TUPELO — For most of the past 10 years, the steady growth of the Tupelo Furniture Market has had an increasing economic impact in the city and around north Mississippi.
A short look at a long list of previously crunched numbers quickly shows that the economic trend of last month’s five-day furniture-industry trade show at the Tupelo Furniture Market (TFM) was a big success. More important to industry, community and business leaders in northeast Mississippi is the fact that the spring market show continued a sustained growth trend that shows the market literally bursting at the seams.
“It’s a multi-million-dollar week for north Mississippi, no doubt about it. But I’d say the residuals are worth many millions more,” V. M. Cleveland said after speaking to the Tupelo Furniture Market Association last week. Cleveland is the market’s chief executive officer.
He reported that along with the 27,000 attendees, the TFM hosted 850 exhibitors from across the US, Canada, Mexico and Thailand. Buyers came from all 50 states and 16 foreign countries including visitors from Mexico, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, France, England, Bermuda, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
NO ROOM AT THE INN
During last month’s market week, over 27,000 visitors traveled to Tupelo and virtually every one of the 1,631 hotel/motel rooms in the immediate Tupelo vicinity were full, according to Tupelo Conventions and Visitors Bureau CVB director Linda Butler.
“I’d say it’s one of the biggest markets we’ve ever had. I know we were at capacity because we had an unexpected need arise, and we could not accommodate a family who had a death and needed rooms for relatives from out of state on short notice. That’s one of the things we do for folks, but we had to place them in Memphis because there were absolutely no rooms,” Butler said.
According to CVB marketing consultant and hospitality-industry veteran Bobby King’s August 1998 market research the average TFM population is 67% male, 33% female and largely in the 35-55 age range with the average market visitor staying three nights. Spending habit data shows the average buyer spends about $325 while exhibitors average $725.
MARKET RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS
SHOWS SUSTAINED GROWTH TRAND
Virtually all indications point to last month’s market as a record-setter, and perhaps more importantly, toward a steady growth cycle for the TFM which means more work for TFMA president Harry Martin, who also serves as president of the Community Development Foundation.
“It’s more than two weeks a year because we have so many other related things going on in conjunction with the two markets. The biggest thing to me is the 37,000 north Mississippians who are directly working in the furniture industry,” Martin said. “That’s 20% of our work force and this is a huge and growing industry, so this is one of the most dynamic and growing sectors of our economy. I’ve already started getting calls to help folks meet the increased demand for orders they have now and we haven’t even gotten into the residual issues yet.”
Martin said the furniture industry is a billion-dollar business and that companies of all sizes are flourishing in north Mississippi, but that the TFM and TFMA have created an atmosphere where small companies can get going like industry giant Action Industries did. Action first started on Crossover Street in Tupelo, but is now one of the top employers in the state and an industry leader with over 5,000 employees.
“The two markets are what keeps this going, but to me,” Martin said, “the lasting impact is the smaller companies, especially in north Mississippi, that can’t afford to go to North Carolina can get started here and grow their business the way Action and others did over on Crossover Street”
King also administers a series of intercept interviews during the market and tracks the various market trends and hospitality industry results for Butler and the CVB. Although all the February market’s numbers have not been completely crunched, King indicated that the growth trend continues to go up.
“We do a 1-5 rating scale as part of our interviews,” King explained. “With five as the highest, we ask people to rate our lodging and dining experiences as well as our overall market. Since 1993, the number has continued to go up. Our lodging is at 4.12, our restaurant experience rated a 4.33 and our overall market was rated a 4.52 by the people who came to our Spring market. This shows a consistent rise since ‘93 when we had about a 4.3 rating. Three-out-of-four of our customers are repeat customers. Our average loyalty rating is 4.63, so in tracking this information, there has been a very positive trend in the overall rating and I think this is very encouraging to the future of the market.”
As for the TFM’s overall economic impact to north Mississippi, neither King, Martin nor Cleveland could offer any specific figures, but all agreed on two basic principals: the market itself is at least a multi-million dollar week for Tupelo and there is almost no way to measure the many residual effects and intangible factors and indirect sales that result between the two markets. Together they have become a cycle that keeps growing in the spring, sustaining that growth in the fall and growing some more the next spring.
For Tupelo and the region, TFM trends are all pointing up.