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Katrina Drives Strong Start For Tupelo Market

By Home Furnishings Business in on February 2006 By Powell Slaughter

The impact of Hurricane Katrina has led to a rebuilding effort along the Gulf Coast that could help drive business at this week's Tupelo market -- where pre-opening day traffic was clearly stronger than August -- for several years.

"The dealers who didn't lose their locations are selling tons of furniture as people rebuild," said Bill Cleveland, president and chief operating officer of the Tupelo market. "The ones we talked to are obviously selling more furniture than usual. Right now, it's the northern ends of the storm area and where the damage was more from flooding than total destruction. Preregistration is up significantly over August and, more important, up nicely over last February. It's the rest of the week that will tell the story."

Several exhibitors said Tuesday that they already were seeing the effect.

"Sales are really starting to kick up with our dealers in a lot of the Katrina area, but the destruction along the coast was so complete, dealers tell me, that (some) dealers there still haven't recovered," David Ballard, president of Primo Designs.

Todd Evans, vice president of sales and marketing for Kathy Ireland Home by Standard, said early traffic opening day was a lot brisker than August's.

"A lot of our dealers have been shopping for our domestic laminate case goods and promotional occasional," he said. "Our business in the Katrina area has already risen 35 to 40 percent from last year, so we've seen a big spike."

Ballard and Cleveland noted that if the experience at retail in South Florida holds true, furniture retailers have to gear up to providing a valuable service rather than a product of choice for consumers.

"The number I saw is that Andrew destroyed or damaged around 150,000 structures," Ballard said. "Per capita income in South Florida is higher than in southern Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, but Katrina affected more than 450,000 structures in those areas."

Katrina created a situation where furniture isn't a discretionary purchase.

"The corollary is that this probably will be the juice at the Tupelo market for the next couple of years," Ballard said. "It's too early to tell whether it will be this week, but certainly by August."

For a while, anyway, Ballard and others believe dealers in the areas will focus as much on logistics as new styles.

"Dealers aren't necessarily focused on new product," he said. "They are asking 'How can I keep what I'm buying now flowing fast enough.'"

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