DENNIS SEID: Important week ahead for furniture industry

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

It’s that time again, when thousands of buyers descend upon Tupelo for the fall Tupelo Furniture Market. But how it goes is anybody’s guess. We’ll find out soon enough.
I’ve lost track of how many of these markets I’ve attended. Tupelo, of course, has been my most visited destination, but I’ve also been to the High Point, Las Vegas and Shanghai markets. All very different, yet all the same in many regards.
And no matter the venue, there’s an obsession with numbers. How many pre-registered? How many registered? What was the attendance?
Yes, attendance is important. If there aren’t people, there aren’t customers. But what the casual observer can expect to hear is something like, “What’s important it the quality of the buyer.”
In other words, furniture manufacturers and other market exhibitors would rather get two customers with big orders than 20 window-shoppers who leave empty-handed. So it’s quality, not necessarily quantity, of attendees they want to see, although having both is even better.
And I know what most exhibitors will tell me this week. Everybody has high expectations. There’s pent-up demand. Everybody’s hopeful.
However, given the roller coaster ride the stock market has endured, the uncertainty that still grips the economy and the overall uneasiness of the U.S. consumer, you have to think exhibitors at this week’s market – and any market, for that matter – are crossing their fingers.
It’s no secret that much of corporate America is sitting on cash and enjoying profits. The problem is, the economy has not turned the corner, and companies aren’t quite ready to pull the trigger on investment in capital or in people. Banks have money to lend, but demand is weak.The unemployment numbers are better, but not by much. The housing market still hasn’t found solid footing.
Consumers make up about two-thirds of our economy. So when that falters, so goes the economy. The uncertainty and uneasiness of the buying public trickle down to retailers and to manufacturers. Few know this better than those in the furniture industry. If you want to talk about numbers, talk to them. They can tell you about it in gory detail.
What helps the Tupelo Furniture Market is its reputation as a promotional market. You won’t find a lot of mid- to high-priced merchandise here. You will find some closeout deals and specials. And you will find mostly high-quality, well-made merchandise.
Shoppers are looking for bargains, looking for “value-added” merchandise, and this is where the furniture industry in Northeast Mississippi can, and does, excel. There are companies that are doing well in spite of the economy, but there are many more that are struggling mightily.
At least there’s some bit of good news going into the market. On Friday, the Commerce Department said retail sales rose in July and for the past three months they’ve have risen 8.2 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.
Another key number: Sales rose about 0.5 percent at furniture stores, clothing outlets and grocery and liquor stores.
That could be a good sign headed into this very important week for the furniture market, and the industry as a whole.
Dennis Seid is Daily Journal business editor. Contact him at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.