Recently Ray Allegrezza from the International Home Furnishings Representatives Assn. sent out a note to all his members indicating that the High Point Market Authority has every intention to hold the October market. Guilford County has supported the plan for market, and the last stage is the sign off from Governor Cooper’s office. At this point, all the powers to be are indicating there will be a furniture market in October.
I, for one, hope there will be a market in October, as it will allow me a chance to get in front of customers who may be hungry to add new items to their lineups after a year of not attending any market. Any time we can get in front of customers is time well spent.
Being a furniture representative in a COVID-19 environment has definitely changed our responsibilities in the past six months. Many large retailers would prefer you not come into the stores or see buyers in corporate offices. In fact, many buyers are still working full or part time from home, so even if you wanted to meet with them at their office you cannot.
But the corollary to this is now all the buyers want to go see product in showrooms. Unfortunately they do not all want to go at the same time. I have already made one trip to High Point in mid-August, and I have a week long Premarket trip planned even though Premarket is only two days. Some buyers want to come in early and have showrooms all to themselves, while others just want to see products in as efficient a way as possible. Some buyers make appointments, and others do not. Some showrooms are announcing they will be open all of September and October. Some showrooms are not planning on opening at all.
There are so many moving parts, and the furniture rep is caught in the middle trying to figure out who is coming, when they are coming, and if the showrooms will be set up and ready when the customer wants to see the product. Las Vegas market is upcoming, and the list of showrooms not open is sizeable. Premarket in the middle of September has the biggest announced number of showrooms open, as well as the largest attendance of top retailers.
So here are a few questions to consider with the COVID-19 upheaval of our industry.
- With many furniture reps being older and therefore in the more threatened demographic of the virus, how many will want to attend markets for extended periods of time talking to many people from all over the world?
- Will the major players coming down to Premarket mean they won’t come to October market with another 50,000 marketgoers?
- If certain states require a rep or retailer to quarantine for 14 days after travelling to a market, how many people are going to want to do that?
- Just as retailers have been forced to up their online sales platforms, will there be alternatives to major furniture trade show gatherings developed due to COVID-19?
- Since the CES show, Las Vegas’s largest trade show, has already cancelled its January 2021 show, it begs the question would the furniture industry hold a show in January and expect people to come?
There are so many more questions that will occur. Reps are going to have to decide how to handle markets based on dealer participation. It is tough on everyone in the industry to adjust to new expectations brought on by the pandemic, but I suspect reps are going to be some of the most challenged because they serve at the whim of retailers and factories.
If a retailer wants to go to market at an off time, reps will need to accommodate these requests, which for many of us means additional time and expense hopping on airplanes, staying in hotels, eating out at restaurants. More travel, more expense, more risk of COVID-19 exposure. Being a rep doesn’t sound quite as glamorous as it did back in January.
These are crazy times for all in the industry. I know many of the buildings are asking for appointments, and I believe that most reps would like to know when or if their dealers are going to be at a market space so they can make sure to give the best service possible. This will eventually sort itself out, but I suspect there will be some definite changes brought about for the furniture rep due to COVID-19.