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August 30, 2014

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THE ECONOMY:

Winter Market turnout kindles some optimism

Yes, it slipped, but organizers look ahead, noting it could have been worse

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Steve Marcus

Winter Market attendees move about the lobby of the World Market Center on the first day of the show this month. Although the attendance fell 2 percent from last year’s winter show, “it really exceeded our expectations in this economy,” says Bob Maricich, chief executive of the World Market Center.

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Beyond the Sun

In this topsy-turvy economy, it seems down really is up.

When World Market Center Las Vegas officials announced that attendance figures were down 2 percent from the January 2008 market, they did so with fanfare that, in better times, would have been reserved for a significant visitor increase.

It’s not surprising that a negligible downturn would be a reason for optimism. World Market Center’s rival, the furniture market in High Point, N.C., reported a drop in attendance of 6 percent at its Fall Market.

“All things considered, we’re pretty satisfied,” said Bob Maricich, World Market Center chief executive. “It really exceeded our expectations in this economy.”

More than 6,000 first-time visitors came to the Winter Market, suggesting that even in a recession, the customer base for the Las Vegas market events continues to grow.

Visitors and exhibitors speculated that the slight drop represented a decrease in the number of representatives sent by companies.

World Market Center Las Vegas officials heavily promoted deals on airfares and hotel rooms, and attendance jumped significantly in the days leading up to the Winter Market.

“People are not wasting money or time,” said Mazerati Woodring, showroom manager of White Orchid Living, which represents several Italian furniture manufacturers. “There is always that moment when things turn around, and maybe some people are sensing that.”

John Christie, who owns a design firm in Palm Springs, Calif., said downturns are unavoidable in the furniture industry. Although this decline has been harsher than most, he can see some positive coming out of it.

“When things are going well, people may not bring new things to the table,” Christie said. “Maybe this will get people excited to try something different and the market won’t be so stagnant.”

California-based Luxe Living Design, a first-time exhibitor, is certainly not afraid to think outside the box. Its Italian-made home furnishings feature rich fabrics, unique materials and hand-detailing in ornate pieces that stood out even among the plethora of exhibitors at the market.

“This was a great market for us to attend,” said Hayim Treitel, Luxe vice president of marketing. “The way the buildings are designed so visitors can flow through the whole market is a real plus. There is a lot more happening after the market (in Las Vegas) than in High Point.”

The next market is Sept. 14-17 and is a shift from a Summer Market to a Fall Market. The change will put World Market Center Las Vegas in more direct competition with High Point’s market, which takes place Oct. 17-22.

The competition for exhibitors at the two fall events should be fierce and the outcome could determine whether there is still enough business for both markets to survive in an industry in transition.

As World Market Center gears up for its first stand-alone gift show in summer 2010, there has also been an added emphasis on attracting gift exhibitors.

Ruth Willis of Honey House Naturals in Fife, Wash., said her company decided to exhibit at the Winter Market so it would be better prepared for the gift show next year.

“People are looking to do one show that everyone comes to, instead of five shows,” Willis said. “We are very excited that there will be a show that focuses strictly on gifts.”

A version of this story appeared in this week’s In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Sun.

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