HIGH POINT — High Point is in a unique position as a venue for dealer/vendor interaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its broad infrastructure of permanent showrooms, now utilized more than ever beyond market dates, create a setting for retailers to discuss business with their suppliers in a more controlled, safer environment.
That’s the take from Doug Bassett, who — in addition to serving as president of case goods manufacturer Vaughan-Bassett — also works extensively with other vendors, market officials and state and local health organizations as chairman of the Premarket Sponsors Committee.
On the eve of the largest High Point Premarket in history, with more than 300 showrooms open beyond the event’s 21 sponsoring brands, Bassett talked about how a market season now running from Premarket through late October will support booming business at retail.
“We’re viewing Premarket, October market and the time between as a ‘fall selling season,’” Bassett said. “For a lot of dealers, it’s been a year since they could look their suppliers in the eye and hold those conversations about flowing goods and new product, all those details that have become so important in the unique environment we’re in right now.”
Weakness into strength
Bassett pointed out that High Point’s decentralized showroom infrastructure, once seen as a drawback adding complexity to working the show, works well in today’s environment.
“High Point has historically been at a disadvantage since we’re spread over 100 different building and a 10- or 12-block area in downtown,” he said. “During this pandemic, this weakness has turned into a strength, and that’s helped us in talking with the governor and our state and local health officials. It’s not like the machinery show in Atlanta, where we’re all in the same big room for five days in a row.”
That, along with cancellation of lecture series, awards dinners and other gatherings, has assuaged health officials’ concerns. Bassett also believes the coming season will provide lessons for trade shows elsewhere moving forward should the pandemic continue.
Who’s coming to Premarket
The Premarket Committee comps retailers with hotel and rental cars, and Bassett said more are coming than usual.
“Normally we have around 70 who are comped and another 30 to 40 who drive in, and the past five or six Premarkets the total has been 100 to 110,” he said. “This time, we’ll have around 110 to 115 who secured a room through the sponsoring committee and another 50 to 75 who are driving in. We estimate 160 to 165 dealers.”
Some Premarket sponsors resent showrooms tagging along in hopes of face time with major retailers, but Bassett doesn’t worry about it much.
“I am more sanguine about the non-sponsors being open than some sponsors because we communicate multiple times with our guests that if they’re comped with a car and hotel, they should prioritize sponsoring showrooms,” he said. “That historically has worked very well, and I’m not concerned that (non-sponsors) will hurt attendance in our showroom and those of others.
“At the end of the day, we’re all members and partners in an industry going through a tumultuous time,” Bassett continued. “For the industry to operate well, it’s great to have a well-attended ‘market’ that will last six weeks.”
With more than 300 showrooms open in total, the question is how that will drive attendance beyond Premarket’s “usual suspects,” as an unprecedented number of high-end, designer-oriented showrooms open, many for the first time. Add to that categories such as rugs, lighting, fabrics and accessories opening, and it’s essentially a mini-market.
Bassett believes the industry will look back on the six weeks from Premarket through October Market as a time it figured out how to do business in a disruptive environment.
“We’re putting in place all the distancing and health steps we need to move ahead and operate, and that’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “We’ve had to make it up as we went along, but we’re coming to a good place now.”