Las Vegas Market – 2008

After Rod Stewart left there seemed to be as many sellers as buyers.  My lovely wife, Kim, and I just got back from the World Market Center furniture show in Las Vegas.  This is a pretty big deal (and not just because we got to go be in Vegas).  They have 3 buildings now, 5 million square feet of home furnishings on display and they brought in Rod Stewart for a free concert in honor of the opening of the 3rd building.  Rumor has it there are plans for 4 more buildings…but it wasn’t very crowded.

Attendance was about 50,000, down somewhat from 80,000 at the last show.  This reflects the national trend with most of the big wholesalers seeing drops in their income.  Ethan Allen reported earnings were down 45% in the last quarter (although sales were only down 8.8%).

It is lean times and furniture shoppers are more savvy than ever.  This is hard on the big stores that can’t adapt but opens up many opportunities for smaller businesses…and we were seeing many new, smaller companies with well-made furniture.   So what, you might ask, did I learn?

Thin is in. Although there is still quite a bit of traditional furniture being made (oversized, rolled arms on the sofas, queen anne legs, etc.), there is clearly a trend towards minimalism and the return of mid-century design.  These are smaller pieces with gently curved lines and no frou-frou. We saw hundreds of pieces perfectly suited for a SoHo loft.

We’re changing.  As our homes change, so is the furniture that is being sold.  If you can hang your TV on the wall, you don’t need a home entertainment center.  Few folks have “good” dishes that they keep in a hutch and so hutches have become few and far between.

It all matches.   Because great rooms are much more common, we’re seeing companies bringing out lines where all the pieces match.  For instance, a dining table, coffee table, end tables, console table and TV stand all in the same wood.

Green is big.  It is clear that manufacturers recognize the need to be more ecologically sound in their practices, although they haven’t all exactly figured out how.  We’re seeing more bamboo, more sustainably harvested woods (such as Acacia from India) and more low VOC finishes and an awareness of chemical sensitivities.  I’m pleased that one of my vendors is bringing out a line of bamboo veneers over rubber tree (which is harvested after the production of rubber ends).

Gray is the new color.  One of the most interesting presentations was from a member of the Color Marketing Group.  They meet every year and wrangle out what the “new color” will be.  In 2008, it is yellow.  In 2009, it will be gray, perhaps reflecting the national mood.  The advantage is that it is muted, flexible and neutral.  To make gray work for you, you should add some accent colors and be sure the gray items have lots of texture.  One great decorating tip is that to make your wood furniture show off, use a backdrop of something with black tones in it.  If you use brown tones in your walls and fabrics, the wood color will disappear.

Ecommerce is taking off.  Following the success of companies like CostCo and their online sales of furniture, more wholesalers are willing to drop-ship items directly to the customer’s door.  This is good all around since it allows a store to offer far more pieces for sale than they can display and, because they’re not taking up floor space, can be sold for less.

In short, there are lots of options available and there is still good quality out there.  That’s good news.