Tupelo — While August generates images of school bells for many families, it also signals the arrival of furniture executives — and dollar signs — for the Northeast Mississippi economy.
The twice-a-year hustle and bustle known as the Tupelo Furniture Market swept into the All American City this past week as an anticipated 30,000 to 35,000 attendees streamed into town. While the market officially began August 19 and lasted through August 22, many retailers began sales meetings earlier in the week — some even began to write orders — while exhibitors fine-tuned their space and attended to last-minute details.
The Tupelo market, which shows in the spring and fall, has emerged from humble beginnings in the late 1980s to the second-largest furniture market in the country next to High Point, N.C. The original show — which boasted 38 exhibitors — had 14,000 square feet of space at the Ramada Inn, Tupelo.
While some skeptics at the time argued that Memphis had more infrastructure to make a better market, others believed that the proximity of furniture manufacturers in North Mississippi would make Tupelo a more viable choice.
In the years that followed, Tupelo businessman V.M. Cleveland, chairman of the Tupelo Furniture Market, built his own buildings on Coley Road in West Tupelo and then consolidated the Mississippi Market buildings further down Coley, setting the stage — and the strategy — for what the market has become.
Today, the Tupelo Furniture Market has swelled to about two million square feet of show space with close proximity to the airport and major roadways. This August, about 1,000 exhibitors showed at the market — a comparable number to the fall 2003 event, according to Bill Cleveland, Tupelo Furniture Market president.
Prior to the August 2004 Tupelo market, some industry experts said that recent shows in San Francisco, Dallas and Atlanta generated tepid results. While some say that retail activity has been softer since late spring, Furniture/Today, a publication that tracks furniture industry trends, said in a Tupelo-market-related article that its sources expected a late-year surge of consumer business after the summer. A projected pick-up in retail activity would seemingly bode well for area manufacturers and exhibitors.
Cleveland said that from his perspective, the mood of the Tupelo market was positive.
“Exhibitors seem to be very pleased with not only the amount of retailers, but also the overall quality of retailers attending the market,” he said.
Phillip Gough, president of Meadowbrook Furniture, said that while certain times of day were slower, overall market showroom traffic was good and that order writing was strong. Gough has been showing in Tupelo for 12 years.
“Our Wednesday was busier than past Wednesdays and order-wise, we’re pleased with what we’re seeing,” Gough said on Friday morning of the market. He added that several new pieces were getting a strong reception.
“Our bentwood arm magazine chairs with sofas and occasional tables to match have been very well received and our metropolitan modern groups have also sold very well,” Gough added.
Mike Hudson of Southern Dreams Inc. said that he did not see as many dealers at this market, but the dealers who were present were writing orders. Suede generated strong appeal this market, he said.
Cleveland noted that Tupelo Building 6 with 300,000 square feet of new exhibit space was added with more than nine acres of parking directly behind TB6, increasing complimentary parking to over three million square feet.
“Tupelo Building 6 is perpendicular to the existing buildings at the Tupelo Complex and was designed with hallways that join each of the other structures, allowing market attendees to visit any of the six buildings without leaving the complex,” Cleveland said.
Hospitality is an important attribute of the Tupelo market. Shuttle vans carried visitors to and from the market complex facilities along Coley Road. Retailer breakfasts, hors d’oeuvres and beverages were made available and evening buffets were offered Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in addition to live entertainment.
Several market attendees who were interviewed characterized the Tupelo market’s friendliness, convenience and ease of shopping as major drawing points. Some others noted that they like the fact that they can visit with manufacturers who are in close proximity of the market, if they wish to do so.
“Our mission is to bring each guest attending the Tupelo Furniture Market into a warm, friendly and hospitable atmosphere in which to conduct business,” Cleveland said. “We feel like the casual, relaxed environment in our easy-to-shop facilities located in the center of the upholstery capital of the world are compelling reasons to attend our market.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at email@example.com.