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Benjamin Spillman

Las Vegas show endures housing slump

28 January 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Organizers of one of the country's biggest furniture shows say registration for their upcoming Las Vegas market is up despite a national housing slump that's hammering the home furnishings industry.

On Monday the World Market Center opens its winter market, one of two major annual events in the massive, multistructure campus in downtown Las Vegas.

The market is expected to attract as many as 50,000 people, mostly professional furniture buyers and sellers in town to scout the latest trends in the market's showrooms and at an affiliated event at the MGM Grand.

It will be the first market event at the 3-year-old World Market Center since the housing slump sapped momentum from the U.S. economy, particularly the home furnishings industry.

Some of the biggest names in home goods, such as Williams-Sonoma, La-Z-Boy and Sears Holdings, have reported tough times in recent months.

Despite the slump, World Market Center officials say preregistration for the winter market is up.

The venue doesn't release attendance figures, but it says market events draw about 50,000 people.

"The retail industry for home furnishings is definitely impacted by the slowdown in the housing market," World Market Center Chief Operating Officer Gerry Sawyer said. "People are less likely to buy new furniture when they are not buying new homes."

Sawyer said that the January event is the industry's first major market of the year helps attendance. He compared furniture trends to the fashion cycle for clothes with seasonal changes in color, texture and style that drive recurring interest.

The show also gives World Market Center tenants -- mostly furniture manufacturers -- a chance to interact with professional buyers from all over the Western United States.

"We bring in buyers they don't see anywhere else," Sawyer said.

Some of the tactics market organizers deployed to drive attendance include adding segments of the market dedicated to environmentally friendly furniture and another dedicated to foreign companies. The World Market will also hold a drawing for a $500,000 prize to be awarded to someone who attends the event.

The World Market Center opened its first building in 2005 with great fanfare. In addition to producing one of the most striking structures in the Las Vegas skyline, the center's owners promised it would be a catalyst for reviving development in a stagnant downtown area.

Developers got about $10 million in tax incentives to build downtown, based on the premise their events would boost hotel occupancy and spending in the area.

When it opens its third building for the July market event, the venue will have about 5 million square feet of permanent exhibit space plus 1 million square feet of temporary space, compared with about 12 million square feet of space at the competing High Point market in North Carolina, which has roots going back 188 years and is the largest venue of its kind.

World Market officials have already spent about $1.1 billion developing the Las Vegas venue, but say they have plans to have as much as 12 million square feet of exhibit space by 2013.