“I’m not trying to compete against Tupelo – I’d like to work with them,” Morton said. “I want people to attend both markets.”
Morton said his market Jan. 8-9 will cater to retailers and buyers looking to find special deals and promotional items from participating exhibitors.
He said he’s secured 175,000 square feet spread out at six casinos, the Tunica arena and another facility to host the market. He also said he has a transportation company lined up that will provide shuttles between the venues.
But Morton will be introducing another show into an already crowded schedule.
“I’m glad he recognizes that Mississippi is the place to have a furniture market,” said TFM Chairman and CEO V.M. Cleveland. “But I think it may be bad timing to add another market when there are plenty of other markets.”
In January alone, Atlanta and Las Vegas have their events. Tupelo follows in mid-to late February.
High Point’s Premarket is held in mid-March, followed by its spring market in April. Sprinkled around them are smaller markets in Dallas and Chicago. And then there are international markets in China as well.
Furniture industry consultant and analyst Jerry Epperson said a Tunica market, in comparison to the larger, established markets, would have little impact.
“We’re looking at a very small, regional market, versus 11 million square feet at High Point, 4.5 million square feet in Las Vegas and more than 1.5 million square feet at Tupelo,” Epperson said. “In Tupelo, you’re looking at an established market that’s been entrenched for a long time.”
Morton has been gauging interest since last fall and said there is interest in his Tunica market.
“Nobody I talked to has had anything negative to say. They think it’s a great idea,” he said.
Morton said he’s received 10 firm commitments from companies who will show at Tunica, and said at least 50 others have indicated their interest.
“I didn’t ask anyone to pull out of Tupelo,” he said. “That’s not what I’m trying to do. ... I think we can work together.”
Epperson said a small regional show like the one Morton proposes might hit a chord with smaller retailers who tend to favor staying in their stores as tax season kicks up in February. He said smaller furniture shows travel around the country, and a Tunica market could draw interest.
“Manufacturers will go where retailers are showing up,” he said. “But the key is getting them there. If you don’t, there won’t be a second market.”
Having the financial resources needed to put on a trade show can be challenging, but Morton believes he has a good handle on what to expect.
“I’ve gone through and looked at every expense I can think of,” he said. “I’ve been asked by a lot of people a lot of questions, and there hasn’t been one I have been surprised by or that I haven’t been able to answer.”
In addition to the exhibition space, hotel rooms and the shuttle service that are needed, Morton said each market venue will have free food and beverages.
He also said he’s put together a staff of at least eight people, each of whom will manage a venue during the market.
“If an exhibitor or buyer needs anything, they’ll handle it, and if they can’t, then I or my business partner will,” Morton said.
While Morton is unemployed as a sales rep, he said his business partner, Bruce Head, is a 50-50 partner in this venture as well.
Head and Morton have been working together for more than 20 years, and run a wholesale furniture distribution company near Nashville.
Morton said the Tunica venues have agreed to hold the space – as well as blocks of hotel rooms – for the show.
“I’ve gotten signed contracts, and I’m going next week to sign the rest of them,” he said. “This is going to happen.”
A Harrah’s representative said the Tunica market was “on the books” but didn’t give additional details.
Epperson said the casinos likely are willing to work with Morton.
“Casinos try to bring people in. ... They’d probably go a long way to helping facilitate things,” he said.
Bill Canter, director of marketing and sales for the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau, confirmed he’s met with Morton several times about the market.
“It will bring people into the area. We look at it as a positive event,” he said.
Canter said Tunica didn’t have anything like Tupelo in terms of facilities, but said the arena has 48,000 square feet of climate-controlled space.
Morton acknowledged deposits eventually have to be made to secure the exhibition spaces, the shuttle service, food, etc.
That’s why he’s asking exhibitors to make a 25 percent nonrefundable deposit on their space.
The going rate is $2.50 a square foot, with a maximum of no more than 5,000 square feet for a single company. Morton said his market will be “saturated with market specials and closeouts” and only furniture manufacturers will be allowed to show.
The market “is the only pre tax-season furniture market in the country,” he said. “That’s why I think we’ll be OK.”
“What I’m trying to do is I want them to come to Tunica first, then go to Tupelo,” Morton said. “If we do that, we can make a statement in the furniture industry about north Mississippi when we have two successful markets. ... I can pull this off. There’s no doubt in my mind.”