Ray Allegrezza Holds Q & A With Tom Conley About October Market

Knowing the impact the Covid-19 virus has had on the home furnishings industry, IHFRA has published a series of interviews with key retailers, reps and manufacturers in order to bring you their respective observations, responses and strategies.


 This is our final installment—a conversation with Tom Conley, CEO of the High Point Market Authority. 


 Under Conley’s supervision, the Market Authority recently announced a proposed new format for the upcoming October High Point Market.  


 The format, while very different from what market attendees have been used to, provides the safest and most cogent solution to host the market.

 What follows are Conley’s comments about the upcoming October market.


Q: First of all, the industry needs to thank you and the Market Authority for coming up with a plan this quickly.   How was this plan arrived at---and who else had input on the proposal?
TC: We’ve had input from any sources and to make sure we had our pulse on the industry, we spoke at length to The International Home Furnishings Representatives Association, The Home Furnishings  Association and the Board of the American Home Furnishings Alliance.
Q: Were there other options being considered?  Can you comment on why this nine-day format proved to be the best solution?
 TC: Yes, there were three options. 1) Keep the Market the way it had been prior to Covid-19.  2) Appointment only over a 21-day period, and  3) The one one we chose.
Q: For the record, can you weigh in on why option 3 was selected?
TC:  Absolutely.  We think that this option offers the closest solution to our twofold objectives – Convince the Governor that we can comply with CDC guidance and keep everyone safe and convince the buyers that High Point will be extremely safe.
Q:  How heavily was the Governor involved in this process and to the best of your knowledge is he fully on board with the nine-day format?
TC:  They saw everything and appreciated our due diligence.  It is too early for them to approve our plan.  But we will continue to dialogue.
Q: There seems to be some confusion about how long a dealer can be at the upcoming market.  Can you clarify this?
TC: A dealer can stay as long as she/he chooses.  We asked that they indicate the primary period when they register and that they choose based on region. I would like to stress that our goal is to spread people out, encourage appointments, but NOT to limit the time that a buyer needs to work Market.
Q:  Clearly the health and safety of everyone at market is a priority.   What steps will the Market Authority take on its behalf to keep show goers safe?
TC:  While we have limited control, we do have  very loud voice.  So, we will be extremely cautious with busses, registration, education events (if we have any).  And we will work very closely with building owners and exhibitors to give them the guidance and the tools to have a safe and successful Market.
Q: What is your understanding regarding what the individual buildings will do to minimize any health risk to show attendees?
TC: Our understanding is that the buildings will provide extensive cleaning, limited use of elevators and escalators, require masks, social distancing signage and any other precautions they can take.
Q: I realize it is very early in the game, but do you have a best guesstimate regarding how many people may attend the October market?
TC:  We are pretty sure that the international buyer attendance will be very light.  That is 10% of our buyer base.  We have a very large group of buyers that can drive in.  The wild card is how many buyers from West of the Mississippi will board an airplane.
Q:   When you announced the dates and format the press release said any changes to the initial plan would be shared.  Are there any changes that have taken place since the press release went out?  If so, can you update us? 
TC:  None so far. We are constantly monitoring the situation and will advise if changes occur.
Q: A growing group of showrooms in High Point are planning to schedule appointments with customers June 16-18, 2020. Is the Market Authority officially involved in this move?
TC:  No.  But we support and encourage those buyers and sellers who can get together any time to conduct business.
Q:  Do you think the new dates of the Summer Las Vegas Market (Aug 30th - Sept 3) will impact the October High Point Market?  If so, how?   
TC: I applaud IMC for wanting to make sure that the Western region has a Market.  I am not sure how the new dates will affect buyer attendance.

Editor’s note. Prior to conducting this interview with Tom Conley, IHFRA had received a number of questions regarding the upcoming new format for the October High Point Market.


Conley was gracious enough to supply succinct answers to those questions, so in the interest of clarity, what follows are those questions and Conley’s responses.

Q:   How are they going to police the dealers to make sure they stick to their group days?
TC: No policing.  We trust they will abide.
Q: How are they going to sterilize  the showrooms each day? 
TC:  We will make recommendations to each showroom.  But the responsibility is theirs.
Q: Can Group 1 also go into  Group 2 if they are behind schedule?
TC: Yes, as we’ve noted, any buyer can stay as long as they want.  We are just asking them to pick a primary period.
Q:  In theory, Group two could be very busy because it allows Group 1 and Group 2.  . How will we control that? 
TC:  We are urging appointments. Control in showrooms is an exhibitor issue.  We will control busses and urge distancing around town.
Q: Will everyone have to wear a mask in the buildings? If so, who will provide them?
TC:  We are ordering 100,000 masks.  We will provide to anyone who wants one.  But buildings and exhibitors will make their own rules.
Q:  Do the out buildings have to comply with the same group times?
TC: Yes.  That will help spread things out.

IMC Survey Reveals Retailer Reaction to Covid-19

To read the executive summary, click the following link:

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High Point Market Authority Expands Fall 2020 Market Dates

HIGH POINT, N.C., May 21, 2020 — In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the High Point Market Authority is expanding the Fall Market dates in an effort to spread out attendance and account for expected reduced capacity requirements for showrooms and buildings. Fall Market will now take place over 9 days from October 13 – 21, 2020.
In an effort to control the flow of attendees, buyers and industry members will be asked to select one of three, 3-day periods during the 9-day Market as their primary attendance dates during the online registration process. Domestic buyers and industry members have been divided into two regions based on the home state of their company headquarters. The regions breakdown was developed in partnership with the International Home Furnishings Representatives Association (IHFRA) to be sensitive to sales reps and typical regional territories. Those in Region A will be permitted to register for either Period I or II. Those in Region B will be permitted to register for either Period II or III.
The states breakdown for each region and the dates included in each period are outlined on the High Point Market website on the COVID-19 Updates page, www.highpointmarket.org/covid-19-updates. International buyers and media will be allowed to select from any of the three periods. Students passes will only be available during Period III. For all attendees, showroom appointments will be highly encouraged.
“We anticipate less restrictive guidelines for large gatherings this fall, but the need for increased safety measures will still exist. Although we have over 11 million square feet spread over 13 city blocks, likely allowing us to have upwards of 50,000 attendees on any given day, we want to be overly cautious and stay below that maximum each day so all guests feel safe and comfortable attending and visiting their favorite showrooms,” commented Tom Conley, president and CEO of the High Point Market Authority.
Additional health and safety measures will also be in effect, such as increased sanitation and cleaning efforts, social distancing requirements, and enhanced medical services in an effort to create a safe and welcoming environment. Further details will be shared as plans develop.
“The safety and well-being of our stakeholders, industry members, and state and local citizens remain paramount,” commented Conley. “Our robust safety and security measures are being expanded to specifically address COVID-19, per guidelines shared by the CDC and local medical authorities. We remain in contact with our state and local health officials, and we will continue to engage with them over these next few months, updating our response plan as needed.”
To maintain fairness and ensure attendees adhere to the attendance periods, the Market Authority is working with buildings to enforce a “no early entry” policy, wherein buyers are not permitted to access the buildings nor showrooms prior to the opening day of Market on October 13. The Market Authority is also working with exhibitors, encouraging them to hold all product commitments until the close of Market after all regions have had a chance to attend and view product.
“The Market Authority staff and board of directors developed and reviewed several alternatives for Fall Market that were adaptive enough to accommodate enhanced safety precautions while still meeting the needs of our industry, state, and local community,” commented Dudley Moore, Jr., chairman of the High Point Market Authority’s board of directors and president of Otto & Moore. “This expanded and staggered plan was unanimously accepted by our board as the premier preference, given its ability to provide buyers with attendance flexibility while keeping safety as the top priority through a controlled flow.”
“High Point Market has been a staple in this community for well over a century now, and the impact of the spring cancellation was far-reaching for both our citizens and our local businesses. We welcome the return of this economic driver this fall, recognizing the boost will be much needed for business owners, while also keeping safety top of mind. We are already working closely with the Market Authority team as well as the proper medical authorities to ensure the safety of our citizens as well as the Market guests who will be visiting our great city this October,” commented City of High Point Mayor Jay Wagner.
Registration for Fall Market will open in mid-July at www.highpointmarket.org, at which time registrants will be able to select their primary attendance dates from the outlined periods. Pre- registration will be highly encouraged, although some modified on-site registration will likely be available.
About the High Point Market Authority 
The High Point Market Authority, www.highpointmarket.org, is the official sponsor and organizer of the High Point Market in High Point, N.C. Featuring an extensive selection of exhibitors spanning every category, style, and price point, and attracting tens of thousands of visitors from more than 100 countries twice each year, the High Point Market is the driving force of the home furnishings industry. Find the High Point Market anywhere online, and follow on social media using the hashtag #hpmkt.
High Point Market Authority
164 Main Street Suite 700
High Point, NC 27262
P: 336.869.1000
F: 336.869.6999
Contact: Ashley D. Grigg
Director of Marketing and Communications



If there was ever any doubt regarding the severity of Covid-19 on independent home furnishings reps, just-released survey from market research leader Leflein Associates, confirms the toll the virus is having on their businesses.
According to the just-released survey, taken by Leflein among 422 members of the International Home Furnishings Representatives Association (IHFRA), virtually all of them—99.8%–admitted losing income, with the average loss coming in at a staggering 73%.
And while more than half—54%–said that their customers have called to cancel orders, a larger number—60%–have reached out to place orders.  And while some of the orders being placed are likely to be re-orders, the fact remains that orders are once again being placed.
Not surprisingly, as consumers continue to abide by stay-in-place recommendations, online sales, already brisk, have continued to spike.  In fact, one-quarter of the IHFRA reps participating in the survey acknowledge that online sales of furniture and related home accessories have kept them afloat as they struggle to navigate the unchartered waters caused by Covid-19.).
When asked to identify online sales of specific product categories keeping the reps afloat, standout categories were accessories (35%), bedding (31%), home office (27%), outdoor furniture (25%), case goods (23%) and upholstery (22%).


IMC Updates Summer Gift and Home Market Plans Following Survey

ATLANTA/LAS VEGAS – (May 15, 2020) – Following a comprehensive survey of its universe of gift and home furnishings buyers and suppliers, International Market Centers (IMC) announced today updates to its summer 2020 markets in Atlanta and Las Vegas. IMC is postponing both markets until August, with Atlanta Market now running August 13 – 18 and Las Vegas Market running August 30 – September 3.
IMC surveyed its entire buyer and supplier universe – 180,000+ retailers and designers and nearly 6,000 manufacturers and sales agencies across the gift, home furnishings and apparel industries with results which were statistically significant. Retailer respondents expressed immediate need for inventory, preference for buying new product from existing vendors and intent to source both at physical markets and on digital platforms. Survey results also indicated that COVID 19-related concerns about travel sentiment and market attendance will decrease over time and with key health and safety mitigants. Additionally, the utility of digital tools for sourcing and preparing for in-person markets was cited by many.
“We believe that with modifications to Atlanta Market and Las Vegas Market’s timing and format and implementation of rigorous health and safety protocols, IMC can deliver the markets our buyers need and are willing to attend,” said Bob Maricich, IMC CEO. “While we cannot currently gather in person, we look to meeting again at our markets this August.”

An Interview with Caroline Hipple, President of Norwalk Furniture

Without a doubt, the Covid-19 virus has upset everyone’s cart.  To help you see the big picture from a number of different perspectives, IHFRA has talked to directional retailers and suppliers to get their perspectives on the virus and its impact on our business.
Last time, we spoke to David Gunn of Texas-based Knight Furniture to get a retailer’s perspective.
Now, we talk to another industry leader, Caroline Hipple, President of Norwalk Furniture, based in Norwalk, Ohio.
Norwalk Furniture, an innovative maker of custom upholstery, recently also showed its ability to turn on a dime early in April when it shifted product from upholstery to producing personal protection products including face masks and medial gowns for local hospitals and healthcare workers.
The company is now back to making upholstery and IHFRA was fortunate to carve out time with Ms. Hipple to get her input as a leading manufacturer about the Covid-19 virus.
What follows are her comments from an interview with IHFRA’s Executive Director Ray Allegrezza.
IHFRA: This industry is no stranger to disruption. But have we ever dealt with something as turbulent as this virus?
CH:  Well, we certainly have not experienced anything quite like the long- term uncertainty that CoVid19 provides, but we have led through and experienced many crises.
IHFRA: Which ones come to mind?
CH:  Post 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008, 2009, the Beltway Shooter, the untimely ends of Storehouse and This End Up due to poorly implemented systems conversions by the parent companies. Norwalk, itself, suffered from the effects of the 2008 recession and lived to tell the tale.
IHFRA: Having navigated through those choppy waters, what have you learned about surviving tough times?
CH: I now know that managing though all of these difficult periods has taught skills that enable us to lead through this one. Courage, creativity and resilience can help you through difficult times. Breeding those qualities into your culture in good times helps you negotiate the difficult ones. While we don’t know quite the path this virus will take, what we do know is what people want in times of crisis and change. We know that communication is key, with your community, your vendors, your customers and your colleagues.  The communication must be frequent, direct, clear and honest.   These qualities win every time. In times of change people want to know the picture, the plan and their  part to play.
IHFRA: In addition to being recognized as a creative thinker, you’ve also earned a reputation as a strategic thinker.  So, what was your thought process regarding the virus?
CH: In CoVid19 we have had to think about this in three tiers. What is the picture , plan and our part to play today (as we respond to the daily announcements and mandates), what is our plan, picture and part to play this week, and then finally what do we want the picture , plan and part to play look like on the other side of this and how to do we get there?  Our core team meets daily to review these strategies.
IHFRA: What do you see the impact of the virus on our business….short term and long term?
CH:  The Governor of Ohio mandated that we shut down on March 24th. We had one days- notice, but of course we were expecting something. In January, one of our key fabric suppliers told us (at the Vegas market) that his agent had just cancelled his upcoming trip to Hangzhou because the Chinese government was closing the city and would extend the Chinese New Year vacation for several weeks. I knew then that something would be coming our way. But I thought it was going to be supply disruption. Fortunately, with that warning we were able to secure enough cover to last us for several months.
 IHFRA: Any surprises along the way?
CH: What I did not realize was that our country, and yes, the world would experience shutdown. We went into our shutdown with our best quarter on record for the new Norwalk. We re-opened, six weeks later, on May 4th. Fortunately, we have a healthy backlog and plenty of raw- materials so we have come back at full capacity. It is quite a relief to hear those hammers flying and the laughter throughout the building.
IHFRA:  You and your team did an amazing job of managing in the midst of chaos.  What do you see as the long-term impacts of the virus?
CH:  My crystal ball is a little cloudy and might be behaving more like one of those trick eight balls, you know the one, where you don’t know what’s going to come up. What I do know is that virtual relationships and customer intimacy, two seemingly disparate states are both critical now. Staying close to your customers, solving problems and business planning together is the way to navigate this new uncertain road. I might have said, hold hands and cross the street together…but in this time of social distancing, I might say ZOOM and make the plan together. Using virtual tools, those that do, will find more success in the long term.
We live and breathe for our markets. For sharing, innovations, visualization and connections. We now must figure out how to provide these experiences differently.  A core team of folks here have been working hard on that during our furlough period. We are in the middle of the roll out. I’ll let you know how we do! Wish us luck!!
IHFRA:  We do!  So, what about the impact of the virus on retail of all types?
CH:  Well, I think that this event will hasten change that has been coming and like the recession of 2008 it will force the strong to be stronger and the less strong to suffer. It is Darwinian. The innovative and adaptive will adjust and thrive, there will be the mediocre that may bump along and the weak will vanish. I believe that collaboration is the key to the new competition. This is where developing a tight network, a tight community banding together to solve the needs of the end consumer is critical. We each have our part to play along the way, supplier, manufacturer, sales rep, retailer and ONLINE. I believe in experiential retail. Let me repeat that…I believe in experiential retail. Especially in the upholstery business where the ” tush”  test must happen in  person. It is hard to virtually get the feeling of sitting in a piece of furniture. With that said, to survive, the in- store experience must be compelling, delightful, practical, skillful and painless. In addition, we must all embrace the online experience and figure out how to deliver a seamless end to end path for the end consume that still includes and benefits the retailer. So much shopping, research, decision making is first made on- line. I think it is incumbent upon the manufacturer to help the retailers achieve this.
IHFRA: Has the government bailout helped?
CH: Of course, I believe that while a little sticky in the initial implementation because of the speed with which it needed to get out there. It has relieved a little anxiety in both the furloughed employees and the companies that have been able to take advantage of PPP. We all know that this is just the beginning, but it certainly has helped make sure we could get people to stay at home so that we could slow the spread of the virus and get the health care system more prepared to handle the volume.
IHFRA: To drill down on this, do you feel that the government is doing enough to help small businesses?
CH: Is enough ever enough? I believe that the most important thing the government could do to help us all is get full testing available NOW, implement extensive contact tracing, understand antibody research and how it can help and develop a vaccine. Until there is a system that can provide all of the above there will be fear of a recurrence and that would be a REALLY tough bump in our recovery road.
IHFRA: When the smoke clears, retailers and consumers may reevaluate many of their previous choices.  What are you doing to continue to be a favored resource?
CH: Wow, we are working hard at it, that’s for sure! Here’s another thing I know about crisis and change. Sometimes you cannot control the macro environment, but you can always control your reaction to it. We wanted to come out of this with pride in how we handled (or continue to handle) the effects of the virus.  In looking back on the past bumps in the road, what seemed to be hard lessons have really been blessings. And what I remember is how I felt about my own, and my company’s behavior in the middle. We are managing with that in mind. We are a domestic, special order upholstery company. We believe that domestic special- order upholstery is a key to getting the sales pump going again for the retailer. It provides a good source of cash flow with low inventory investment and is often the first-place people go to prime the pump. Accordingly, we have been holding zoom business planning meetings with our core customers to prepare for a successful  for life on the other side, tangible, idea generating meetings. The creativity and courage and sharing has been so inspirational. We are delivering a virtual market with trend and fabric presentation and new product introductions. Arming our community with tools to create excitement in the middle of this malaise has been well received. And we are creating virtual on-line tools to make the decision making easier, more fun and beautiful. All of these tools are targeted at the end consumer but delivered to the retailer so that they can be their customer’s hero.
IHFRA: What can your suppliers do to help during this time?
CH: What  can my suppliers do to help? Not bill??? Ha, just kidding. I think do the same thing we are doing for our retailers..continue to innovate, share best practices, be dependable, ship on time and partner to help us provide  the finest product available.
IHFRA:  Peek into your crystal ball and tell me what you see.
CH:  Crystal Ball?  The most likely scenario I have heard (and I have listened endlessly to prognostications) Is that we will have a truncated V recovery….steep down and not a steep all the way back up…but a steep half-way back up and then a “slog” as we work through our ability to test, contact trace, create a vaccine , provide adequate health care and weather a resurgence of the virus in the fall. What that means is that during the slog..we have to be innovative, provide better solutions for our customers and  show up, listen and LAUGH! Oh yeah and PRAY!
IHFRA: As we’ve said, our industry is no stranger to challenges.  Do you feel good about our industry’s ability to weather this latest storm?
CH:  What I know for sure is that we have all been through a lot of hard things before. I am proud of our industry and the people in it. I can’t imagine a group that I would rather weather this storm, TOGETHER we will get through, and not only survive but thrive.

Life After Covid 19—Putting The Pieces Back Together

Recently, IHFRA Executive Director Ray Allegrezza was asked to give an overview to A-America.  The topic was titled “Life After Covid 19—Putting The Pieces Back Together".

To listen to Ray’s presentation, click the link below