For Shane Spiller, the Tupelo Furniture Market is a no-brainer. Stuart Shevin could make the same case.
Two branch stores of the family-owned Spiller Furniture Stores are in Columbus and Starkville; the remaining 15 are in Alabama. With headquarters in Tuscaloosa, attending the biennial Tupelo Furniture Market is an easy drive up the highway for Spiller, president of the enterprise.
“You don’t have to hop on a plane to get there,” said Spiller.
And the market is only a few hours away for Shevin, who serves as president of Standard Furniture; the retailer has eight stores in its Birmingham base, six strung across northern Alabama and one in Tennessee.
Now there is an added incentive for the men to continue their pilgrimages to Tupelo, center of the Northeast Mississippi furniture manufacturing industry. While location may be crucial in the world of real estate, timing may turn out to be the saving grace for the Tupelo Furniture Market.
A decision to move the winter market (officially called the Spring Market for its goal of selling furniture to dealers for their spring and summer customers) up by at least a month, from mid- to late-February to January 10-13, is music to the ears of dealers like Shevin and Spiller.
“The dates work better for us,” said Shevin. “A lot of our furniture is bought from Rapid Return. We’ll be able to have fresh product.” A two-week turnaround promise made by many regional manufacturers, between order and delivery, will practically guarantee Shevin and Spiller have full showrooms when the refunds begin to arrive.
The majority of their customers are buyers of “promotional” furniture, a mainstay of Tupelo’s manufacturers aimed at less than high-end spenders. Tax-refund season during February and March, second in sales volume only to December, have traditionally been a boom time for sellers of promotional furniture; flush with their refunds, buyers head to dealers like Spiller and Standard.
“The early dates for the Tupelo market,” said Spiller, “are a slam-dunk to get to market for filling in the (showroom) gaps and getting product.”
It took a nudge from out West for V.M. Cleveland, CEO and chairman of the Tupelo Furniture Market’s board of directors, to make the move. After more than 18 years of slugging its way into position as one of the premier furniture exhibitions in the country, the Tupelo Furniture Market is still slugging.
But now its goal is to retain as much of its market share as possible. A glitzy new market in Las Vegas is draining attendance at the Tupelo event, but market officials in the Northeast Mississippi city are fighting that drain.
“Las Vegas has cut into vendors,” Cleveland said. “I expect 800 exhibitors for this market.”
One big advantage those vendors and exhibitors have at the two million-square-foot Tupelo market is cost; Cleveland’s $8-per-square-foot yearly lease rate is less than a quarter of Vegas’ $35-per-square-foot rate.
Buyers for retailers like Spiller and Standard, though, is what the vendors/exhibitors come for. Cleveland refused to say how many furniture buyers attend the Tupelo event, citing an industry-wide penchant for keeping those numbers confidential.
“The hardest people to get here are the mom-and-pop stores,” Cleveland said. “Big retailers don’t need an earlier market.”
Large regional and national furniture sellers are not affected by tax-refund season, Cleveland pointed out. Hence, his decision to listen to smaller retailers turns out to be something of a return to the roots of the market that kicked off in humble digs back in 1988.
“Those retailers said, ‘We’ve been telling you and telling you that you can’t sell a February market,’” said Cleveland.
“It’s been an ongoing request,” Spiller said.
“I’ve been talking about moving it for 10 years,” said Shevin.