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We had a great time at the furniture market. Lots of cool discoveries.

A few years ago, the furniture business was changing. Consumers were very happy to buy not-so-well-made furniture, since the trend was to treat furniture as disposable. Fashion was the only driver of furniture purchases. And so, if you’re looking for a sofa in this year’s color, you buy the cheapest one, right. Rooms to Go wins. High Point looses.

So, retailers were becoming very price sensitive, and not too quality sensitive. As a result, many of the furniture plants in and around High Point cut back or shut down. The manufacturing was outsourced to Asia, where labor was cheap and quality was … okay … ah … labor was cheap so the furniture was cheap, so if the quality wasn’t quite there, it was close enough.

To add insult to injury, a major furniture show started in Las Vegas. Now, Vegas is a convention | trade show kinda town. And High Point is not. In fact, High Point is a little out of the way—like, you can’t get there from here…it isn’t on the way to anything, if you get my drift. So, it was lookin’ like High Point was about to become a part of the quaint history of the furniture industry. But…

A small industry grew up, repairing | finishing furniture made in Asia that was below spec or damaged in transit. This added cost to those cheap pieces coming over by the container load.

Then, since the better brands remained sort of picky about materials, wood had to be shipped to Asia, from which to make the furniture. This added to the expense of the “cheap” furniture.

Then, fuel prices went up, wages started climbing in Asian countries that did the manufacturing, and the dollar started dropping. Suddenly, those old boys in North Carolina, making furniture by hand, with pride and craftsmanship, started looking downright competitive.

Then, a major trend started among, of all people, upscale Asian consumers. They wanted furniture that was not just an American brand, but that was actually, demonstrably, made in the U.S.A. Once manufacturer told us that they had to create a special, over-sized “Made in U.S.A” label, specifically for their Asian customers.

Then, something happened in Las Vegas. Turns out that Vegas loves a party, whereas High Point loves furniture. So, at 6:00, the Vegas show closes, in order to get everyone out to the strip. In High Point, around 6:00, appetizers are served in preparation for dinner at many of the showrooms. Customers, reps, and designers sit down to dine at (and among) some of the finest furniture in the world. And the dinner conversation is … what else … furniture.

At the worst of the furniture downturn, one sad story was told of an entire town that was wiped out. The manufacturer closed the mill, people put their houses up for sale (but they didn’t sell), and left town to find work. Suddenly, that manufacturer is scrambling to get those workers back. As Scooby Do would say, rots-o-ruck.

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