Viva Las Vegas: Gearing Up for a Busy Market

While the world hasn’t yet returned completed to 2019 levels of normality, there currently isn’t a new COVID-19 variant threatening to disrupt travel, so many of the roughly 40 Canadian resources showing are expecting to see pre-pandemic attendance at the upcoming Winter 2023 edition of the Las Vegas Market, which opens for its usual five-day run at the World Market Center here this coming Sunday (January 29).

The last few years have been interesting for furniture and home furnishings retailers – as well as their vendor partners – to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic, its related shutdowns and restrictions prompted both significant uncertainty and an unexpected surge in consumer demand, leading to record sales coupled with logistical difficulties companies at every point of the supply chain had to be creative to resolve.

Despite the continuing spread of the virus, lingering logistical challenges posed by supply chain disruptions, inflation and cost increases, furniture retailers and resources are saying operations are back to “business as usual.”

For many, business as usual involves attending industry events such as the upcoming Las Vegas Market (LVM), whose organizers expect will showcase over 4,000 furniture, home décor and gift products and welcome pre-pandemic attendance levels.

“I would expect it to be back to pre-COVID [levels],” says Carl Lovett, vice president of sales for the Toronto-based full-line furniture resource SUNPAN (B-700), adding he expects more international visitors at market now that COVID restrictions are limited to people flying in from the People’s Republic of China.

“Some major retailers are coming, some are not, but there will be no comparison to last January. We should see double the number of people coming through,” he told Home Goods Online, noting the last winter market here – which coincided with the emergence of the Omicron variant and renewed restrictions in parts of the world, including Canada – was quiet.

This year, he expects buyers will return in decent numbers, even if some decide to stay home because they simply don’t need to purchase anything due to an abundance of goods coming in after months of delivery challenges.

“A lot have received a lot of goods at once. We’re sitting at record levels of inventory because it all arrived at once. Some are not coming because they’re not buying because they need to get through their inventory,” Lovett continued, adding, “We’re dealing with a high level of inventory because of the timing of things, but we have not seen demand fall off at all. January started off well, so we’re pretty optimistic.”

Gary Christianson, sales and marketing director for Mobital (B-775), the modern furniture specialist based in Laval, Quebec, says while it’s hard to say what attendance will ultimately look like, he doesn’t think COVID will keep the crowds at bay.

(International Market Centers, the event’s owners and operators, don’t publish attendance figures for either of LVM’s winter or summer editions.)

“I can’t say what volume we are going to expect but we don’t think that any illness-related issues will come up as an excuse for not travelling,” he says. “Most people are vaccinated and not afraid to travel for business, plus it’s a good excuse to escape somewhere a little sunnier and warmer this time of the year.”

Angelo ‘J.R.’ Marzilli, president of Décor-Rest Furniture (A-554), the Woodbridge, Ontario-based upholstery house, is another Canadian factory exec who doesn’t expect COVID to impact attendance. “Yes, Canadians are travelling to Vegas. Appointments have been scheduled,” he told HGO. “They say they are ready to cautiously move forward and attend a market.”

Others say if attendance is lower, it’ll likely be economic factors keeping people home.

“We expect to see better attendance since 2019. However, it will be interesting to see if the current economic climate will keep a few retailers away and put it off till High Point,” says Frank Rinella, sales and marketing director for sofa bed specialist Sealy Sofa Convertibles (B-1028).

That said, he agrees some might want to make the journey. “Travel has become easier with reduced restrictions. [The] desire to travel and see and touch product and the warm weather won’t hurt.”

Although many say it’s difficult to gauge whether market will see the same foot traffic recorded in 2019, few say they’re going above and beyond to attract customers to their showrooms.

“No, we aren’t flying people in or having a party,” says SUNPAN’s Lovett, adding the company benefits from a prime spot in Building B the World Market Center. “We’ve got a really good location and we’ve been there for a very long time. If you’re tucked away in the corner or on a high floor, you’ve got to do a lot of things to lure people in. I think we’re generally going to see more people. I’m hoping to meet new customers that haven’t been in several years. We expect to see more appointments.”

Marzilli says Décor Rest is enticing customers with new products. “We have new introductions and we’re encouraging dealers to visit,” he says.

Sealy’s Rinella also believes new product will drive traffic. “We are showing all new lines of product that have never been shown by us. It’s the first introduction of bedframes and stationery product by Sealy,” he says.

In 2020, 2021 and much of 2022, demand for furniture reached intense highs and while sales were impressive, many retailers and manufacturers struggled to keep goods flowing to customers due to supply chain crunches. Now, with the supply chain normalizing (although China’s COVID situation could always prompt disruptions) as both retailers and resources work their way through their excess inventory, some say this year could be quieter – or at least different.

“We have completed fulfilling most orders with the odd trouble-making SKU in the line-up on back order,” says Mobital’s Christianson. “Several stocking dealers who warehouse back-up inventory are also making changes in the way they buy, and container purchasers are now looking at pulling inventory from local distributors instead of ordering their own container inventory based on a slowdown of traffic and purchasing in stores.”

SUNPAN’s Lovett says while demand is coming down, his company is still busy. “I think we noticed [demand lessoning] in the summer. A lot of people who didn’t go on vacation or didn’t do the family trip to Europe travelled in 2022. We didn’t see much of a slowdown, but I did definitely hear of a slowdown in mid to lower-end goods. Last Las Vegas Market in July, we heard that a lot.”

Lovett noted the “panic buying” phase that hit during the height of the pandemic appears to have passed. “It’s steady demand now. Customers aren’t scrambling. There’s plenty of inventory, and there’s plenty of selection out there, so buyers will be more selective, both retailers and end consumers.

“We deal with the design community and they have a lot more to choose from today than they would have last year. A year ago, there was nothing, and that’s not the case today,” he continued, adding, “The supply chain backlog has cleared, factories have caught up on production and there are no more issues finding container space, and transit times are shorter.”

Sealy’s Rinella agrees many companies have healthy inventory. “Most large customers over-purchased and had full warehouses this late summer and fall. Our orders are now getting back in line and moving positively into 2023,” he says.

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