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.