Tupelo – More than 800 vendors exhibited their merchandise to more than 25,000 attendees at the Tupelo Furniture Market, making it the best summer market in its 11-year history.
The furniture mart opened in 1987, primarily as a marketplace for lower-priced or promotional furniture goods. Each market has added exhibitors, with more mid-priced furnishings, from Tupelo-area furniture manufacturers, national and foreign manufacturers, accessory vendors, furniture makers and service suppliers.
Held in February and August, the market is housed in 1.25 million square feet of floor space in two buildings a mile apart on Coley Road in Tupelo.
The Tupelo Furniture Market has rapidly evolved into the number two market in the country, following High Point, N.C. “We have twice the space in High Point`s main building, and also have exhibits in San Francisco, Canada, and rent-to-own markets, but Tupelo is our number one market for volume of orders,” said Hunter Bigham, sales and marketing operations manager for Standard Furniture Manufacturing in Bay Minette, Ala. “High Point is for larger volume dealers who are going to make long-term commitments.”
About 136 dealers looked at Bigham`s wares on the first day of market. Bedroom, dining room, and home office furniture are his biggest sellers. His space had previously been located in the front of the building. This time, it was situated in the back of the building.
“In previous Tupelo markets, I saw 110 to 115 on the first day,” Bigham said. “This year, I opened more new accounts than usual. It shows you don`t have to necessarily be in the most obvious spot to get the best response.”
On opening day of the furniture market, Harry Martin, president of the Community Development Foundation, announced the expansion of an upholstery furniture manufacturer in Tupelo. H.M. Richard`s, a new upholstery furniture manufacturer that began limited production last fall in leased space, will begin construction of approximately 100,000 square feet on 23 acres in the North Lee Industrial Complex. H.M. Richard`s is a key supplier to Rooms to Go, the second largest furniture retailer in the U.S. with total projected sales of more than $700 million in 1998.
“There have been several major expansions in the northeast Mississippi furniture industry,” said Martin. “Action Industries has 300,000 square feet of expansion underway, and Berkline Industries has been expanding this entire year, from 200 to 500 employees. Furniture sales are up 5% to 10% in 1998. We haven`t had good increases every year in the past 10 years, but we`re having exceptionally good increases and the industry`s doing well.”
Northeast Mississippi has 124 furniture manufacturers and 153 furniture suppliers in a 10-county radius where almost 30,000 people work in the industry, Martin said. “It`s a billion-dollar industry,” he said. “The exact numbers of the economic impact of the furniture market haven`t been calculated yet, but business travelers generally spend a little more than tourist families. A lot of furniture was sold and it will greatly impact this part of the state.”
Because more people attend the furniture market than accommodations are available, Tupelo businesswoman Nancy Oliver often rents out her house to make extra money. She has charged $100 per couple each night, and said other homeowners have rented their houses for almost $1,000 during “market week.”
“I know several people who plan vacations during the weeks of the markets,” Oliver said. “They rent their homes for extra money and usually make enough to finance their vacations.”
Janice Coleman, managing director of the Tupelo complex and ten-year veteran attendee of furniture markets, said the furniture market has been so successful in part because of the emphasis placed on creating a casual, relaxed atmosphere and providing “good old-fashioned hospitality.”
“Market is usually so grueling, so we try to make it as pleasant as possible,” Coleman said. “It makes business a lot nicer to do.”
Every night during market week, buyers made their way to the cocktail party and dinner buffet. Free shuttle service until 11 p.m. made it easier for attendees.
“That`s one reason why we made such a significant investment at the Tupelo Furniture Mart,” Bigham said. “People like coming to Mississippi to do business. They enjoy the casual atmosphere.”
Oscar Miskelly of Miskelly Furniture in metro Jackson, who bought “hundreds and hundreds of sofas” at market, attributed several factors to the furniture market`s success.
“It`s a very easy market to work and the people are hospitable,” Miskelly said. “The rent manufacturers pay is much more reasonable than in Dallas or San Francisco. The expense of manufacturers doing business in Tupelo is much less than other venues.”
“Also, the Tupelo Furniture Market features the fastest growing segment of the furniture business with promotional to mid-priced furniture,” Miskelly said. “The high end market is shrinking.”
During the furniture market week, Miskelly Furniture was presented with the National Buyers Appreciation Award. A top 100 retailer based on Furniture Today magazine, Miskelly Furniture sold $34.2 million worth of furniture in both Jackson stores in 1997.