Business

High Point worried about low points

Could there be a worse time to convince consumers to buy furniture?

The High Point Market, the world's largest exhibition of furniture, opens Monday against a backdrop of consumers worried about job cutbacks, rising prices and an economy in disarray.

“Just the shock of what's happened in the last four weeks will hurt us,” said Jerry Epperson, a furniture analyst with Mann, Armistead & Epperson of Richmond, Va.

Epperson, who will provide an industry outlook to furniture executives on Monday, told the Observer in an interview that even in good times, “furniture is a deferrable purchase.

“If your dishwasher or your car transmission breaks, you have to fix them,” he said. “But what can go wrong with your chest of drawers? In periods like this, wants give way to needs for everyone.”

Epperson forecasts that U.S. sales in the $86 billion-a-year furniture industry will drop about 9 percent in 2008, bottom out in the first part of 2009 and show a modest pickup in the second half of the year. He predicts a strong comeback in 2010, with a 6 percent gain.

As about 80,000 manufacturers, retailers, sales representatives, interior designers, architects and others gather in High Point, “it won't be the happiest market ever.”

Still, Epperson said, the industry – which has dealt with major blows in the past – will be poised to show new products to ship to stores in the spring.

“Almost everybody has something new to get consumers' attention,” he said.

Motivated to innovate

That includes N.C. manufacturers such as Kincaid Furniture, which employs about 300 making all-wood furniture in its Hudson factory in Caldwell County.

Bob Lemons, senior vice president for sales and marketing, said the company will introduce its Rosecroft line of bedroom, dining room and upholstered furniture in an Arts & Crafts style. Kincaid is currently shipping to retailers its American Journal line, which it debuted at the April High Point market.

Lemons said the company makes about half of its furniture in North Carolina, the rest overseas. Besides the Hudson facility, it has an upholstery factory in Taylorsville, in Alexander County. During the last two years, all of its market introductions have been produced in the state.

North Carolina lost tens of thousands of furniture-making jobs in the last decade, mostly to Asian countries where labor is cheaper. Currently, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce, the state has 1,450 furniture companies employing 63,300 workers.

Lemons said his sales staff at High Point is determined to be “very upbeat. If you have a cloud hanging over your showroom, it is mirrored to your customers.”

“Sales are a challenge, especially when the economy in flux,” he said. “But given that, with the cost of fuel and travel expenses, we do see a trend for people to make their homes a nicer place to entertain.”

Election worries

Carol Gregg, who owns Red Egg, a High Point company that reproduces antique pieces in vivid colors, worries that this year's market will suffer because people are focused on the upcoming election.

“But our phone and fax and e-mail are still busy, so I feel pretty good about that,” she said.

Gregg moved her boutique business from California to High Point four years ago. Then, two years ago, she started transferring her production from China to a High Point factory.

Now, she makes all her products in North Carolina.

She said she made the change because she was spending too much time in China keeping the quality consistent, and her shipping prices kept going up.

At the market, she'll be showing new pieces and new colors in her Asian-themed Double Happiness line, and will introduce a new collection of hand-knotted rugs.

“I don't think this market will be spectacular, but I don't think it will be a complete standstill for buying,” Gregg said.

Could there be a worse time to convince consumers to buy furniture?

The High Point Market, the world's largest exhibition of furniture, opens Monday against a backdrop of consumers worried about job cutbacks, rising prices and an economy in disarray.

“Just the shock of what's happened in the last four weeks will hurt us,” said Jerry Epperson, a furniture analyst with Mann, Armistead & Epperson of Richmond, Va.

Epperson, who will provide an industry outlook to furniture executives on Monday, told the Observer in an interview that even in good times, “furniture is a deferrable purchase.

“If your dishwasher or your car transmission breaks, you have to fix them,” he said. “But what can go wrong with your chest of drawers? In periods like this, wants give way to needs for everyone.”

Epperson forecasts that U.S. sales in the $86 billion-a-year furniture industry will drop about 9 percent in 2008, bottom out in the first part of 2009 and show a modest pickup in the second half of the year. He predicts a strong comeback in 2010, with a 6 percent gain.

As about 80,000 manufacturers, retailers, sales representatives, interior designers, architects and others gather in High Point, “it won't be the happiest market ever.”

Still, Epperson said, the industry – which has dealt with major blows in the past – will be poised to show new products to ship to stores in the spring.

“Almost everybody has something new to get consumers' attention,” he said.

Motivated to innovate

That includes N.C. manufacturers such as Kincaid Furniture, which employs about 300 making all-wood furniture in its Hudson factory in Caldwell County.

Bob Lemons, senior vice president for sales and marketing, said the company will introduce its Rosecroft line of bedroom, dining room and upholstered furniture in an Arts & Crafts style. Kincaid is currently shipping to retailers its American Journal line, which it debuted at the April High Point market.

Lemons said the company makes about half of its furniture in North Carolina, the rest overseas. Besides the Hudson facility, it has an upholstery factory in Taylorsville, in Alexander County. During the last two years, all of its market introductions have been produced in the state.

North Carolina lost tens of thousands of furniture-making jobs in the last decade, mostly to Asian countries where labor is cheaper. Currently, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce, the state has 1,450 furniture companies employing 63,300 workers.

Lemons said his sales staff at High Point is determined to be “very upbeat. If you have a cloud hanging over your showroom, it is mirrored to your customers.”

“Sales are a challenge, especially when the economy in flux,” he said. “But given that, with the cost of fuel and travel expenses, we do see a trend for people to make their homes a nicer place to entertain.”

Election worries

Carol Gregg, who owns Red Egg, a High Point company that reproduces antique pieces in vivid colors, worries that this year's market will suffer because people are focused on the upcoming election.

“But our phone and fax and e-mail are still busy, so I feel pretty good about that,” she said.

Gregg moved her boutique business from California to High Point four years ago. Then, two years ago, she started transferring her production from China to a High Point factory.

Now, she makes all her products in North Carolina.

She said she made the change because she was spending too much time in China keeping the quality consistent, and her shipping prices kept going up.

At the market, she'll be showing new pieces and new colors in her Asian-themed Double Happiness line, and will introduce a new collection of hand-knotted rugs.

“I don't think this market will be spectacular, but I don't think it will be a complete standstill for buying,” Gregg said.

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