Tom Blount: Pay attention to what Maricich says, even if it hurts!

Apr. 06, 2014 @ 09:01 PM

Back in the mid-1940s, Branch Rickey was talking to Jackie Robinson about becoming the first black player in modern Major League Baseball. Rickey reportedly told Robinson, “There’s more here than just playing, Jackie. I wish it meant only hits, runs and errors – things you can see in a box score.”
“Mr. Rickey,’ Robinson murmured a little later in the conversation, “Do you want a ballplayer who’s afraid to fight back?” Eye Witness to History.com  reports, Rickey exclaimed, “I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back!”
Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 and, for two years, he didn’t fight back. “By 1949, Robinson was free to become his own man. He became animated, with his teammates, the opposition, the umpires,” Larry Schwartz, writing for ESPN.com, noted. 
Fast forward to 2011:  Bob Maricich  participated heavily in “envisioning and developing the strategy for the creation of International Market Centers L.P. and for raising more than $1 billion  to fund purchase of the International Home Furnishings Center, Showplace properties and the Market Square properties,” merging them with World Market Center in Las Vegas. IMC now is the world’s largest operator of premier showroom space for the furnishing, home décor and gift industries.
Maricich had served as president of American of Martinsville Contract, then the largest manufacturer of hospitality furnishings in the U.S., and as American Drew president prior to serving 11 years as chief executive officer at Century Furniture Industries. He became CEO of World Market Center in 2008.
As leader of the company that manages roughly two-thirds of the showroom space in High Point, Maricich appeared to many – locals and furniture industry insiders alike – to be cautious about what he said, and how he said it, publicly.  As the elephant in the High Point Market’s room, it appeared to some observers that, publicly, he “just wanted to get along.”
Then, nearly two weeks ago, at a gathering in High Point, he ripped Pre-Market, calling it “singularly the most stupid and destructive idea I’ve heard of.” He added it didn’t make sense, was good for some but not good for the High Point Market. He also claimed it’s 50 percent more expensive to attend market in High Point than it is the World Market Center. He added, among other comments, that High Point needs a market district that defines where market is, that “there’s 1.5 million square feet of empty showroom space that’s never again going to be filled,” and that “the manufacturers are the ones that pay us rent but the buyers are going to decide where market is and how long market is.”
Then the spit hit the fan. Kevin O’Connor, president and CEO of Samson Marketing and, as Furniture Today put it, “one of the champions of what has become a revitalized Pre-Market reportedly was surprised/miffed by Maricich’s comments. Tim Mabe, president and CEO of High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau, who likes Pre-Market because it puts heads in beds here at times other than the two weeks a year that High Point Market operates here, wasn’t pleased with Maricich’s comments. High Point Market Authority boss Tom Conley kept his cool when interviewed by Furniture Today. Mary Darby, showroom manager for New Classic Furniture in High Point, really took Maricich to task in an Enterprise guest column.
Lots of folks have waited some three years for Maricich to tell them what he really thinks of market here. Then, when he did flex his muscles, they didn’t like it much. I suspect they’d better get used to it. Maricich has a vision for what High Point Market could/must become and he’s pursuing it. Not everyone could or should agree with everything or even perhaps half of what he says. But they should pay attention to what he says.
Having a defined market district is a good idea. The High Point Enterprise was in favor of such a project when I was its editor but City Council at that time didn’t have the stomach for the impending fight and walked away from it.
All of us must recognize that 20th century “business models” for almost anything won’t work well in the 21st century – business after business and organization after organization has learned that lesson well, or paid the price, during the century’s first decade.
We (this is my 49th market) need to find common ground and build on that to survive, let alone thrive. Let’s hope we get plenty more out-of-the-box thinking, even perhaps (as High Point University President Nido Qubein has been heard to say) throw the box out the window.
Keep your eyes and ears open during this market. That will pay dividends.

Tom Blount retired as editor of The High Point Enterprise in 2012.