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by Lauretta Converse
Are Futon Exhibitors Betting on Vegas?
“We’re not really sure. We work in the here and now and keep our options open.”
– Marcia Nachreiner, Omni Softgoods
“We are an exhibitor in the wings.”
– Gary Cohen, Wolf Corporation
“We are looking for the place where we can get the most bang for our buck.”
– Tracy Hamlin, Hickory Springs
“People are waiting for FAI to make a decision.”
– Mike Gallawa, Night and Day Furniture
“I think it is a mistake to sit and wait.”
– Jennifer Vavricka, Elite Products
“A decision needs to be made in the next couple of weeks.”
– Pattie MacMillian, President, FAI
“ We haven’t wanted to risk being the only futon product at the World Market Center.”
– Shari Hammer, SIS Futon Covers
“This will be our last show here.”
– repeatedly overheard at this year’s San Francisco Design and Furnishings Show
In one way or another, futon furniture is coming to Las Vegas. And, much like a poker game, futon companies with different strategies are coming to the table, waiting to see what others will do. Just like a poker game, no one really knows what will happen until all of the cards are played, and you never know who will come and join the table along the way. But inevitably, as the deal goes around, the time comes for each one to ante up.
Despite all of the hesitancy, though, Las Vegas isn’t really a gamble. As Gary Cohen remarked, it is “a proven draw”. Hosting almost four million convention delegates in 2000, Las Vegas is now the focus of the futon world. Developers have broken ground on the World Market Center, whose 1.25 million square foot Phase I is now scheduled to open in July 2005. The complex, billed as the largest home furnishings showroom complex in the West, will eventually house a total of 7.5 million square feet of both permanent and temporary space.
While buyers are eager to come to Vegas because it is both easy to get to and fun to be at, exhibitors haven’t been as keen. Many futon companies consider themselves “exhibitors in the wings”. Choices are being weighed, pennies are being counted, and eyes are watching the construction and financial backing of the World Market Center. Their attention is also fixed on the Futon Association International, which will soon decide where future futon expos will be staged.
IFAM Pulls a Chair Up to the Table
Into this waiting game, Bentley International Group has pulled up to the table. This event management company is sponsoring the International Furniture and Accessories Marketplace, its first parlay into the futon world. Their temporary show at the Las Vegas Convention Center will run concurrently with the World Market Center’s show. Riding on the coattails of the World Market Center, IFAM space will be substantially less expensive than the temporary space to be available at the World Market Center- reportedly about one third of the price.
IFAM’s concept is centered around their “What’s Hot and What’s New” theme and hopes to be a show where buyers can see things that they have never viewed at any other show. The show’s traffic flow is designed as a long continuous floor plan where every buyer can see every exhibit.
Pattie MacMillen, President of the Futon Association International, sees the benefits of holding the annual futon show within the IFAM show. This “show within a show” strategy is appealing because the rates are very good, compared to the cost of showing at the World Market Center. There is also the benefit of being part of a larger show, where more traffic is generated and buyers can shop for other things like accessories while they shop the futon show. FAI would also benefit from promotional publicity done by IFAM.
Report from IFAM
FAI was given space at February’s IFAM show to give board members a chance to set up an information booth and to see exactly what will happen at this temporary show. But FAI board members returned from the show reporting that buyer turnout was disappointing. While IFAM claimed they had 1700 buyers preregistered for the show, FAI’s MacMillen generously estimates that only 500 were actually there. Over three days, “we probably only talked to five people. We saw a lot of booths where the people were just talking to each other.”
Why so few buyers? Pattie attributes it to poor timing- a week after San Francisco isn’t convenient for buyers- and to the fact that the World Market Center has yet to open and draw futon buyers to Las Vegas. She also believes that event promotion was poor. “I didn’t see it promoted anywhere- no ads, no postcards, no marketing, no phone calls.”
Show manager Shane O’Sheeran admits that first year shows are always hit or miss. He explains that the lower-than-expected buyer turnout was due to the 550 companies that registered and paid fees but never showed. His count was 1500 people through their doors over the three days and reports that some exhibitors did very well and that some did not. “Every show starts with a first step. It’s the concept that people believe in.”
Tire Kickers and Futon Buyers
Nevertheless, Futon Association members like the show-within-a-show idea. With both IFAM and folks from the World Market Center courting the futon board with show within a show offers, futon manufacturers have an unparalleled opportunity to have the best of both worlds. Futon exhibitors unanimously look forward to the annual futon show because it’s “the one time a year to network with futon folk,” remarks Tracy Hamlin of Hickory Springs.
But futon exhibitors would also welcome the increase in traffic they would see if they were part of a larger show. Being part of a larger show, “would be great because you would get to see everyone plus get more exposure,” says Chris Van Genechten of Burlington Futon. Or, as Gary Cohen remarked, “you can get tire-kickers and buyers.”
Getting Outside of the Box
Most importantly, however, futon exhibitors in Las Vegas would welcome the chance to strut their stuff outside of the futon world. They caution the futon industry not to segregate itself. “FAI needs to take a careful look at how to show futons as furniture and needs to look at the exhibition and see how to tie in with furniture. It needs to be shown with furniture yet segregated and highlighted somehow,” advises Hamlin.
“We have to get out of the box and not segregate ourselves,” echoes Marcia Nachreiner of Omni Softgoods, who urges the futon category to broaden its thinking and change the way it presents its product. The category is growing in terms of fashion and mechanism, and gaining greater acceptance in the broader furniture market. Presence at a national furniture show would reflect these changes and state to the furniture world, “we’re here to stay.”
This is exactly the kind of thinking that has led Jennifer Vavricka and Elite Products to realize the limited potential of its permanent showroom in San Francisco and to sign on for 3700 square feet of permanent space in Phase I of the World Market Center. The sole futon supplier to sign to date, they took the plunge almost three years ago. They believe in the enormous growth potential of the furniture industry in general and of the futon industry in particular. “We are slowly but surely becoming a bona fide category.”
Buyers Will Ultimately Decide
Ultimately, it’s the big buyers who will decide where shows will take place because, as Gary Cohen affirms, “you want to be where your customers are.” And at this point, buyers have made it clear that they’d rather be in Las Vegas. “I know when I’m a buyer, I’d rather go to Vegas,” reports Shari Hammer.
Yet Las Vegas has been criticized as a location for shows for this reason. Critics have pointed out that buyers in Las Vegas often breeze through the exhibits rather than linger because there are so many other things to do. The location, while a draw in one sense, can become a distraction because buyers aren’t focused on the exhibits. “Orlando received the same criticism,” recalls Cohen. “Every city has its distractions. If you are committed to the category, you’ll come and see what you need to see. Regardless of the venue, people are there for a reason.”
So where will buyers decide to buy? Hey, it’s a gamble.