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By: Laura Carroll (Las Vegas Review Journal) January 2014

Through Thursday, the World Market Center is in the midst of the 2014 Winter Las Vegas Market, bringing together professional buyers and sellers of furniture, gifts and home décor.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is estimating attendance at 50,000 bringing a nongaming estimated economic impact of $62.9 million to Las Vegas.

Bob Maricich, president and CEO of International Market Centers, said this week could be a record for the once-ailing furniture mart.

Final numbers won’t be in until later this week, but qualified buyer attendance is up 20 percent, and registrations were up overall.

“We’re gaining market share over other markets,” Maricich said.

Since 2008, Maricich has been targeting 40,000 attendees as a successful market number.

“We’ve already blown that away,” Maricich said.

He noted that international attendance has grown this year, although he didn’t have specific numbers. Cold weather in Canada, the No. 1 international attendee, was contributing to longer stays in Las Vegas this week. Mexican and South American visitors comprise the No. 2 and No. 3 locales at the market, with 43 countries represented in all.

“We still have yet to really attract the European buyers that we’d like. That’s not our fault,” Maricich said. “The economy in Europe is such that they’re not really importing anything in the furnishings, gift or home décor space.”

In the gift segment, the Winter Las Vegas Market attracts buyers looking for items for Easter through Thanksgiving, as some of the products have a lead time of six to nine months.

“We’ve now got enough seasonal exhibitors where someone could come and do all their seasonal shopping here,” Maricich said. “In the past we didn’t have enough of that mass.”

One gift sector exhibitor was Sherwood, Ore.-based Columbia Empire Farms, which was selling an array of jams, nuts and marionberry goodies.

The company’s national sales manager, Janet Pendergrass, has exhibited at market for a few years.

“It’s growing, and Las Vegas has so many fun things to offer my buyers,” she said. “I see all the other shows on the West Coast shrinking. I love how they run this show. As a vendor, I think they do a great job. I do very well here.”

This year has seen 1,200 additional tenants come into the World Market Center. The temporary exhibit area for gift and home décor is sold out at 340 tenants, as is furniture, the first time since the market’s inception. In all, more than 2,224 exhibitors and lines now fill more than 5 million square feet across three buildings.

Within the furniture category, 600,000 square feet of permanent space has been leased in the past two years, resulting in a 96.4 percent occupancy on the 21 floors that carry furniture and mattress lines.

Industrywide, there’s been a move away from traditional as a category to more contemporary styling. New multifamily homes are smaller than in the past, so furniture is being built more small-scale. And, the market as a whole is cross-shopping.

“You just can’t be a pure furniture store anymore,” Maricich said. “If you just sell bedroom and dining room there’s only a reason to be in your store every nine years or 10 years.”

Furniture stores are buying jewelry, gifts and other smaller items to help draw customers. Maricich said part of that trend is being fueled by lifestyle stores such as Restoration Hardware or Crate &Barrel.

In major brands, Tempur-Pedic reintroduced two of its main collections, Cloud and Contour, this week. Both brands were refreshed this year and feature a combined eight beds. On Sunday and Monday, the mattress company’s 15th floor showroom was standing-room only; on Tuesday it had steady traffic.

“We were packed in here so that was fantastic,” said Karl Myers, director of customer relationship management and store marketing for Tempur-Pedic.

For a 15,000-square-foot showroom featuring 30 beds, that’s not a bad crowd.

“It’s critical to be here,” Myers said. “This is the biggest market and the January market is the biggest.”

Some of the new Tempur-Pedic beds feature a smart climate layer with cooling technology for sleepers who tend to get hot in the night.

Las Vegas Review Journal