Managing change: Vendors, buyers gear up at Premarket in hope of stronger business

HIGH POINT — While soft business kept some smaller retailers at home, vendors exhibiting at last week’s Premarket reported generally upbeat buyer attitudes and openness to new product in the hopes of better sales moving into 2020.

Buyers were looking for ways to manage their floor mix in the face of tariffs, while importers looked to manage sourcing challenges, and domestic manufacturers looked to take full advantage of what they see as an opportunity to gain slots.

Palliser reported fairly light Premarket traffic, but Executive Vice President of Business Development Roger Friesen said dealers were pretty upbeat.

“Everyone says business is tough, and it’s hard to maintain momentum in the current market, but they’re looking forward to a stronger fourth quarter,” he said. “We see opportunities in our product line where we can address a lot of their uncertainties.”

Friesen was referring to the increased value of Palliser’s North American production in light of tariffs on Chinese goods and supply chain stresses throughout Southeast Asia.

“Our production here and short delivery times and values allow us to compete with tariff-sensitive product,” he said.

United Furniture Inds. opened its doors officially for Premarket for the first time in several years, and tariffs were a big reason why, according to Jay Quimby, executive vice president of sales.

“With all the disruption in the industry regarding tariffs, we felt it was critical to get in front of customers early” in the market cycle, he said. “We unveiled where we’re going with our extreme value proposition this fall, and product was well-received.”

He added that showing at Premarket helps manage supply chain issues. United, for instance, got enough dealer commitments to get kit production underway ahead of usual.

“Now, kits can be ordered in time for product to hit retail floors in the first quarter,” Quimby said. “If you wait till October market, you’re looking at May for delivery. There are several frames we’re showing that got buying decisions from Top 50 accounts, which allows us to pull the trigger now on ordering kits and get the product out in the first quarter.”

Craftmaster’s CM Leather program added five new groups as well as six more accent chairs in a move taking advantage of domestic producers’ increased value relative to imports.

“We have 50 custom-order leathers available, and you can get it in four weeks,” said Vice President of Merchandising and Marketing Suzanne Henson. “That’s at a price now just slightly more than imports from China that have no special-order option and take 12 to 16 weeks to arrive.”

Creating excitement

Universal Furniture saw more than 50 accounts during the two days, many of which came to see its new 42-piece Love, Joy, Bliss collection developed in partnership with Australian supermodel and soon-to-be mom of three, Miranda Kerr.

“We were pleased with our traffic, and we were especially pleased with reaction to this,” said Universal President and CEO Jeff Scheffer of the Miranda Kerr collection.

He added that while the furniture business overall could be better given stock market performance and low unemployment, he said retailers seemed in good spirits in anticipation of a strong fourth quarter.

The company believes the collection will help retailers connect with younger audiences that are drawn not only to the styles, but also to Kerr’s 25 million-plus social media following. Universal expects to tap into this audience as Kerr promotes the line on her various platforms.

“This is the customer our brick-and-mortar customers have been trying to get into their stories,” Scheffer noted.

Don Essenberg, president and CEO of Legacy Classic and LC Kids, said that the company saw more than 40 accounts over the two days. While retail has been soft in some parts of the country, he said that retailers’ attitudes appeared upbeat.

“We have been pleasantly surprised,” he said. “Retailers are open to buy more product to freshen up their floors.”

Legacy Classic showed two whole home collections, including the latest licensed assortment with Rachael Ray, plus five standalone bedrooms. LC Kids showed two new collections, with a third anticipated to arrive before market.

Essenberg said that while traffic was about normal for a September Premarket, drive-in traffic from stores in the Southeast region seemed lighter than normal.

But due to dealers’ open-to-buy positions and commitments, the company expects it may ship as much as 40% of the mix before Chinese New Year.

“There has been no doom and gloom from anybody,” Essenberg said. “It’s been a really good Premarket.”

Doug Rozenboom, senior vice president, merchandising and marketing at A.R.T. Furniture, said the company saw about 30 accounts over the two days, noting attendance seemed slightly off due to overall retail conditions.

“The general sense is that premarket is a little slow because of the softness at retail,” he said, adding, “Some people are sitting on the sidelines. They feel their time is better spent in the store.”

But the company was pleased with response to its October introductions, some 90% of which were here for premarket.

Coming back

Andy Bray, president of Vanguard Furniture, said that he was pleased to be back at Premarket for the first time in about 15 years, seeing a lot of major customers.

“The pace of Premarket is extremely comfortable,” he noted. “It allows for us to have more meaningful conversations with customers in our space that we aren’t always able to have at market.”

“The great thing about Premarket for a company like ours is that we do so much domestic manufacturing, we have the ability to react to an idea,” Bray added, noting that buyer feedback will help the company go back to its vendors and sharpen pricing ahead of market.

“When you are in front of a buyer with real product, you can make a fair and accurate assessment of the viability of your introduction,” Bray said.