Foundation targets IMC with Made in the USA push
A nonprofit organization that promotes American-made products is pressuring the entity that owns a majority of High Point Market showroom space to do more to accommodate domestic furniture manufacturers.
Joel D. Joseph, chairman of the California-based Made in the USA Foundation, wants International Market Centers to provide display space for more domestic furniture products at the Interhall exhibit area.
Interhall, located in the IMC-owned International Home Furnishings Center, is too tilted toward products made overseas, in his view. He said he visited the space during the April market and found that the vast majority of furniture products on display were made in China and other overseas locations. This denies equal opportunity for American manufacturers, he argues.
Joseph said he is considering suing IMC for unfair trade practices if it doesn’t change its policy to allow for what he sees as fair competition for apportioning tenant space at Interhall.
“It’s one of our options. We will weigh that,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to have to do that, but we think it’s important that Made in the USA be front and center, and we think Interhall is the best location in High Point.”
An IMC spokeswoman says IMC doesn’t discriminate against American furniture companies.
Interhall has been sold out since 1990 and has a waiting list. IMC provided the Made in the USA Foundation free booth space at its Made in America Pavilion in The Suites at Market Square for the April 2012 market.
Interhall includes many companies that have a domestic manufacturing presence, said Sarah Mount, director of content and interactive media for IMC.
The goal: A place of prominence for American companies
The Made in the USA Foundation was started 24 years ago in Washington, D.C., where it helped lobby for laws that require imported products to include country-of-origin labels on them.
More recently, the foundation has been trying to convince companies like Walmart to sell more American-made goods and Apple to build plants in the U.S. instead of abroad.
“We think things are happening, and we want it to happen in High Point,” Joseph said.
He said his foundation has assembled a group of American furniture makers as part of a proposed Made in the USA collection that he would like to display in High Point.
He said he wants to feature smaller companies that cannot afford to exhibit on their own at market.
About a half-dozen American furniture companies exhibited at the spring 2012 market under the Made in the USA Foundation banner.
But Joseph said he thinks the Made in America Pavilion doesn’t provide equal opportunity to domestic firms because it is not as centrally located in the market district as Interhall.
Joseph added that the companies are willing to pay whatever the rent may be at Interhall, but he alleges that they can’t get in because it provides unfair advantages to current tenants.
Mount said this isn’t the case.
She said Joseph submitted an application to show in Interhall, but the application was incomplete. Interhall exhibitors are evaluated and invited to return from market to market by their peers. Turnover is at record-low, and when a space becomes available, the next company on the waiting list is invited to attend, she said.
Joseph has alleged that Interhall’s leasing practices amount to a restraint on fair competition.
“Certainly, U.S. manufacturers should be accorded at least equal display space in their own country compared with importers,” he said.
Joseph said he is considering suing on antitrust grounds, a prospect that elicited a strongly-worded response from Kim Rieck, IMC’s general counsel, who said Joseph misunderstood antitrust law.
“First of all, you should know that International Market Centers does not respond to threats,” Rieck wrote in an email message to Joseph last month. “Second, International Market Centers conducts its business in absolute conformance with all laws to which it is subject.”
Prime showroom space
Joseph’s claims that IMC isn’t treating American furniture companies fairly ring hollow to Doug Bassett.
The president of Virginia-based Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. and chairman of the High Point Market Authority Board of Directors, Bassett’s company has 25,000 square feet of exhibit space in the IHFC.
Each market, a “Made in the USA” message is splashed across the front doors of the showroom to highlight the presence of his and other American-based companies, Bassett said.
“Vaughan-Bassett is the largest maker of wooden bedroom furniture in the U.S. We have a long-term contract to advertise that fact,” he said. “We have not detected any effort by the leadership at IHFC or IMC to discriminate againt American-made companies. I know the management at IMC well, and that’s not how they operate.”
Interhall is comprised of 80,000 square feet on the first floor of IHFC and is designed to showcase “up and coming furniture and accessory exhibitors (who) earned their places here after a rigorous juried selection process,” according to IMC’s website.
Not every type of company would be a good fit there, Bassett said.
“It is very competitive space, and I know the building tries to feature high-style, cutting-edge, high-fashion lines there,” he said. “It would be nice to see American-made product in Interhall, but it needs to be the right kind of company, and that’s a negotiation best left between the landlords and potential tenants.”
IMC: Made in America a priority
Mount said IMC does not specifically ask companies about where their products are manufactured, because it is not a criteria for exhibiting, except in the Made in America Pavilion.
She said at least 15 furniture companies that exhibit at Interhall have disclosed to IMC that they have U.S. manufacturing operations. These companies represent 23 percent of the total exhibitor base in Interhall, and there are likely others, she said.
“The overall ratio of domestic vs. non-domestic manufacturers at High Point Market is reflective of the industry as a whole,” said Mount. “We’d like to see the domestic production boost. Supporting Made in America products is certainly an objective for IMC, which is why we launched the Made in America Pavilion at the October 2011 market. Due to a very aggressive sales and marketing effort, the area has grown from 10,000 to 40,000 square feet.”
The Made in America Pavilion featured 66 exhibiting companies at the April market.
The goal is to provide a showcase for buyers in every category of home furnishings, Mount said.
“Due to the breadth and geographic landscape of the High Point Market, with more than 180 buildings featuring close to 2,000 exhibitors, creating a destination to attract buyers can be important in generating awareness for exhibiting companies,” she said.