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Chris Jones
 

Sitting Pretty So Far

2 August 2005

They came.

They saw.

They rested their rears upon plush leather love seats -- justifiably so, in the course of doing everyday business.

And now that the dust from last week's inaugural Las Vegas Market has settled, industry insiders from around the globe can draw upon personal experiences when weighing in on World Market Center's viability as a top-caliber furniture showplace.

So far, visitors' first impressions suggest this city instantly emerged as a powerful player that could threaten, or overtake, long-established furniture markets in cities such as San Francisco and High Point, N.C.

"Las Vegas is a force now; this is the regional market for the West Coast," Bill Sibbick, a senior vice president with Pulaski, Va.-based Pulaski Furniture, said Monday afternoon, just hours after World Market Center began its first event.

"We've registered more buyers before 2 p.m. today than we did on (an entire) busy day in High Point -- and they're buying. That's the key," Sibbick added. "It's pretty phenomenal."

A High Point-based manufacturer, who asked not to be identified for fear of upsetting the hometown crowd, said Las Vegas could soon achieve more than best- in-the west status.

"I can't believe High Point can counter this," he said, citing Las Vegas' centralized furniture campus, vast airline service and 134,000 hotel rooms. "Based on the success of this show, I think you'll see far fewer buyers who feel the need to go to High Point."

The Las Vegas Market, which ran Monday through Friday at World Market Center's 10-story tower in downtown Las Vegas, as well as nearby tents and the Las Vegas Convention Center, attracted approximately 61,000 conventioneers, based on Friday's registration figures.

Many spent an extra weekend in town, giving additional support to Las Vegas' hospitality industry during an otherwise slow visitor period.

Last week's business was a welcome boost for the local economy, but more must occur for World Market Center to reach its potential. Plans call for 12 million-square-feet of exhibition space in eight buildings, each anchoring an area Mayor Oscar Goodman calls the 21st century face of downtown Las Vegas.

"The dress rehearsal was really the main event," Harvey Dondero, president of Broyhill Furniture Industries, said of last week's market. "There were a few areas where they'll need to enhance their service, but they'll get it right."

Perhaps the most frequent negative cited last week was a lack of new product introductions. While many of the event's 1,200 exhibitors chose Las Vegas to unveil new wares, most companies this year introduced their goods in High Point, the nation's reigning top furniture mart.

"(World Market Center's) newness will wear off, and then the determining factor will become the product," said Mark Phillips, owner of The Phillips Collection, a High Point-based manufacturer. "The new product and (exhibitor) commitment is currently dwarfed by High Point, but everybody can't wait for it to be in Las Vegas."

To support its summer 2005 introductions, Broyhill Furniture Industries brought a 90-person sales team to World Market Center's 10th floor. If it could have doubled or tripled its 20,000-square-foot space, it would have, a retrospective Dondero said.

"We wrote a lot more business than we expected, so much more that I can't even give you a multiple," said Dondero, a North Carolina resident.

Overall, World Market Center Managing Partner Jack Kashani said 10 of the nation's 25 largest furniture manufacturers were here last week, a total he hopes to increase as more permanent showroom space becomes available. Those manufacturers' assistance and input "got us where we are today," added Marty Burger, president of Related Las Vegas, which is developing the project with Kashani and co-founder Shawn Samson.

Where other markets have focused on the products they displayed, Samson said World Market Center's foremost concern was the needs of its buyers and exhibitors. As a result, he said the Las Vegas Market "is not meant to duplicate what's available elsewhere. It's meant to offer a different platform."

To that end, Samson stressed the need to build a critical mass of exhibitors, particularly foreign manufacturers who've previously been reluctant to show products in the United States. With more products come more buyers, Samson said, explaining World Market Center's growth strategy.

"They see Las Vegas as an opportunity to have a far-more-diverse buying experience in one place," Samson said.

Whatever brings people here in the summer is fine with local resort operators, particularly those in downtown Las Vegas.

Lisa Robinson, marketing director for the Fremont Street Experience, received good feedback from nearby casinos including the Golden Nugget, which sold approximately 2,500 rooms nights to World Market Center guests. Others agreed.

"We saw a lot of attendees playing slots, and our hotel was sold-out during a (summer) week when that wouldn't normally have happened," added Roger Szepelak of MTR Gaming Group, who said market attendees helped fill his company's 360-room Binion's hotel-casino.

Last week Kashani cited a 4-year-old UNLV study that estimated World Market Center would pump $60 million in tax revenue into the local economy each year, a projection that's now too small since it was based on an outdated plan for a 7.5 million-square-foot market.

"And that doesn't take into account that we're bringing 53,000 people to Las Vegas in the dead of summer," Burger added, citing Monday's registered attendees.

Pulaski Furniture's Sibbick was quick to praise World Market Center, but he's not convinced Las Vegas will surpass High Point. Still, he wouldn't rule out such a change.

"If the retailer is getting what they're after here, they'll decide" which site becomes the premier U.S. marketplace, Sibbick said.