Tar Heel Tattler - December 2005

High Point leaders are not grieving Las Vegas
By Arthur O. Murray

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman laid his cards on the table a year ago, sure that he held the winning hand against organizers of the High Point International Home Furnishings Market. “If I were them,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “I’d be worrying about the new furniture capital of the world: Las Vegas.”

Maybe she’s got her poker face on, but Judy Mendenhall doesn’t seem too concerned. The top executive of the High Point market says it still dwarfs the one in the desert. “They have 1 million square feet of exhibit space. We have 12 million. You can’t really look at those things and compare them.”

But people do. And by at least one measure, the odds seem to be tilting in favor of the startup. Mendenhall concedes that attendance for the fall show in High Point, which hosted its first market in 1909, was probably down 8% or 9% from the 70,000 who usually attend. In July, Vegas drew about 62,000 to its inaugural show.

Beginner’s luck, suggests Charlie Greene, president of High Point-based Classic Gallery Group. “They’ll run out of gas. Right now there are no high-end showrooms in Vegas. It’s all medium to low. That’s going to draw traffic but not the big hitters.”

He says Vegas might have seemed more vibrant because its exhibit spaces are smaller. “There’s an old adage in retail or wholesale: If you anticipate a smaller crowd, make the building smaller.”

High Point might want to keep that in mind as longtime exhibitors start putting their money on Vegas. Gerry Borreggine, president of Therapedic Inc., a Middlesex, N.J.-based mattress maker, has been attending the High Point market at least 20 years. Therapedic didn’t exhibit at the July market in Vegas, but he went. “The fact that High Point has more space doesn’t make it better. It’s not the quantity of the space that engaged the buyers. It’s the quality. There was more action. There was more excitement.”

Therapedic will exhibit at the January market in Vegas. So will Virginia-based Pulaski Furniture Corp., says Bill Sibbick, senior vice president of sales. He’s been a regular at High Point 28 years and went to both shows there in 2005 as well as to Vegas. High Point leaders have addressed some complaints, but not everyone is sold — especially retailers, Sibbick says. “They still have issues with some of the things that matter most to them: lodging, rental cars, food.” There is a silver lining, though. “With less attendance this fall, people were saying it was easier to get in restaurants.”