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Survey: Las Vegas will be furniture king

25 September 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Operators of a multibillion-dollar home furnishings trade-show venue in downtown Las Vegas say a new survey indicates Southern Nevada will soon be the epicenter for furniture wheeling and dealing, but backers of the industry's current leading market don't buy the results.

On Monday the World Market Center released the survey results, which said a majority of professional furniture buyers and sellers think Las Vegas will be the most important furnishings market in the industry by 2012, displacing the industry's current top market in High Point, N.C.

If so, the continuing expansion of the World Market Center would go a long way toward justifying the $10 million in tax breaks the city of Las Vegas finance department estimates the center will receive over about 20 years.

World Market Center holds two market events annually that each attract an estimated 50,000 people who scour manufacturers' showrooms looking for furniture and furnishings to purchase and sell at retail stores.

Each market event has an estimated $90 million nongaming economic impact. By the time the market's third building opens in 2008, operators will have invested more than $1 billion in the project. They have plans to continue expanding.

Shawn Samson, one of the World Market developers, said that in some ways World Market Center is already living up to its promise and the survey backs up claims it is gaining on the High Point market.

"High Point has been in business over 100 years. We are very much in our infancy," Samson said. "Yet in our infancy we really have accomplished remarkable numbers."

Opened in 2005, the World Market Center is scheduled to have about 5 million square feet of permanent exhibit space plus 1 million square feet of temporary space in 2008, compared with about 12 million square feet of space at the High Point market, which has roots going back 188 years.

"That took High Point decades to accomplish," Samson said of the space available in Las Vegas.

He said results of the World Market Center-funded survey indicate there will be demand for even more space.

According to the survey, conducted by a third-party research firm using the Internet and in-person interviews, 31 percent of responding furniture buyers say Las Vegas is the most important market in the industry today and 65 percent said it would be the most important in the next five years.

Among manufacturers, the people who create demand for lease space by renting showrooms in markets, 29 percent said Las Vegas is the most important market today and 58 percent expect it will be the premiere market within five years.

Furniture buyers reported they could see more sellers in less time in Las Vegas than in High Point, a key factor in judging the effectiveness of a marketplace. Sellers ranked Las Vegas as better than High Point in 26 of 27 categories, with history and tradition being the exception.

But the people who operate the High Point Market say they're stepping up efforts to retain lucrative tenants and question whether Las Vegas can maintain the pace of growth.

Brian Casey, who operates the High Point Market, pointed out customer research that indicates the North Carolina market is maintaining its industry-leading market share.

Casey's survey, which wasn't released to the public, reported that 85 percent of respondents, most of whom were furniture industry CEOs or owners, said if they could only attend one market it would be High Point. It also reported satisfaction rates above 80 percent with High Point's delivery of new product developments, ability to keep up with trends and provide quality networking opportunities.

That the furniture industry provides the communities around High Point with $8.2 billion in economic impact annually means operators of that market are extremely motivated to avoid losing market share to Las Vegas.

"We are acting as far more than just a mere trade show," Casey said.