By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Billing itself as the “hottest winter market” around, the Tupelo Furniture Market kicked off in earnest Thursday, with hundreds of buyers visiting showrooms a day ahead of its official opening.
Market officials hope that an improving economy, low retail inventories and pent-up demand will spur buyers at the three-day market that officially begins today.
At American Furniture, president Lyle Harris said the company hopes to broaden its appeal to customers.
“We’ve got Tupelo and Las Vegas back to back, then High Point after that and our expectations are that we’ll be able to do that,” he said. “We’re looking at improving our service through this very important tax season and we want to be seen as our customers’ warehouse and have the merchandise ready.”
With tax returns beginning to trickle in, furniture retailers hope customers will loosen their purse strings. Furniture manufacturers are hoping that translates to more orders.
In the Ashley Furniture showroom, Don and Theresia Perkins were shopping for deals. The couple own T.H. Perkins Furniture Co. in Brookhaven, a fifth-generation, family-owned store.
For them, Tupelo means value.
“It’s very convenient for us,” said Don. “For promotional items, this is the place to shop, and you find it quicker than anywhere else.”
Making their debut
The value proposition hasn’t been lost on furniture manufacturer startup HomeStretch, run by former Lane executives Skipper Holliman and Gentry Long.
The duo started the company last month with hopes of having 140 workers within four years.
“We’re getting started up in about three weeks,” said Holliman, who is president of HomeStretch. “We’ll have 35 to 40 people by the time we start, and most of them have been hired.”
The company is in the former Advantage Furniture building in Nettleton, where upholstered reclining furniture, including sofas, chairs, love seats and sectionals will be built.
Holliman said that after showing in Tupelo, HomeStretch will head to Las Vegas for its winter market.
In the long term, Holliman hopes to grow to those 140 workers as planned.
“We’d love to have steady growth, and what happens in Tupelo and Las Vegas will determine what happens in 2010,” he said.
While 2009 was a year to forget for many in the furniture industry, Holliman has an optimistic outlook.
“With the right styles and values, even in difficult times you’re going to be selling furniture,” he said. “We just have to execute our plan and we’ll be OK.”
Another startup is Washington Furniture Sales, run by industry veteran Gerald Washington, whose ventures have included Washington Furniture and American Furniture.
Washington’s new promotional upholstery company will manufacture sofas and recliners from a plant next to his home near Pontotoc.
“The kids decided we needed to be doing something,” Washington said with a smile.
He’ll compete against the likes of American, Affordable and United, all of whom are in the promotional furniture category.
Washington said he’ll use a higher density foam for seating to set his company apart from other companies. A quick-ship program with limited styles also will help keep costs down in order to attract potential buyers, he said.
About 50 employees will work at the plant initially.
“We’re just trying to do our thing,” he said.
“We’ll see what happens.”