Furniture Market rolls again

by Brian Clarey

The subtle turning of the leaves and cold winds blowing down from the mountains marks the beginning of the North Carolina Piedmont Triad’s very own Fall Classic: the International Home Furnishings Market, which draws some 85,000 industry insiders from all over the world to our little corner of the state.

We’ve been doing furniture here since the 1800s, utilizing master craftsmanship that was handed down through generations and out seemingly endless supply of Carolina hardwoods.

A lot of the furniture is made elsewhere these days, but High Point is still known as the Furniture Capitol of the world, in large part because inside the city limits exists millions of square feet of showroom space and an entire battalion of professionals who know the business inside and out.

It all began with an office desk built by the High Point Furniture Manufacturing Co., the area’s very first furniture company, in 1889. Imitators and innovators soon followed, and by 1910 the area was doing $8.5 million in business annually.

The Market got its start when 10 High Point businessmen put up $1,000 each, and the expansive downtown showrooms followed. In 1921, the Southern Furniture Exposition Building, housing almost 250,000 square feet of showroom space, filled to capacity with furniture made to fill houses in the postwar boom.

Hard times hit during the 1929 stock market crash and World War II, but in 1947, with anther postwar generation settling down, the furniture industry took off once again. That year’s market, still called the Southern Exposition, exceeded $5 billion in sales.

Another flurry of activity hit in 1989, when the market was renamed to acknowledge its international scope and almost 7 million square feet of showroom space was added to the mix.

Today these showrooms make up most of the cityscape, and they come to life twice a year for this event.

The modern Market you experience is the culmination of more than a century of business, hospitality and entertainment for furniture industry professionals. The city of High Point has been hosting this event so long it’s become a part of the culture, of the natural ebb and flow of the city.

Kickoff parties start on Friday night and the events roll until the following Thursday, featuring networking opportunities and more wine cubed cheese than at a dozen gallery openings. Lectures and discussion groups begin on Saturday, offering symposiums on business strategies and the state of the furniture industry. And the areas bars and restaurants will be filled with the expense-account dealmakers who know how to make the Market work for them.

Furniture Market is a multi-faceted event, and the smart marketeer knows how to navigate between the scores of showroom parties, lectures, informal sessions and bigtime events with ease.

Highlights this year include the Stars Under the Stars music series, featuring performances by Simply Irresistible on Saturday night, Gavin De Graw on Sunday and Cowboy Mouth on Monday. The Flying Cow Lounge, at the top of Market Square, features lounge-style parties and music all weekend. Showplace West will have food, music and dancing. And restaurants all over the Triad are prepping for large parties and intimate meetings.

But at its heart, the Market remains what it has always been: the biggest, best and oldest furniture industry event in the world, one that consumes the city of High Point and its surrounding areas, captures the energy and imagination of its people, and never fails to make us proud.