Furniture Industry Booms Despite The Pandemic
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Despite the pandemic, the furniture market in High Point, N.C., opened this week. Each year, it's one of the biggest showcase events for the industry and draws people from around the world. As Naomi Prioleau of member station WUNC reports, furniture manufacturers are experiencing a real boom.
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NAOMI PRIOLEAU, BYLINE: Latin music blares from radios as dozens of workers assemble couches, chairs and other furniture on this factory floor. It's filled with fabric, foam and wood everywhere.
ANGIE MCWHERTER: This is the back wall in this department. So this is all the stuff that's sewed (ph) that we haven't gotten to yet or we don't have frames for yet.
MCWHERTER: Yeah (laughter).
PRIOLEAU: Angie McWherter is the president of Piedmont Furniture in Ramseur, N.C. It's a chaotic but efficient scene and very busy.
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PRIOLEAU: Piedmont is a wholesale manufacturer that sells to furniture chains, mom-and-pop stores and e-commerce. McWherter says that while she's grateful for all the extra business, these past few months have been hectic.
MCWHERTER: It is very stressful, but it's come to the point where we've just started telling customers we're doing the best we can. We're going to try to get this out in 12, 14, 16 weeks. It may happen; it may not.
PRIOLEAU: The pandemic has hammered some sectors of the industry, like commercial furniture. But home furnishing sales are booming. Customers wanting new couches, tables and chairs are having to wait six months or longer before they'll be ready. Here at Piedmont Furniture, McWherter says they shut the factory down mid-March, and when they reopened a month later, almost their entire staff returned. Then in May, the orders poured in.
MCWHERTER: It was like, what do you have in stock? We sold everything we had - everything. I mean, like, odds-and-end pieces that we'd had for a couple of years - people were fighting over them. There was nothing left in our warehouse at all.
PRIOLEAU: The High Point Furniture Market, which is underway now, is an extremely important hands-on event that brings buyers and sellers together. There's usually a spring market, too, but this year it was canceled due to the pandemic. The rise in demand can be attributed to a number of factors. Gerald Fox is an economics professor at High Point University. He says mortgage rates are low, and some people are upsizing, partly because they're staying home more.
GERALD FOX: They're thinking about their homes to a greater degree. They're working from home. They want to make their home a more pleasant place since they're spending more hours there. They might need office furniture at home.
PRIOLEAU: About 40 miles away, The Phillips Collection in High Point is also struggling to meet demand. This company makes high-end organic furnishings. Their inventory includes amethysts from Brazil and coffee tables carved from the remnants of a million-year-old tree in the jungles of Indonesia. Mark Phillips is CEO. He says business during the pandemic has been so good for his company that he's been able to give his employees bonuses.
MARK PHILLIPS: We are very fortunate right now. When we exceed last year's shipping, we have to give a bonus. And our goal is to be 8% up, and I've had to give bonuses in June and July and now again in September. So our business is super strong now.
PRIOLEAU: That growth comes despite traffic to Philipps' brick-and-mortar showrooms being down almost 70%. The boom has been driven by online sales. The showrooms for High Point Furniture Market are open for nine days, three times longer than normal, to help control the flow of up to 50,000 attendees per day.
For NPR News, I'm Naomi Prioleau in Greensboro, N.C.
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