Peaceful coexistence?

High Point, Vegas markets try to set aside rivalry
Aug. 24, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

“Las Vegas Market announced today that the just-concluded Summer Market was a smashing success, with growth in buyer attendance across all categories, including furniture, decor and gift.”
A few years ago, that sentence would have struck fear in the hearts of High Point Market supporters.
The declaration, in a recent press release from International Market Centers, no longer has the impact locally that it did when the world’s largest international home furnishings trade show was dealing with an existential threat from Las Vegas.
Since 2011, furniture-industry experts say the competition between the two markets has cooled, after IMC was formed and took ownership of the Las Vegas Market and the three largest showrooms in High Point.
“Do I think the rivalry’s gone? It was so intense for about six years — and so unnecessarily intense — that I think, in some people’s minds, it’s going to take awhile to calm down,” said Jerry Epperson, a longtime furniture-industry analyst with Richmond, Va.-based Mann, Armistead & Epperson Ltd. “But certainly not in the administration of these markets. You look at the leaders and the folks really driving these two markets. They’re trying to do everything they can to cooperate and make the two markets smoother.”
High Point, which  holds markets every April and October, had to fight off a challenge from Las Vegas, which debuted its market in 2005.
World Market Center lured furniture exhibitors and buyers who had long come to High Point, and organizers announced plans to expand their showroom complex to 12 million square feet, which would have eclipsed High Point in size.
High Point responded on multiple fronts, greatly enhancing the network of buses and shuttles that transport market attendees among the more than 180 showroom buildings spread among the city.
“The competition drove High Point to spend money and correct a few of its weaknesses,” Epperson said.
All Las Vegas showrooms are under one roof, so transportation is not as much of an issue there as it has been in High Point.
“Dealing with transportation the way we’ve done it has just made it so much easier for people to get around,” said Ken Smith, a furniture analyst with Smith Leonard PLLC in High Point. “The other side of it is that the high-end people for the most part did not go to Vegas, which meant we had more of a full array of product here. Even today, they’re not as much out there as they have been in High Point.”
The Great Recession hit the Las Vegas Market hard, and it was fading as a threat to High Point by the time the IMC deal was cemented.
Since then, IMC officials have tried to organize both markets so that they complement each other, Epperson said.
For example, IMC tries to make it attractive for exhibitors to have a presence in both markets by offering deals where, if they come to one show, they can rent space at the other one for a better rate, he said.
“I don’t think there is much of a rivalry. I think it’s a matter of trying to make both markets as good as they can make them,” Smith said. “Obviously, the Vegas market was probably overbuilt, through no fault of the current (owners). I think they’re trying to use that as extra space for gifts and accessories.”
The summer market in Las Vegas last month featured the opening of a revamped gift and home decor showroom building.
According to IMC, the expansion resulted in exponential growth in buyer traffic, with a 67.3 percent increase in home decor buyers and an 82.5 percent increase in gift attendees compared to the 2012 summer market.
Experts said the gift market is an example of how more retailers are trying to find a mix of products that will draw consumers to stores for more than furniture-buying.
Overall, the summer market registered a 31 percent gain in buyer attendance, and furniture-buyer attendance was up 13 percent, “further establishing this market as the leading home furnishings market in the West,” IMC claimed.
“I think the jump in attendance in Las Vegas suggests the furniture industry is growing again and that housing starts are getting stronger, which makes me feel excited about the High Point Market in October,” said Doug Bassett, chairman of the High Point Market Authority.