The furniture industry may still be a way from robust growth, but the weeklong winter market that started Monday at the World Market Center showed more of a pulse than the dreary one in August.
"The summer market was absolutely dead," said Kelly Clenet, president of Ergomotion mattress products based in Santa Barbara, Calif. "This time, the traffic has been pretty consistent. We're not feeling bad about it."
The story was much the same with Richard Tomkins, vice president of sales and marketing at Crescent Fine Furniture in Gallatin, Tenn. Although the Crescent showroom was mostly empty for an hour or two after opening at 8 a.m. -- Tomkins suspects many buyers kept a late night on the Strip -- traffic eventually picked up.
"It has been pretty steady," said Tomkins, a member of the third generation to run the family owned Crescent. "It was a graveyard in August. I didn't write anything until Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon then."
The semiannual markets always begin on Monday. World Market Center officials did not have an attendance count.
But if exhibitors generally agreed that activity within the three massive buildings had started to gain momentum in line with the overall economy, they spotted rough spots.
"The majors (retailers) are going to be here at the market, but it's the independents that are not coming in big numbers," said Shawn Cantrell, president of Prime Resources International, an upholstery maker for informal furniture such as sofas for TV rooms.
Buyers in "OK" numbers have come by the showroom of Private Reserve, said company president Cyrus Chu, but the flow of orders has been slow. "It's tough to get credit right now, especially for retailers," said Chu. "I don't know what the banks are doing with the money."
Exhibitors diverged on where buyers were coming from. Some found that many were from with West, with those from the East staying away in favor of the market at High Point, N.C. Others said they ran into too many easterners, limiting their chances to expand in the West.
"We have not seen as many West Coast dealers as we would have liked," said Tomkins.
World Market Center has pushed recently to build a concentration of mattress makers, finding that sales have not suffered like other furniture items such as dining room sets. This brought Hamid Bakian to take a small space for the recently formed U.S. Sleep Products, which he said will sell mattresses at prices lower than some of the majors.
But Niles Cornelius, general manager of the consumer division of Hickory Spring Manufacturing Co., cautioned that any edge could easily erode. An industry veteran, Cornelius recalled how many companies started in High Point, migrated to the market in Dallas, went back to High Point, came to Las Vegas and have now started to trickle back to High Point.
"The people in the mattress industry are a funny breed," he said. "They all tend to move together. And I think if someone built a five-building market in Fort Lauderdale, they would all go down there."
The scars of the damage inflicted on the industry, and by extension of the World Market Center, showed up in different forms.
Names such as True Innovations, and Robinson and Robinson remained on the glass outer walls of the showrooms, even though the spaces were empty. Most of the third floor of Building C, which should be prime space, was taken up by seminar rooms or exhibits such as photos of old-time Las Vegas.
Other spaces have been subdivided for newcomers, who might rent a spot for only one show at a time instead of signing a five-year lease.
This has brought in people such as John Gudenkauf, who is rolling out his own take on the hide-a-bed. Instead of folding into a wall or sofa, it moves up and down along guides built into four corner posts. During the day, the bed can be pushed up to the ceiling with a sofa at floor level. At night, the back cushions are removed from the sofa and the bed pulled down.
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at email@example.com or 702-387-5290.