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From Home Furnishing Business

Take 5: Tom Conley


Tom Conley has been at the helm of the High Point Market Authority since 2011 when he was named president and CEO of the organization. During the past three years, Conley has steered the High Point Market through transition, funding battles with the state of North Carolina and continues to lead a continuing push to increase buyer attendance at the twice-a-year event.

Home Furnishings Business: How would you describe the changing dynamic between the High Point and Las Vegas markets in light of International Market Centers’ 2011 High Point real estate purchase?

Tom Conley: Extremely positive. Las Vegas has now positioned itself as a regional show. They’ve done a wonderful job with the bedding folks and the gift folks, as well as other niches, and been very successful at building those segments in Las Vegas.

We partner with them on a number of events here where their expertise makes sense.

In all reality, we compete with every market — Atlanta, Dallas, New York — that hosts exhibitors.

HFB: Has the Saturday opening had the desired impact on High Point Market weeks?

TC: The change to a Saturday opening was before my time, but it seems to be working.

There are some buyers who will always want to come ahead of an official opening, and there are some suppliers who will always accommodate them.

We don’t dictate when people can come to Market.

As long as the suppliers and the buyers get along and agree with each other on when they want to show the product and when they want to see the product, we’re OK.

HFB: What is the Market Authority’s primary focus for 2015?

TC: We have a couple of things we’ve set as priorities.

We’re diligently working on our telemarketing and cleaning up our contact lists. We’ve used an outside company to look for new retailers who have for whatever reason not been to Market. Our target list is in the best it’s ever been.

Outreach continues to be a strong thrust for us. We used three different marketing efforts. First, we partnered with Foundation Marketing Group out of Maryland, and they called folks who had not attended market in the past or had only attended intermittently. Then, we hired a full-time, part-time person to manage our internal call service so that callers to our office communicate with a professional team.

After market, we’ll follow up with first timers to see how their experience here was. We’re building one-to-one customer relationships.

We have to find creative ways to identify new segments. We continue to work with our exhibitor partners to bring in more buyers to the market. It’s a partnership.

The exhibitors are about 95 percent responsible for their success at a market. I’m continually amazed at the number of exhibitors who come to market and do no marketing prior to unlocking the showroom door.


HFB: Let’s talk Market cycles. Do we really need all of these markets?

TC: That is why Vegas is expanding into other categories and diversifying. Building owners are looking to other categories that make sense. It’s not for me to say whether we have too many markets or not. That’s for the buyers to determine and decide how many markets they’re willing to attend.

HFB: What will High Point Market look like in five years?

TC: The best: It will continue to grow and expand. We have to get smarter, like IMC with grouping like exhibitors in buildings to create better efficiencies for the buyer.

Some folks won’t want everything they have to offer. We’ll see growth in more areas to cover and buildings will fill up. We’ll spread out, which is good for the exhibitors, but bad for the buyers.

The bad: The economy struggles and the Market continues to contract even more. It would be great from a buyer’s standpoint in working the Market. From the aspect of getting to see the breadth of product it wouldn’t be good at all.

Our job is to cater to buyers and offer them the best product we have available.

Hail to Market!

I never aspired to become a writer and sometimes find it difficult coming up with the words to put in my monthly column. However, it’s a duty that comes with being publisher of Home Furnishings Business magazine.

I’ve tried to come up with an angle or story that I can relate to our discussion this month regarding metrics, but my mind and other responsibilities are focused on follow up from the recent High Point Market.

So, I will head in that direction.

I love markets. It’s like going back to school after summer break. I get to spend time with many of my friends who are retailers, service providers and manufacturers. It is also a time where you can make new contacts and form new business relationships. The energy, spirit and vibe of the entire event are enough to recharge about anyone’s batteries. I get to see what many manufacturers have been working on for months, and I love to see what new products they introduce during market. The grand showrooms are immaculate and many of the events are as impressive as the showrooms. The vendors put a lot of time and effort into catered breakfasts, lunches and parties in hopes of getting you to spend time with them.

Our team had a list of 30-plus events that we tried to attend during the five-day market. Some were top notch and some not so much. A couple that stand out are Stanley and Surya. When I arrived at the Stanley event I saw a line half a block long to get inside. The showroom, food, beverages and band were all very nicely done.

The second was Surya. If you’ve not been to a Surya party, well you should. The event they host is arguable the best at High Point Market. The huge showroom was packed with people. I heard discussions in the elevator the next day that more than 2,000 people were in the showroom. Now I can’t confirm this number, but would be surprised if they had less than that. The energy filled the spacious showroom. At one point, I saw a caterer’s table being moved (by party attendees) to allow more space on the dance floor. I literally felt the floor moving under my feet, and I was only one beer deep at that time, so it wasn’t the alcohol. Well done Surya, well done.

I hear talk all the time that we have too many markets and retailer attendance is down. If any of you were with me that night you would think otherwise. I saw the metrics and the fact is, these manufacturers found a way to get a lot of customers in their showrooms. This approach could work the same for you at the retail level. Generating traffic will only increase your opportunity to sell products. 
I know many of you host events in your stores. I’ve seen your pictures posted and information about them on your social media pages. By the way, like us on Facebook, and we will return the favor. Kudos to each of you for hosting events and then promoting them on social media. For those that aren’t maybe consider a customer appreciation day, team up with a local radio station and hold a food drive, give a kid a coat or some type of charity event. What about holding a ladies’ night and host an interior design seminar? Any of these could be excellent exposure for your businesses, show community involvement and provide content for you to use for marketing to you customers. 
We would love to hear your success stories; drop us an e-mail.

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