By NEMS Daily Journal
The Tupelo Furniture Market is a quarter century old, and it’s fair to say that it is struggling to regain the impact it once had in both the industry and the region.
That’s not to say that the market is not important or viable or still a significant contributor to the economy of Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi. It certainly remains all of those things.
But the days when upwards of 30,000 folks would crowd into the city for the spring and fall markets and hotel rooms and restaurant seating were at a premium may not be recoverable. Part of the reason is increased competition, and part of it is unquestionably the contraction of the industry in recent years and the impact of the economic downturn.
But just as furniture manufacturing is beginning to show signs of new life in Northeast Mississippi, so too the Tupelo market had some bright spots in its fall event that concluded Sunday.
Exhibitors talked of the early portion of the market, particularly Thursday, as a day reminiscent of the “old days” with big crowds and lots of activity. And while crowds are important, more so for exhibitors is how many orders they get, and those interviewed seemed happy with what they’d secured.
Even as skeptics wonder about the market’s future, no one involved – least of all owner V.M. Cleveland – believes the market can’t continue to compete.
The Tupelo Furniture Market was begun by a group of entrepreneurs in 1987, and the key to the extraordinary success it achieved in the 1990s was that it secured a niche – promotional, or low-cost, upholstered furniture. It became the undisputed leader among the nation’s furniture markets for that sector.
It was a good fit for much of the region’s production. The bulk of furniture manufacturing in Northeast Mississippi, though certainly not all of it, is in promotional lines. The Tupelo market for 24-plus years has given manufacturers in this region a convenient and low-cost place to show their wares and the smaller-scale retail operations that often buy them get a similar good fit.
Beyond the impact of lodging, restaurant and sales tax revenue in Tupelo and the region, this has been the market’s lasting economic contribution to Northeast Mississippi: It’s integrated with and supportive of the area’s leading industry.
That makes a viable Tupelo Furniture Market doubly important for the future. Innovation, adaptation and rejuvenation may not bring back the “old days,” but they can reinvent the market in ways that will keep it relevant and viable for years to come.