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Tomorrow, Anne and I have been invited to High Point, North Carolina for the fall furniture market. Our friend, and once-and-future client Eddie Merrell shot us an email a couple weeks back and asked us to come and spend the day, as his guests. I’m really looking forward to it. If you’ve never had the opportunity to go to one of these markets, let me tell you about it.

This, along with the spring market, has been the cornerstone of the American furniture industry for decades. The industry has been driven by designers and craftsmen for most of its history. The way it has always worked is this. Designers for every furniture manufacturer work for about six months on the fall (or spring) collection. Drexel Heritage, Henrydon, Harden, Baker, Hickory White, Hickory Chair, Ferguson Copeland, Stickley…every major and most minor manufacturer is represented.

The collections are hand-built into prototypes—some of these things are one-of-a-kind works of art. And then all the furniture retailers swarm to High Point for a week-long show. Each manufacturer has a “showroom.” Some of these showrooms are actually permanent structures, with elaborate reception areas, significant architecture, meeting spaces…one has a patio overlooking a golf course. And the retailers are greeted with old-fashion Southern hospitality (since the industry has historically resided primarily in the Southern highlands).

The retailers walk through the showrooms and place their store orders based on the prototypes. It’s like selecting from a 3D catalog, in which you walk around. Many (maybe most) of the prototypes never receive orders. And only those with enough orders for practical mass manufacturing ever go into production. There is, in fact, a subset of the furniture industry built around buying up and distributing “non-performing” prototypes. Chairs with arms that are too curly. Tables with too much gold leaf on the race-track borders. Furniture with legs that are too heavy or too spindly. Wardrobes with too much “distressing” on the doors. Things that are too delicate, to masculine, too shiny, too dull, too … last decade, too … next year.

A couple of things we love about market, that you just don’t find anywhere else:
• the genteel hospitality, even as they do hard-ball business deals
• the realization that furniture goes in and out of style…every six months
• the sense of how BIG the furniture industry is
• the sense of stepping back in time, to the way all business used to be conducted
• the feast of master craftsmanship and incredible design
• the chance to see spectacular furniture, you may never see again
• the opportunity to spend a day with our old friend, Eddie.

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