By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – To prepare for thousands of attendees this week at the Tupelo Furniture Market, work begins long before the doors open.
And today, as the spring market officially starts, many visitors are unaware of the work not only before the biannual trade show begins, but also during the market and after it wraps up.
But both full-time staffers and temporary workers hired specifically for the market are sometimes overlooked – and perhaps under-appreciated by many.
“I can tell you they’re not under-appreciated by me,” said TFM Chairman and CEO V.M. Cleveland. “We couldn’t get things up and running without them.”
The market adds about 50 workers for each market, Cleveland said. That doesn’t include the scores of workers exhibitors also hire to help with their showrooms.
Furniture market employees help unload merchandise, break down boxes, move furniture, stack furniture, clean floors, wash windows. … whatever the market and its exhibitors need to get nearly 1.8 million square feet of exhibition space ready to go.
Perry Hand, property manager for Cleveland’s property management company that also oversees the Tupelo Furniture Market, has been getting the market ready for 15 years.
Hand said preparation for the market begins about two weeks before it starts. Among the checklist of items is cleaning the floors and glass and checking that the lights are working.
“We do a little sprucing up,” he said.
And, he added, “I help to make sure all our people are where they need to be and what they need to do. I also help them find what they need because I pretty much know where everything is.”
Even the market’s new facility co-manager, Damon Albert, taps Hand for advice occasionally.
Albert is getting his handle on his first furniture market. But he’s not unaccustomed to such events. He was in facility management in Baltimore before accepting the job at the Tupelo Furniture Market 10 weeks ago.
“I’ve got three phones, but only two ears and one mouth,” he said with a laugh as he fielded questions and pleas earlier this week as the market got ready for its 51st show. Albert’s main job is to get all the different parts of that small army working together.
On Tuesday, one of his checklist items was directing a small group of workers breaking down and loading scores of cardboard boxes.
The new pieces of furniture exhibitors put in their showrooms and floor space most often come in large boxes. Market employees then break down the boxes and put them in piles, then take them to two balers outside of Building VI.
There, employees work 12 hours a day making bales from the cardboard. Each market produces 30 to 40 tons of cardboard, which is picked up and recycled.
Nearby, a trash compactor also works all day nonstop.
With hundreds of exhibitors, there’s little down-time.
“It’s important we get ahead and not fall behind or things stack up quickly,” Albert said.
And that proactive approach is what the Tupelo Furniture Market is focusing on.
Relying on Albert’s experience, the market is moving toward working smarter and more efficiently.
“The goal is to get to where we’re more proactive and not have to be reactive as much,” he said. “We want to meet the needs of the people and the exhibitors.”
The market has hired new cleaners, added training sessions for new and temporary workers and has made a concerted effort to organize and streamline its operations.
“The biggest thing to tackle was the organizational direction of the back end of the market, things we could do to be more efficient,” Albert said.
For example, seven large containers were built to handle larger piles of cardboard, instead of several workers with handcarts moving small amounts of cardboard back and forth.
“This takes less time and we’re able to work faster and smarter,” he said.
But it still takes a small army of workers to get the market up and running. Floors needs constant sweeping, mopping and vacuuming; lights have to be fixed; technology glitches have to be fixed; ceiling tiles have to be replaced. … the work never stops.
“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are our three hardest days, but by this afternoon, it’s slowed down a little,” Hand said Wednesday. “But we’re always working on something. Somebody’s air conditioner might need fixing, a track light has gone out, garbage needs to be taken out.”
And by the time the show officially ends Sunday, market employees are back loading furniture, cleaning showrooms, taking down fixtures, etc.
“They probably work as hard after the show as they do before,” Cleveland said.