AT THE MARKET – A new initiative is afoot to bring more buyers to furniture showrooms here year-round by creating a critical mass of exhibitors opening their doors on a monthly basis to talk business and product development with key customers.

“First Tuesday” is the brainchild of Manwah USA CEO Guy Ray. Manwah has committed to hosting retailers by appointment on the first Tuesday of each month starting in December, and he’s hoping other manufacturers will join the effort in order to offer retailers a regular venue for doing business outside the traditional market cycle.

“The key word here is ‘continuity,’” said Ray. “We will be here no matter what, but this is open to the whole industry. If there are more companies that retailers can count on being here, it’s good for the suppliers and good for customers.”

The concept grew out of Manwah’s experience during June’s “mini-market,” September’s Premarket and the number of buyers visiting the showroom by appointment in the past couple of months. In August, Manwah announced it would see retailers in the showroom any day they wanted to schedule an appointment. Others such as Klaussner and Kuka Home followed suit in making their own announcements of year-round showroom availability to buyers.

Ray said that between May and the October market, Manwah had worked with buyers in the showroom “75% of the days” and that the June mini-market, Premarket and the new showroom policy created better attendance than the summer and fall markets combined.

“It’s evidenced by major buyers’ reception to these formats that it better meets their needs and comfort level,” Ray said.

Confronting disruption

With ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic’s impact on attendance at furniture markets next year, Ray views First Tuesday as a way to get early, regular and continuous buyer feedback on product in development as well as an opportunity to speed new goods to market.

“People continue to be wary of crowds, and we need to continue this approach until markets return to some kind of normalcy. With all this disruption, buyers don’t need to wait for what ‘may be’ a market in January or ‘may be’ a market in April,” he said, adding that with feeding demand such a priority of late, “we’ve been marking time on new product development.”

“We have focused on supply for this whole year,” Ray continued. Unprecedented demand this summer “hit everyone upside the head like a shovel, so we haven’t introduced new products, functions and innovations. We have some exciting things we’ve held off.”

First Tuesday gives a chance to gauge buyers’ reactions to products early on: “We can find out what their needs are right now and get that into production right after Chinese New Year instead of waiting for a market,” Ray said.

Positive reaction

First Tuesday already is getting positive response in the industry. When he was reached at market, High Point Market Authority CEO Tom Conley said the concept has a lot of potential for not only retailers and vendors, but also the market itself and the city of High Point. He’s already been working with the High Point x Design effort to build year-round traffic in high-end, designer-oriented showrooms.

“From the High Point Market Authority perspective, we believe anything that benefits buyers and sellers any time during the year is good for the market and good for High Point,” he said. “We’re prepared to partner in this effort with our concierge service, so if (retailers) need restaurant or hotel reservations we can help them. We want to be able to track how many people are in town and for how long,” he said, adding that has the potential for emphasizing the importance of High Point Market and associated furniture showroom activity to positively impact HPMA funding.

“No one’s talking about this as an alternative to market; it’s an enhancement to market,” Conley continued. “Very few retailers of the size Manwah targets – they sell to everyone, but they can handle those large accounts – is willing to come to High Point to see one vendor. If they can have meaningful, unhurried appointments with five or six key vendors over the course of a day or two, that frees them up during market to see new resources and other existing vendors. (First Tuesday) will have to be the right vendors and a limited number of retailers.”

Manwah also has approached Home Furnishings Assn. CEO Mark Schumacher, and he is watching the First Tuesday concept with great interest.

“First and foremost, I’m thrilled that any conversation about changes in markets includes HFA,” he said in a phone interview. “At this moment, my belief is that this concept Manwah has is the first of many that will be floated as manufacturers try to serve retailers in a different landscape.

“We’re looking at this to gauge the interest among retailers, not just larger retailers, but the mid-size companies that make up so much of our membership,” Schumacher added.

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