and Heimtextil, all of which were either postponed to the spring (the former two), when many think travel conditions will begin to return to normal, or canceled altogether (the latter two). Shows with large international participation, particularly from China and other Asian nations, appear to be the most vulnerable; those that depend on more local attendance are generally faring better.

Prices are up and delivery is delayed
Buyers continue to be confronted with the one-two punch of higher prices and later deliveries. Prices, which were up in the low double-digit range last year for many products, are expected to see additional boosts in 2022 as shipping costs, higher labor wages and raw material issues remain facts of life. Supply chain snafus that have seen deliveries stretch out for months are not expected to see any relief for most of 2022, either—at least not according to vendors at these events. (Continued strong demand and rolling shutdowns in China, which are a major contributing factor, are not going away anytime soon, they said.)

Safety was at the forefront (kind of)
The issues of public safety and mask-wearing were largely defined by geography and local mandates. Atlanta and Las Vegas had higher percentages of masked visitors than Dallas, but at all three markets, it felt as though at least two-thirds of attendees were masked up. Social distancing requirements were largely ignored across the board, given the reality of crowded showrooms, tight elevators and long lines at both registration areas and lunch spots. Still, intentions to provide a safe environment were solid from all three market centers, even if adherence remained less than all-encompassing.

The future looks bright(er)
The strong January kickoff to the new year bodes well for the shows to come during the next few months. Both NYNOW and Shoppe Object are on schedule for the first week of February in New York, as are the late winter/early spring markets for housewares in Chicago, textiles and tabletop in New York, and furniture in High Point. Of course, as we’ve been constantly blindsided by the latest COVID-19 developments, it’s clear that anything can happen between now and then. The good news, at least, is that the surge in the overall home furnishings business that has defined the marketplace for nearly two years appears to still be strong heading into 2022.

Homepage Image: The World Market Center, where the Las Vegas Market is held. | 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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