Tariffs, customization, and debt forgiveness: Here's your overview of the talk of market
October 16, 2018
Another fall, another High Point. This weekend, designers, press, and buyers converged on the North Carolina city for the biannual furniture market. As usual, there were launches and debuts aplenty; also as usual, there were some subjects that were recurring conversational fodder. After a year of technology-driven changes, turbulent financial news, and political drama, it should come as no surprise that several of these issues culminated in changes surrounding High Point—and that, in the hobnobbing week of market, the industry was a-chatter. So, if you weren't able to make it (or if you were laser-focused on sourcing), here's what you missed.
A Stormy Start
Heavy rain and winds from Hurricane Michael made for a rocky start to the show, with much of High Point losing power in the days leading up to market. "We were setting up at Design Legacy with flashlights!" said designer Denise McGaha. Several early arrivers to market experienced frighteningly turbulent flights. Luckily, by the official beginning of market, power had largely been restored, and, with the exception of delayed arrivals, things started as scheduled.
After months of warily watching reports of tariffs from the Trump administration, American companies that manufacture in China have been adjusting to the 10% tariff that took effect on September 24. Though 10% might seem manageable, January 1 looms on the horizon: That's when the rate will increase to 25%. Understandably, many companies are worried about the price hikes these numbers might inflict—especially given the fact that several American furniture brands have only recently truly recovered from the 2008 recession.
As a result, several brands are looking to move more manufacturing Stateside—a formerly cost-prohibitive move that now makes more financial sense. E.J. Victor, for one, has been steadily increasing its U.S. production, making all of its upholstered furniture domestically as well as the entire Sutherland line.
A Very Different High Point Display
Somewhere between the dozens of appointments to see new launches, certain market attendees made time to visit "This Is Not a Chair," a design show on view at Plant Seven,the onetime Calvin Klein showroom that's in the process of being transformed into a new creative hub, with the goal of keeping the creative spirit of market alive year-round. Though this year's show was a new concept, the opening-night event still drew nearly double the turnout organizers expected. With talk of a new show next market, we think Plant Seven could become a regular stop.
Hickory Chair, Maitland-Smith, and Pearson Buyout Yields a Feel-Good Story
The past few months have been turbulent times for Heritage Home Group, with several reorganizations and an eventual bankruptcy filing. Now, at last, there seems to be a happy ending. This summer, Rock House Farm Family of Brands, parent company to Century Furniture, finalized plans to buy Hickory Chair, Maitland-Smith, and Pearson (Henredon, Thomasville, Drexel, and Broyhill were purchased separately). There was just one catch: The three companies owed significant debt. In a heartwarming display of the sense of community of the North Carolina furniture industry, RHF, just before market, revealed that it will pay off this debt. As one source familiar with the details explained, it was "the right thing to do," given the close relationships of manufacturers in the area. The move also gives new assurance to Hickory Chair, Maitland-Smith, and Pearson, the latter of which unveiled a refreshed brand image at market with Chicago designer Kim Scodro as its new face.
Paint in the Spotlight
As the perennial interest in Pantone, Benjamin Moore, and other paint companies' color of the year reveals will show, people love paint. This year, certain High Point showrooms made the most of this fact with new ways of spotlighting the colors on their walls. Century even managed to snag a super-under-wraps can of Benjamin Moore's Metropolitan ahead of time, so that the newest hue swathed the walls of the showroom at market. The company noted that they started paying more attention to divulging paint colors after Thomas O'Brien's use of Benjamin Moore's Tissue Pink had designers asking about the hue left and right. Upholstery company C.R. Laine presented a similar focus, offering printouts at reception that listed the paints featured throughout their showroom.
Moves to Instant Availability
Over the past few years, several fashion houses have adjusted their launch schedule in order to have their newest collections available immediately after they debuted on the runway. In an era of Instagram Live and instant shopping via e-commerce, it seemed like a wise decision. Lately, several furniture brands are going the same route. Carrier & Company's line for Century, for example, while initially slated for this market, has been pushed to April 2019 with the goal of having it available at, or shortly following, market.
Custom, Custom, Custom
Another feature of the e-commerce era: the desire for customization. With start-up digital furniture companies threatening the traditional market in their ability to offer made-to-order options, several older companies are stepping up to compete. Bungalow 5 launched a custom upholstery program last month, and Fabricut debuted its made-to-order furniture program (which features 150 upholstery options) at market. Even the proudly traditional Theodore Alexander touted its "custom palette" program, in which its furnishings can be finished in 40 colors. Who says you can't teach old dogs brands new tricks?