Consolidation of the International Home Furnishings Market
Barrentine reflects the physical, economic, and psychological effects of the transformation of the Southern Furniture Market into the International Home Furnishings Market. The name change was part of a natural evolution, he believes.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Richard Barentine, January 28, 1999. Interview I-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
RB: Any event has to have a body of statistics. You have to be able to define the event. It's the way everybody does business. Well, until 1977 because it was a private event, they didn't have a lot of external communication. It was all pretty much internal. In '77 one of the jobs I had to do was [to] benchmark some figures, so that we could move forward. We benchmarked 35,000 attendees at the Market and because the event needs to be seen in its largest terms -- not cut up into little pieces -- we don't separate out buyers and things like that. It was 35,000 people and we had a 1000 international people in 1977 from thirty countries. That's an extraordinary number of international people coming to the interior of North Carolina for an industry event -- a private event.
JM: [That was] more than twenty years ago.
RB: [Yes,] more than twenty years ago. We had 1,300 exhibitors. We were using ninety buildings at that point. The Market had grown so dramatically after the Second World War -- particularly in the '60s and early '70s -- that we were actually using ninety separate buildings and the International Home Furnishings Center is considered one building. Not all of its components were counted separately, but as one building. We were using five million square feet of space. We were not vaguely interested in how many square meters that was in the '70s. We certainly know what our square footage in meters is today. We had an annual economic impact, in tourism revenue, of forty million dollars. That was one of the revelations that the furniture manufacturing community -- the leadership of the Furniture Factories Marketing Association -- came to through this work on my part. [We found] that, “Gosh, we are a lot more important than we thought we were. We need to use that on the local level and the state level to promote the partnerships we have with these events.” Forty million dollars is a lot of money in 1977. It was the largest piece of hotel business and the largest piece of restaurant business. It was the largest piece of airport business that anybody was having. Yet, we weren't telling them that we were doing all this. As Mr. Hampton Powell said, “If you want to get somebody's attention, touch them in the pocketbook nerve. Tell them what it's worth to them, not what it's going to cost them if they lose it. Tell them what it's worth for this to be a productive partnership." By 1985 we had seen the Market attendance increase to 43,500. We had 1,800 international people coming. We had fifty countries. We had 1500 exhibitors [and] 120 buildings. Our [economic] impact was up to ninety-seven million dollars. You know, until we consolidated Hickory and High Point, we were looking at an event that was spread out. It was hard to get your arms around. It was experiencing wonderful growth. In '84, '85, Market Square and the Design Center were being developed [along with] other buildings to make a million, and then a new million. We replaced the million in Hickory and added a million. All of a sudden it was all down here, and it was huge. People would say, “I didn't know it was this is big.” They had never been able to put it all together visually -- not only the manufacturers, but the buyers who came to the Market and the exhibitors. Then we started having that sustained growth that we've had all along. From 1985 to 1989, we were moving along fine. We were all here in High Point and Thomasville. I need to say that part of my legacy at this event -- to the disdain of some and the forever gratitude of others -- is that I never refer to this event as taking place in High Point. This event takes place in High Point and Thomasville, and in many of our publications it is [described as taking] place in North Carolina because we have a broad audience. Thomasville brings a large complement of showroom facilities to the table. That's part of my legacy that it's always listed as showrooms in High Point and Thomasville. The documentary photography on this year's promotion from 1909 is from both High Point and Thomasville. Not being from here and understanding that this is a large picture, I'm comfortable thinking in those kinds terms. It's my job to make sure that everybody remembers that we only view this in its largest terms. Well, by 1989 we had been the world's largest home furnishings market for years. Some had decided that our name was confusing. We were the Southern Furniture Market. We knew how to say it. We said it like no one else could, but west of the Mississippi River it was a little confusing because we had markets in Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco, and they were regional markets that combined weren't as large as this market. There was confusion the part of the retail community and the nation, “Well, do I need to go to the Southern Furniture Market, or do I need to go to Dallas and Atlanta?” We looked around, already the largest in the world and we thought, “What name can we choose? This one has lasted eighty years.” We came up with the International Home Furnishings Market. There are some fundamental and philosophical changes in that name from our previous one. We've changed the geography. We looked at [words like] “universal” and we just thought, “We'll take ‘international.’ That's about as big as we need to be.” We looked at furniture, and we realized that the Market had other components of home furnishings: accessories, lighting, bedding, rugs. It wasn't fair to call it all furniture. Many people had moved to furnishings, “We're in the home furnishings industry.” We changed ‘Southern” to “International,” “Furniture” to “Home Furnishings.” We kept “Market” because that's what we are. All of a sudden, with the consolidation in'85, the growth to '89, we were ready for this new name. It was not without sorrow. It was not without a reflection by generations that had known this event as the Southern Furniture Market. But it was embraced by the manufacturers as the appropriate name because it defined the geography and defined the product. We wrote some copy in 1989 and it's the best copy I've ever written. In the beginning, it was called the Southern Furniture Market. That was a big name for a bold new venture. But now the Market is bigger and bolder than its name. “It's time for a new name for our old friend. In 1989, we have changed the name of the Market from Southern Furniture Market to International Home Furnishings Market. We said goodbye to our old name. It was not without some pull at the strings of a lot of hearts because we were very, very proud from 1909 to 1989 to have identified ourselves as the Southern Furniture Market.”
JM: Let me jump in with a quick question [about] he issue of your working relationships with manufacturers. Let's pick the time when the name had changed to illustrate the character of those relationships. Can you talk a little bit about what sorts of steps were necessary to bring everybody over to the decision to make the name change?
RB: Well, as we've discussed earlier, the Furniture Factories Marketing Association was a close knit group of southern case good manufacturers who could make these decisions along family lines and along industry lines. We weren't talking about a lot of people. They were like thinkers. They knew the importance of the event. They understood what noblisse oblige means. They'd put up the money. They had hired the staff. They were running the world's largest home furnishings market as an organization, but not asking everyone to participate in that cost. Certainly they were not giving everyone a decision. So it didn't take long. It was not a hard sell. It was an evolution. We were going to be the leader. We needed to name the Market. We owned the name of the Market. We owned the other name. It was by consensus, not by conflict, that they put this name change in place. It just happened quickly. We made the decision. We picked the name. We changed promotions. We changed everything we did to the new name. We have a few references to the old name, just as history. We, at the same time, changed the name of the marketing association to the International Home Furnishings Marketing Association. We probably should have reflected a little more carefully on that name. It probably should be the International Home Furnishings Market Association. Sometimes we get calls that are of a marketing nature, but we only do this event. Maybe some day, that might be changed. We own the worldwide trademark to the new name of the Market. It's important to the sponsor on that. We name it. We nurture it. We set its dates. Consensus was always easy to get on well thought out projects. My style has always been that I am not one of them. I work for them. Major decisions like that come from the leadership. I am here to implement their mandate. I didn't change this market's name. They changed their market's name. I have survived in what could be a very volatile situation for twenty-some years by never forgetting that I am not one of them.