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Vendors emphasize product as they report upbeat market week

As High Point Market got under way, home accents vendors say they are upbeat about the show and the industry overall. Many have invested heavily in product development and showroom design this time around in anticipation of solid attendance and buying. Home Accents Today interviewed several to talk about their forecasts for the week, how their business is trending and what's new for the show.

Interviews conducted by Susan Dickenson, Alex Lemonde-Gray, Tracy Bulla and Jenny Heinzen York

Peter Nealing, Emissary IHFC H404

Emissary has added a number of new designs for the season, with a special emphasis on lamps to extend the company's reach in that important category, according to President Peter Nealing. He reported that the strength of his business is its constant focus on product development and staying fresh in the marketplace.

"I'd like to think it's product," he said. "We did a lot of introductions (this market), and that's the whole idea. With buyers there are leaders and there are lemmings. We want the leaders to buy from us, so that's why we have all this product."

Emissary is also growing by working with newer channels of distribution, he said. "The channels that seem to be growing in general are ecommerce and flash sales. We are also doing more containers this year, so direct-import is also important. Those channels are not huge for us right now, but they are growing."

Arden Yerelek, Three Hands IHFC H324

Three Hands is focusing on heavy distressing and aged looks for this season, as well as clean and simple styles, according to said Yerelek, vice president national sales.

"Customers are looking for distressed, reclaimed looks," he said. "They also are still staying with simple, all-white pieces."

One key piece is a distressed finish console with mirrored doors, though he noted that overall, there is a move toward more contemporary design this season. Animal pieces and equestrian themes are also still prominent, he said. And the retailers' buying patterns have changed, he continued.

"People are looking to buy closer to their needs. They need to be able to react quicker as they need product that is performing."

Ridvan Tatargil, Eastern Accents, MSS SAMS G-1000

For Eastern Accents, the new licensing effort with brand partner Barclay Butera is paying off, according to owner Ridvan Tatargil, who also reported that the summer market cycle was really strong, especially for holiday-themed items,

"The fourth quarter is going to be really good -- business is picking up," he said. "We are not in a second recession; Eastern Accents is in a second birth. Barclay Butera is doing great -- people know him. The collection is selling to the end consumer and we have had a lot of re-orders. We had retail events in both Chicago and DC with Barclay and they were both very well-attended."


Angelo Surmelis, Angelo: Home, Showplace 3327

This week marks the High Point debut of new lifestyle collection with partners Hallmart Collectibles, Handy Living, Modus Furniture, SEI and Surya for celebrity designer and HGTV personality Surmelis. He will be in the showroom through Wednesday to meet with buyers)

"I'm really excited to be here. We were in Vegas, but this is the first real lifestyle-dedicated showroom," he said.

Surmelis describes his style as eclectic, saying "If Ikea and Anthropologie had a love child, we would be that love child." We are Ikea prices and Anthropologie/Restoration Hardware looks. I love the look - great, beautiful, high-end - but I come from a blue collar working-class family that ordinarily can't afford those looks. So once I got into this business, I decided I didn't want to design for the people that could afford it; I wanted to design for the rest of us that have great style but don't necessarily have a lot of money to spend on great style."

When asked if retailers seem to be in a spending mood, Surmelis said, "Oh totally. We saw a shift, but it's a concentrated shift. They're in a mood to spend, but in a very specific way. I think if we're not showing them (retailers) things that feel exciting and fresh and at the same time are price sensitive for their customer, they're going to look somewhere else. I think the days of just spending for the sake of spending are behind all of us."



Frank Ramirez, Corona Décor IHFC D249

Sales Manager Frank Ramirez said his company is still working against the difficult economy, as is everyone right now.

"We all have felt the impact of the economy, and it is challenging," he said. "But business has picked up from a slow summer."

"For this market, all of us remain optimistic," he said. "People will come to market at some point even if just to see product and gain information. There's always going to be people who need product: someone who's just opened a store, those areas that are still doing well, and the rich."

Mandy Coughlin, Auskin, MSS G-7018

The summer season was good for rug, pillow and throw producer Auskin, known for its use of natural skins and hides.

"This market, here we are on the first morning, but it's been pretty strong so far. People are telling us to raise our prices," Coughlin said. "The economy is still floating somewhere near bottom. We have a good selection of product to help people out. Somewhere in the new year, the tide will turn. It's got to go in one direction or the other and hopefully, it will be up."

Tom Jung, Bliss Studio

"The Atlanta and New York shows were pretty good for us -- we actually had more orders than in previous shows," Jung said. "It was a record summer for us. We were worried, but we did better than expected."

Though there are still some economic headwinds to contend with, overall, things are looking pretty good, he said.

"I'm coming into High Point with medium expectations," he said. "Because of the financial turmoil in Europe, people are being a little more cautious but hopefully I will be proven wrong. Our retailers say that our product is doing well for them so we are happy about that. I don't think we are in a double-dip recession. I think it's stagnant growth. I think we are technically out of the recession, but it still feels like we are in it. I think it will be slow growth."

Bonnie Ferrell, Art as Antiques, Showplace 2221

"Coming out of summer, we have been very encouraged. We have held our own," Ferrell said. "This market, we're very enthused, making progress, moving forward with a few new lines, like this one - rustic - this is a brand new style for us. This cowhide chair, for example. It's such a different look for us ... we feel very comfortable and good about this group."

She said the company was looking to freshen its looks, which had been known as very traditional.

"All of our products are reproductions. In fact, we (AA Importing/Art as Antiques) were one of the very first to start a reproduction line based on the realization that people loved antiques but who could afford them?," she said. "Today, we have a style to fit anybody, from French to contemporary. I really feel we have something for everyone, and in all price ranges. And this week, we want people to walk into a happy showroom and to make them feel comfortable.


Christiane Lemieux, DwellStudio IHFC IH202

DwellStudio is new this market in IHFC's Interhall, where it is showing accessories, bedding, fabrics, including selections from decorative accessories line for Global Views and furniture collection launched in the spring with Precedent, a division of Sherrill.

"This is the first time we've shown some of our accessories and we're really excited to show the complete brand package of furniture, bedding and accessories," Lemieux said. "This is the first time we've put it all together in a complete presentation. In accessories, we've brought about 25 pillow styles, 20 rug styles, and then Global Views is 62 SKUs, so it's a good assortment."

Asked about business overall, Lemieux reported a strong 2011 to date. "We have had a great year, which is so interesting... I don't know if it's all driven by the media, but we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop; everybody talks about a double-dip recession," she said. "Having gone through it (the recession) the first time, I will honestly never forget New York Gift in January of 2009 because that's when the world just stopped. There was no one in the aisles. There was no one there. All the vendors -- we stood around and were like, ‘Guess what guys, its over.' We thought everyone was going to pack up their bags. But this last year has been great. We're trying to keep the momentum going by layering in furniture, by doing a consumer site and catalog, by getting out there in as many channels as possible. I think that's the way you've got to attack this. A retailer has got to do everything now. You're your own media company, you've got to be tweeting, Facebooking, all that. You've got to really speak to your customer."

Jennifer Highman, Jonathan Adler IHFC IH102

Also new to Interhall is Jonathan Adler with the company's complete lifestyle collection.

"This is our first time back in High Point in several years, and now we're really ready to wholesale in a substantial way," said Highman, senior VP of sales for the company. "We've got much bigger brand awareness and a whole lifestyle, with accessories, lighting, candles, furniture - this is the biggest presentation of furniture we've ever done, and we're showcasing our new Whitaker and Arden collections"


Merit Wish, Wish Designs USA, IHFC H403

Wish Designs is a rugs, soft goods and lighting company that touts its products' made in the United States and "green-before-green-was-trendy" qualities, according to owner Merit Wish.

She said that although conditions at retail continue to change, she is optimistic for a strong market. Wish also said she expects this holiday and winter season to be strong.

"People are tired of being so tight with their money," Wish said. "Life's too short so let's enjoy it."

"But that doesn't mean that everything is business as usual," she said.
"We've had more and more requests for drop-ship arrangements from our retailers. The retailer has become incredibly cost conscious, and this is one way that many are looking to save."

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