HIGH POINT — Dwight Sweat is desperate for furniture.
Not for his home but for his furniture retail business in Brunswick, Ga.
“Furniture stores have never sold this much furniture,” Sweat said. "It’s putting a high demand on the manufacturers."
Sweat drove from Georgia to shop the High Point Market’s three-day preview event in which dealers can get a jump on the main market scheduled for Oct. 13 through 21.
Furniture dealers are making up for lost time. High Point’s spring market was originally postponed and then canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the High Point Market Authority is moving forward with the October market.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s office has approved a plan for the premarket and fall market, said Tom Conley, president of High Point Market. The approach is the same as with retail: Furniture showrooms will limit capacity, and masks are required, Conley said.
“We've got 12½ million square feet of space here, and we're spread out, so social distancing is no problem,” Conley said.
Sweat said he typically skips premarket for the regular market but decided to shop early this year.
Because business is so good, he's not just there to see new products, "but seeing what we can get,” Sweat said.
At a time when the pandemic has choked most industries, the home furnishings business is booming, said Doug Bassett of Vaughan-Bassett, a furniture manufacturer in Galax, Va.
“It’s like the twilight zone. We know the overall economy is not good, but our business has never been better,” said Bassett, chairman of the premarket committee and on the board of High Point Market.
Chip Auman of family-owned Palmetto Furniture in Society Hill, S.C. said sales slumped at the beginning of the pandemic but picked up in early summer. He said his business is up 100% or more over last year.
“February and March were a bit puny. We weathered April. Then May, through today, has been gangbusters. We’re selling everything but the nails in the floor,” Auman said.
Bassett speculates that people who are still fortunate to have a job are spending their discretionary income on home improvement rather than travel, eating and entertainment, such as canceled live concerts and sporting events.
Drop into any home-improvement store lately, and the parking lot is full of customers loading cans of paint and bags of mulch into the cargo area of their trucks and vans.
“You’re stuck at home, so it’s kind of natural to look around and go, it’s time for a new sofa or it’s time to update this room,” said Bassett, who has a showroom on the 10th floor of the International Home Furnishings Center.
Typically, premarket sees only about 100 dealers. This year, twice that many shopped for furniture and accessories in 300-plus showrooms spread out through downtown.
That compares to the thousands of dealers expected for the October market.
Some dealers, like Sweat, are coming to premarket and opting out of returning to the regular market.
“That’s not a bad thing, given we’re in the middle of a pandemic. We want to spread everybody out,” Bassett said.
The changes at premarket were obvious. In addition to requiring masks, temperature checks were done at the door of the IHFC building. Visitors wore colored bracelets to show they had been vetted.
Bassett said he encountered only two dealers who refused to wear a mask. They were turned away.
The number of visitors in a showroom at any given time were limited. Bassett’s 20,000-square-foot showroom allowed an average of 15 people at a time.
How premarket was handled in a time of pandemic is an indicator of how to navigate the October market, Bassett said.
“It’s sort of like a Broadway show preview. It gives you a chance to perfect your procedures,” he said.
Many of the dealers stay at the Grandover resort and the Sheraton in Greensboro. One of the highlights of premarket is an elaborate dinner on Monday night. This year, it was a gourmet boxed dinner visitors could eat on the resort’s outdoor patio or take back to their rooms.
Bassett said manufacturers took advantage of premarket in another way.
“My showroom and some other showrooms will bring in videographers to create a video tour of new products to email to reps and key customers that are unable to come,” he said.
Bassett said dealers who have concerns over visiting premarket or market can also schedule an in-person appointment at his showroom.
Dealers, like Auman, couldn’t wait. He said he needs inventory right now while business is good.
“I don’t know how long this horse is gonna run, but we’re gonna ride him and hold on as long as we can,” Auman said.
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