by Nicole Crews
Me: Mother, you worked in the industry for almost half a century, do you think it’s morally unconscionable to sell furniture to drunk buyers?
Mother: Nicole, most everything having to do with the furniture industry is morally unconscionable.
Me: Yet you sleep well at night.
Mother: Both in my Century bed and on my Tomlinson sofa.
The road is bumpy and long to High Point for most decorative-arts entrepreneurs, boutique accessorizers and furniture makers. In this economy, and following the national winter of our discontent, it’s just as treacherous for the Big Boys — the long-established manufacturers with their extended cadre of salesmen, girl Fridays, designers, execs, PR wonks and hired hands.
Yet all have arrived and set up shop in the 10-million square-foot-plus DMZ (the Designer Mile Zone) of downtown High Point, marking the 105th year of the biannual High Point Market. The streets of Main, Wrenn, Green, Elm, Commerce and High throb with… well, mostly low-heeled buyers, designers and suited-up reps dashing to and from the cobbled-together buildings that house the showrooms of the purveyors of home fashions. Tight grins and pinched toes mark the extremities of the selling end. It’s been a tough quarter all around and what happens in High Point is make-or-break for some.
Entrepreneur, on Day 3: How’s traffic?
Entrepreneur II: I’ve paid for my booth, now let’s see if I can pay for my lunch.
Entrepreneur: I’m drinking my lunch.
The High Point Market is the largest home-furnishings industry trade show in the world, and is housed in approximately 180 buildings throughout the area. The bacchanal of bric-a-brac, furniture, art and addendum décor brings upwards of 70,000 warm bodies from more than 100 countries to the Triad each April and October and, according to a Duke University study last year, approximately $5.5 billion to the area. Market is the largest event in North Carolina and has evolved to meet the international standards and cultural mezcla that comes with such an extravaganza.
Indian manufacturer to Hasidic supplier: I don’t like selling to Indians. They ask too many questions.
Hasidic supplier: I understand. This is a tough business to be in when your culture won’t allow you to shake hands and even the Jews here forget that.
The road to High Point, for me, was short. My mother, who designed furniture and interiors for most of her career, almost gave birth to me on a flight from New York to High Point. My toddler years were spent caged in a pop-up crib in the Erwin-Lambeth showroom. Elementary through junior high had me yanked from Manhattan to Lenoir (home of Bernhardt Furniture) to High Point. High school marked its passing with skateboard laps in the Tomlinson Chair factory that was being transformed into the game-changing Market Square marketplace that it is today. My college years were informed by my mother’s transition to Century Furniture, where I got my first writing gig crafting brochures for the company. The next decade and a half, my design vocabulary-via-osmosis paid off with trend-writing television and video gigs for Gefen Productions and various print shelter publications. It’s 2014 and I still can’t shake the High Point Furniture Market off my leg.
Mother: What are you doing in High Point this April?
Me: I’m doing PR, brand management and social-media marketing for some manufacturers so I have to be there.
Mother: Whatever that means.
Me: It’s like the networking cocktail parties of your day, but it’s internetworking. And you can do it in your pajamas in front of your computer at home mostly.
Mother: Your generation is a study in laziness.
And therein lies the great industry divide. The old schoolers — company men in their shiny kneed suits and T-square designers — are caught in a face-off with the tech-savvy gens who’ve never seen a fax machine and are befuddled by landlines. Many are caught in the middle.
Plaid-panted salesman and Henny Youngman look-alike: I can’t get anyone to call me back anymore.
Boomer boss: You need to get a smart phone and learn how to text.
Man in plaid: I’m just gonna go see them. It’s why we’re here in High Point after all.