By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Normally, the Tupelo Furniture Market complex is a beehive of activity during the first weekend in January as it hosts the monthly Tupelo Flea Market.
But this year, a Winter edition of the furniture market will be held for the first time in 10 years, starting Thursday and wrapping up on Sunday.
And officials say there seems to be a little more excitement, as preregistration numbers are more than 50 percent higher than the last market, which, quite frankly, did not meet expectations. However, Tupelo Furniture Market President Kevin Seddon said the switch from mid-February to early January has generated genuine interest from manufacturers, retailers and buyers alike.
“It will be very close to the most pre-registrations we’ve had in the past 10 years,” Seddon said.
Among those anticipating a good market is United Furniture, which also has the largest showroom at the market.
Jay Quimby, executive vice president of sales for the company, said having the market this week was much better for everyone.
“There’s nothing like starting a new year by getting rid of the old dates, which were in the heart of tax season and the Presidents Day holiday,” he said. “A lot of the independent, smaller retailers said February was usually the best part of the year for them because of tax season. At the last minute, a lot of them would stay at home to be in their stores instead of the market.”
That was the primary driver for the Tupelo Furniture Market to switch from a “spring market” to a “winter market” schedule.
But it’s not the first time Tupelo has tried a winter market. Ten years ago, officials tried a mid-January winter market. The move was done in no small part because of the emergence off the Las Vegas Market, which got its start in the summer of 2005. Its winter market was in late January, about two weeks before Tupelo’s spring market at the time.
After a two-year run, Tupelo moved back to its February dates.
But as tax season has shifted over the years, with taxpayers getting their refunds earlier in the year, it’s become apparent that in order for Tupelo to bring back the core of its attendees – the smaller, independent retailers – it had to shift its market dates.
Quimby and United have been among those hoping for the change.
“We feel a lot better about it,” he said.
And by taking the first week of January for its winter market, Tupelo is ahead of Atlanta’s popular Home and Gift Show, as well as the Las Vegas Market.
“It’s the first market of the year, so people aren’t burned out having already attended two or three shows already,” Seddon said.
United is among several manufacturers who show at the “Big Three” furniture markets, which include Tupelo, Vegas and High Point, North Carolina.
Quimby said it will take a little more work to get both Tupelo and Vegas put together in the same month, but he believes it will be worthwhile.
“It’s logistically tough,” he said. “But we just coordinated a little more coming off the double holiday of Hanukkah and Christmas. It’s all about coordination. We did a lot of preliminary set up in December.”
One reason attendance was less than expected in the fall was that the uncertainty of the Presidential election weighed on businesses. Typically, uncertainty leads to a tightening of the purse string, and that meant there wasn’t as much interest in buying at the time.
But now that the election is over and Wall Street is responding positively, consumers and retailers have increased their spending.
That bodes well for the Winter Tupelo Furniture Market this week, as retailers will not only look to replenish their inventory, but also prepare for the tax season bump.
“Business right now since post-election is very robust,” Quimby said. “We’re very optimistic about going into 2017. Business is record setting. We’re trying to hire several hundred people in all our plants, in fact.”
The Tupelo Furniture Market also is making a stronger push in the retail gift and home accessories segment, as furniture retailers have continued to expand their offerings.
“The old furniture and appliance stores are giving way to those that offer gifts and home accessories as well, and we want to make sure we have those companies here in addition to our traditional manufacturers,” Seddon said. “We’ve always had vendors in gift and accessories, but we really haven’t pushed it as much as we should. That’s changed, especially for this market and going forward.”
With about six fewer weeks to promote this week’s market, TFM officials have been working furiously to contact buyers and retailers about the new dates.
“The response has been very good,” he said. “I would say the feedback we’ve gotten has been 99 percent positive. We lost a few exhibitors because they couldn’t quite get everything together, but I don’t think we’ve lost them forever. On the other hand, we picked up 75 new companies, and usually we get 40 to 45 each market. So we’re feeling very good.”