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After Market Wrap Up

September 19, 2008

According to Mart personnel, attendance was down about 7% at this year’s market. There was speculation that the weekend weather was the culprit. True, rains closed O’Hare several times Saturday night, flooding in Chicago made it difficult for attendees to get from the airport to the city, and our friends in the Houston/Galveston area had their hands full coping with Ike’s destruction. But, I know a retailer from the Midwest who drove for 5 hours to get to Chicago after her flight was cancelled. There was the rep who took 5 hours to get from O’Hare to downtown but was at market bright and early Sunday morning. And then there was the Houston multiple store retailer who got to the show only a day late. So, I don’t think weather could explain the decrease in attendance.

No, I think it was the economy. In these slow times, buyers who came to premarket couldn’t justify the additional expense of going to another market so soon. For those sitting on slow moving inventory, it didn’t make sense to come to market unable to buy. And for some, the outlook for next year was so confusing; they didn’t want to make travel to Chicago unable to make decisions.

I do think the buyers who were at market were in a positive mood. I don’t think anyone felt the floor had or was about to fall out from under us. I did sense people were making more cautious buys. Instead of investing in questionable colors or styles, most of us were sticking to proven SKU’s.

The weather in Chicago is beautiful in late summer and early fall. I always look forward to these September shows. It is refreshing to get away from the oppressive heat and humidity of New Orleans in September. However, the days of a September show are numbered, next year probably being the last.

The newly formed ICFA (International Casual Furniture Association) has decided to consolidate the premarket and regular market into one market starting in 2010. There are plenty of reasons to do this, not the least of which is that retailers don’t like spending the money or time to come to two markets which are so close to one another. So the question is no longer whether there will be two markets but when will the single consolidated market be and how long should it last.

The majority of the ICFA board prefers the market to be the last two weeks of July. Their second choice is the first two weeks of August. The retailers on the ICFA board want a seven-day market for the permanent showrooms. Temp spaces would be open for four days in the middle of the market.

The Merchandise Mart and ICFA have to contend with other conventions that are in Chicago in late July or early August. When there are lots of conventions in Chicago, hotel rates go up unmercifully. The Gift and the Apparel market are in Chicago at that time and their dates are dictated by the dates other cities hold their Gift and Apparel markets. Finally, a long market is harder to slot at the Mart than a short one because set-up and teardown add even more days to the event behind the scenes.

Because of these external factors, market may have to be in the last week of June or the third week of August. No one, manufacturers, retailers, or reps, wants the market as early as late June. However, the third week of August is tough for retailers preparing for their big Labor Day sale event. Florida retailers need the market to be as early as possible to prepare for their season that starts as early as October. To top it all off, once this decision is made, we will have to live with it for a minimum of five years.

A compromise will have to be reached and it won’t be easy. If a time is picked that retailers don’t like, we may have a situation like the one a few years ago when market was moved up to the last week of August. Retailers stayed away in droves and SCFMA had to move the dates back to September.

Personally, I like the idea of one market held in September. Besides the good weather, I have the best idea of what inventory I will have left over and I am not in the midst of my Labor Day sale. However, since a September show is too late for many manufacturers, they will go back to having “by invitation” premarkets at their factories or permanent show rooms. An alternative to that would be something that worked fine in the past; reps would go to sales meeting to learn about new products and early early buy programs some time in late June. Then they would go into their territories and make presentations to their key retailers.

The advantage of this system is the vendor can present to key retailers in Florida as early as late June. Other key accounts would be seen in a time frame that would fit in with their end of season sale events. When these presentations are made, buyers can let vendors know what they think about new introductions early enough for manufacturers to tweak their line before the September market. This system creates a lot of work for reps. But it made sense once; I think it still does.

I will say this though, shame on any manufacturer who votes for a late July or August market and then doesn’t have catalogues, swatch books, price lists, and production versions of their new products ready and available at that market. This means everything has to be tweaked by market, probably by having mini markets at multiple factories. This brings us back to retailers having to travel multiple times before market with the concomitant expenses and days-in-store missed.

I can’t emphasize too much how important it is for all of us to let ICFA know what we want. This board and Dudley Flanders, the ICFA president, have made it clear that ICFA is going to make this decision with the good of all players in mind. He doesn’t want ICFA to make the decision in a vacuum and would really like to hear from you. The final decision will be made at the November ICFA board meeting. I encourage manufacturers to contact Dudley before then at:

Retailers should contact Petey Fleischut before then at:

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce