Bob Loftis and his son-in-law Reggie Davis arrived in Tupelo August 21. The owner of Muskogee, Okla.-based Bob Loftis Furniture wanted to be in town for the “unofficial” opening of the Tupelo Furniture Market the next morning.
They were, and it still took until Saturday afternoon, the eve of the market’s closing, to complete their buying, the kind of buyer that the market’s 800 exhibitors would like to see many more of.
“We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this market, like we always have,” says Davis. “We took advantage of a lot of discounts and bought several containers of goods.” Containers refers to the usual way Chinese and other Asian manufacturers get their products to American retailers like Loftis and Davis.
The men point out a good part of their mission for the fall market, as the August event is called (the February event is called the spring market), was to “improve our leather lines.” They say they were able to do that and expect to be able to offer tempting deals to the promotional and mid-price customers in their five Oklahoma stores. Promotional is the industry term for low-cost products.
Loftis and Davis have yet to attend the Las Vegas furniture market, kicked off two years ago and blamed for reduced attendance at the biennial Tupelo event: “We’ve considered Vegas but haven’t gone yet.”
The two Oklahomans, however, might not be the kind of customer Vegas markets cater to since, in a brief interview, they seemed to be all about business, with little room for anything other than their buying trip, especially the entertainment diversions rife in the Nevada desert. Those are among the types of buyers Tupelo Furniture Market co-founder V.M. Cleveland focuses on.
“We want them all, the partiers and the serious buyers,” says Cleveland. He calls the August event “the first market with an upswing” in a long time. Cleveland and several exhibitors say most orders were written Wednesday through Saturday.
A walk-through on Saturday afternoon revealed, at best, sparse attendance; some exhibitors in permanent showrooms and a few temporary stalls had already folded tents and headed home.
“Attendance is down. It’s the slowest market I’ve seen in years,” reports Janet Harris, sales representative for Memphis-based Stein World, importers of painted case goods (chests, bureaus, tables, etc.). She concedes that, while the number of buyers were low, the ones in attendance did buy.
“If there had been twice as many buyers here buying the same amount, it would have been a great market,” adds Benton Robertson, one of Harris’ colleagues at Stein World.
Robertson and Harris agrees that the national economy is having an effect on furniture sales: “The buyers reflect what their customers are buying,” comments Robertson.
“They’re buying a lot of small stuff,” adds Harris. She explains that, while sales of large furniture items are down, retail customers have learned that they can change the look of a room cheaply by adding some silk flowers, changing out lamps and adding some inexpensive accessories.
Not all in attendance, however, were following that pattern.
Ed Farmer, owner of Farmer’s Leasing, says he was buying upholstered living room and bedroom furniture to stock in his Wiggins, Gulfport and Hattiesburg stores. “I’m buying lots of it, maybe more than I need,” says Farmer.
To his credit, Farmer explains that he was trying to purchase American-made furniture where he could.
“We need to go somewhere affordable and this is the most affordable market in the United States,” says Larry Lang, owner of Lang Furniture in Marshfield, Wisc., where he makes wood bedroom furniture. At $4 to $5 per square foot per market, that is considerably less than the $25 to $30 charged in Las Vegas.
“I have 28 sales reps in the Midwest and eastern U.S.,” says Lang. “They tell me the retailers they call on just don’t know what Tupelo has to offer.”