Globalizing North Carolina's furniture market
In this excerpt, Barrentine discusses some of the international dimensions of the Association, such soliciting international buyers, a task made easier by a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In describing the international scope of the event, Barrentine also describes the variety of functions the Market serves, from offering sales training to providing an attractive venue for showroom photography.
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: That's where they're coming from. It's coming from our trading partners. The furniture is produced in ninety of the one hundred counties in North Carolina. That statistic comes to us from North Carolina State [University] – [from] their furniture manufacturing curriculum, [headed by] Dr. Tom Culbreth. I didn't realize that we had so much furniture manufactured in the state. Because of that, we've been able to attract so many people. The growth in international--. We've branched out our partnerships to include the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Most of the colleges and universities now have some sort of international something that we're involved in. We've asked our government partners to get busy on our behalf. All of our eleven language brochures are in all of the embassies of the United States. All of our information is in the offices of the state of North Carolina in Dubai, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Toronto. The North Carolina Furniture Export office is located here. It's a branch of state government. It's because of Market's influence and the furniture industry's influence in the ninety counties, that the state has [been] identified.
I met yesterday with the new director of the international division. We talked about this as a win-win for us and for government. We're going to have this event. We're going to have 105 nations here. We're going to have 10,000 plus people from outside the country. What you need to do, is you need to have the managers of the offices soliciting qualified attendants, bringing groups over, [and] answering questions about the event. Anywhere there's a furniture fair in the world -- Cologne, Tokyo, Guadalajara, Milan -- you ought to have a pavilion there spotlighting furniture made from the United States. Then when prospective qualified buyers see this tiny increment, you need to say, “Every April [and] every October, you can see 720,000 square meters of that furniture.” It's a no-brainer. It makes us all look good. It works beautifully.
We had the foundation because we had partnerships with the state government and with the US Department of Commerce. We have had cooperative projects since '77 with those branches of government. Again, I brought that with me from my background because I already knew what those people did. We provide the air tickets for the managers of the offices of the state of North Carolina to come to this market every six months. We earn certificates good for travel because of the airline discount program we have. As our partner, we have told the North Carolina Department of Commerce [that] we'll bring the managers of all those officers to this event. We want them here not later than Wednesday, before it opens, and they cannot go home before [the] Wednesday of the next week. We want them here working. We want them to bring people. We want to be able to tell people from Argentina that there is a trade specialist from the state of North Carolina that's here that covers Argentina. Here's where you find them. Or, that that person has already been contacted by a group of buyers and they've said, “We're going to North Carolina. I'm going to be there. I'll meet you. In fact, tell me what kind of product you want and we'll set your appointments for you.” So, we've taken the sting out of the long trip and taken the mystery out. That works very well.
We will continue to grow [internationally, but the Market's backbone is its domestic attendants. Take 10,300 out of 71 and you've got the majority of the people coming to this event are from the United States. This Market’s promotion continues a trend of domestic promotion as well as international promotion. We know who's qualified to come, so we're going to send information to those people. We have vast databases that can tell us who's been here and who needs to be here. They all get this material. For this Market, we're sending about 6,000 of our poster promotion pieces to qualified buying groups in Georgia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. What we're trying to do is strengthen the attendance from those nearby states. We have plenty of attendants, but there are a lot of prospects from up there -- new businesses that have opened that need to come. We also sent prospects. We sent a thousand of these posters to new prospects in Canada, Mexico, Asia, the Near East, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Central America. Now remember, our list across the world is smaller than our list in the United States, so a thousand is a significant number of prospects. We mail many thousands -- I guess probably about 10,000 -- to the participants that already come.
With our partners in North Carolina having six or seven offices, they're our offices. Those people work for us. We fly them over here. We fly them in the big seats, too. You know they're rested when they get here. They know they're going to fly first class when they go back. The state doesn't fly them first class, but we do. They work hard while they're here, and it's an easy win because we've got the audience. We've got the product. We've got the event. All they have to do is kind of work a little. Makes them look real good. The embassies around the world are hungry for this information, and the fact that it's in eleven language thrills the people in the world that they can pick up a brochure and be greeted in their language. Not [just] “hello,” but a description of the event in five or six sentences. Then we switch to English, because English is the language of business in the world.
We're going to grow internationally. We're going to continue to grow domestically. Our categories continue to add strength. [We have] more rugs, more bedding, more lighting, and more accessories. Case goods and upholstery are still the backbone of the Market. That's what started it. That's what carries it. I'm always asked, “Is the Market going to go away?” This Market is not going anywhere else as an event in the world. We're larger than the next four largest markets -- Cologne, Tokyo, Milan and Guadalajara. All combined, we're larger than those. There is no venue in the world that can hold this market. We use 160 buildings. What can happen to the Market is that it can no longer fill all of the needs that justify its expense.
Market has a tremendous number of functions. It's product presentation. It is staff training. All of the sales representatives have to come to this market so they get sales training every six months. It's sales and promotion. It's photography. After the showrooms close, the photography studios sweep in and start photographing the product and take it to their photography studios, maybe, and photograph all night so that the catalogue pages, the slicks, the covers for magazines are all there. It's a time when 600 editors come to Market and work on editorial coverage. It's not by coincidence that you pick up a magazine and somebody's new line of furniture is being talked about. That's a lot of that work's done here at Market. The photography on the covers and on the insides of many of the magazines, that photography is taken in these showrooms. It's important to note that the showrooms are fully accessorized. Every detail [is included]. It's like the most beautiful room you would ever want to live in. Depending on the price of the furniture, the presentations change. The value added has to allow for the elaborateness of the presentation. It's not just stacked up. It's just gorgeous. It's circuitous, so you'll slow down and look at the product. Al of that is all designed so that the buyer and the manufacturer have this profitable and pleasant relationship. As long as all of those functions take place, then we think Market's root system is strong enough to sustain it.
Now, [here’s] another example of a function at Market that you wouldn't even think about. Market's stature made the locating of the major industry trade associations into this area imperative. Now all the trade associations that serve this industry in a principal way -- sales representatives, manufacturing, interior design, furniture designers, retailers -- they're all located here. Twice a year their members and officers are at this event, so they can maximize that experience and have small meetings. [This is] not their fun meeting, where they go off to Bermuda or some place. [These are] business meetings, board meetings, executive committee meetings, seminars. That can all be done here, so retailers are thinking, “I'm a member of the National Home Furnishings Association, so I'll go to Las Vegas, but we can do this in April. We can do the seminar. I'm going to be there anyway.” We have helped to create the root system. The cities, particularly High Point and Thomasville--. The cities and the county economic development entities very much want us as a partner because they want us to help them identify the next corporate headquarters that can locate here. They don't have to be in High Point. Sealy just came down from Cleveland, Ohio to Randolph County. Klaussner is in Asheboro. If we can get a number of corporate headquarters located here, then there is no more important place in the furniture industry than North Carolina. Their corporate headquarters is here. Their Market showroom is here. Their manufacturing can be any place in the world they want it to be. That [is what] we think is going to make Market remain strong. It's all up to the manufacturers and the buyers.
Are we challenged by electronics? Are we challenged by new technology? I would suspect in 1909 we were challenged by technology. We certainly have adopted and adapted to telephones and airplanes and everything that has come along. The new technology is just a new way for us to do business, but maybe not a thereat. We don't see it as a threat. We've embraced the technology. The industry itself is often not on the cutting edge of technology. A lot of companies still are not operating with email and websites. It'll come along, but the whole world is not on the cutting edge. I think that they'll celebrate their hundredth anniversary, and then I think they'll have to set some more dates because they've just got them set through 2020.