The renowned High Point Market, the largest home furnishings trade show in the world, will draw as many as 80,000 attendees from 100 countries to High Point, N.C. April 22-26. Last year, our
correspondent was among them for the first time…
by CC Parker
illustration by Dwane Powell
My pilgrimage to the High Point furniture market began with a quest. A quest for a set of Celerie Kemble patio furniture.
For months I cyber-stalked this gorgeous all-weather wicker, but it’s really expensive, and I’m not patient. I was determined that our family needed this set. It would make our children want to bring their friends home on the weekends. Our social life would
blossom. I would look younger and thinner sitting on this furniture.
But if you’re unwilling to pay full retail (I’m not) and can’t find a discounted price online, what’s a girl to do? Then I remembered: High Point Market! Right at my back door. Wholesale prices, to the trade only.
I am not in “the trade.” But I was undeterred. In fact, I had it all figured out. I would simply register myself online as a designer, finagle my way in, and nab it wholesale! Against the odds, I would get that Celerie floor sample for my family!
Laying the groundwork
To do this would be no problem. On the home front, I would get an “overnight hall pass,” and assure my husband that the trip would be purely educational. No shopping whatsoever. Next, I would register for Market online, and enlist some wingmen (girlfriends) to join me.
Proper groundwork laid, I would arrive at High Point early, nab a primo parking spot, flash my barcode to the attendants, and waltz on in, hopefully running into a HGTV celeb or two. With my pockets full of cash, I’d head straight to the Lane Venture showroom where my beloved Celerie set would be on display. Once there, I’d give the salesman my winningest smile, chat him up a little (let’s hope it’s a “him”), and offer, off the cuff, to buy his floor display for a rock-bottom price. You know – I’d be happy to take it off his hands. Arrangements to retrieve it after market would be made, and then: Voila! The Celerie would be coming home with me, and I’d have the next two days at Market to play with my buddies. Perhaps we’d see The Pointer Sisters perform Sunday evening.
Three girlfriends (Jennifer, Jeana, and Kerri) agreed to join the adventure, each with her own ulterior motive. We booked a hotel room at the airport Marriott, as we knew the general consensus is that you must give Market two days: There is just so much to see.
Phase one proceeded as planned, though my husband rolled his eyes when I claimed I had no intention of shopping. Online registration was surprisingly easy, and the High Point website was full of directions and showroom maps to help me plan my mission. I did call HPM customer service, and spoke to the loveliest High Point native who shared a lot of shopping and dining scoop. I think she may have suspected I was a desperate housewife posing as a designer, but she was informative and pleasant, and I appreciated it.
So, logistics nailed down, I had to think about how I was going to negotiate this transaction. I consulted my friend Fran, whose family’s furniture business has been integrally involved at Market for years. She’s done some “posing” herself, and talked me through the process: When I entered a showroom, she told me, an attendant would scan the badge on a lanyard around my neck. This would inform the showroom of my business type and region, so they could direct me to my area rep. Area rep? Thankfully, people are usually welcome to walk in without appointments to look at the merchandise as well.
And if you are a desperate housewife posing as a designer and want to buy singles, not multiples, the lingo, she told me, goes like this: “Hi there, Mr. Showroom Rep., I am a designer and my client (ahem) is in need of patio furniture for her river home near Little Washington” (really less a boldfaced lie than wishful thinking). Then you say: “I do not have a store,” or “I’m non-stocking,” which means you don’t have a store and don’t stock merchandise. I very quickly learned – gulp – that buying singles tags 30 percent onto the wholesale price. Some more lines to deploy: “What is your minimum to place an order? What is your shipping cost? And when will it be delivered?” This, she said, would pretty much cover it.
Lines memorized, I then consulted my “real” designer friends for their top Market tips. Turns out they were less interested in showroom recommendations than in dishing about the food and after-parties. It’s all about the free food and the fun, they told me: where to get it, when to get it, and how to find it. One showroom specializes in PJ Punch! Another place serves a “hidden” lunch buffet – you have to head straight for it like you know it’s there. Another showroom offers a full sushi buffet and live music! Yet another serves cupcakes for the afternoon slump. The list went on and on. Friends were generous with their notes, but the best advice is always from my sister Frances in New York, who has been to Market many times: “Start with BoBo; great pimento cheese is served at a church downtown; take cash – it’s king. You’ll need $20 for parking. Download their free app to find vendors. P.S.: for Pete’s sake DO NOT wear tennis shoes (though you will be tempted).”
With my homework complete and the Celerie set dancing before my eyes, I gathered my friends. At the crack of dawn, we fired up our convoy of gas-guzzlers and headed west, led by market veteran Jeana Young. She led us straight to convenient and cheap parking ($10 per car, Freeman’s Tire Center on West English). We noticed several freestanding stores that looked like they had fabulous loot, including my sister’s recommended BoBo Intriguing Objects.
The Furniture Market is comprised of many buildings, but thankfully the Suites at Market Square – ground zero – was closest. It’s where we were given our lanyard badges and pocket guide with market maps and showroom locations. Everyone was still waking up from boisterous parties the night before, so it was quiet and peaceful, like being in a museum before opening hours.
As we made our way through the beehive of showrooms, it wasn’t long before we ran into Raleigh friends Ben Everett and Ross Spain, the proprietors of Acquisitions Limited in Raleigh. They were wheeling and dealing with clients, but still gave us a big wave and didn’t seem at all surprised to see us. Carlette Peters from Davenport @ Five was there to buy for her darling shop, and gave a big hello and a bigger laugh when she saw my business badge.
As luck would have it, we stumbled upon the permanent showroom of friends and furniture designers extraordinaire Beth and Chris Collier of VanCollier, the Washington, N.C. interior and furniture design firm (see the Walter profile of the couple and their business at waltermagazine.com). After hugs, kisses, and introductions to our crowd, we took in the Colliers’ fabulous collection, including their signature ginkgo accent pieces and my favorite, the Charles Ottoman.
Furniture aside, we wanted scoop about the designer A-List party the Colliers attended the night before. All of the shining designer stars were there. Kerri confessed that she’s a Mark Sikes devotee and hoped to catch a glimpse of him. No problem, said Beth, and offered to introduce us. Up we marched to the Henredon showroom, where he was promoting his new furniture line.
I knew that Lady Luck was with me when I noticed the Lane Venture showroom, with my Celerie collection, just across the hall. I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of it as Beth disappeared to find Mark. She reappeared with a young woman instead. It was Celerie Kemble – not the furniture set, but the woman herself! She’s so young! Oh my gosh, should I be embarrassed I’m unwilling to pay full retail for her product?! I found myself reaching for my lip gloss.
I realized I wanted to talk to her instead of bargain with her. I had some questions: What does she think about North Carolina? What about High Point? Where does she like to eat? Where does she like to stay? Are her kids with her? Inquiring minds wanted to know! And we proceeded to have a lovely conversation.
It was at this point – you may have guessed already – that my grand plan unraveled. I didn’t deploy my well-rehearsed non-stocking designer spiel. Eventually, I did perform some half-hearted haggling for The Celerie with the folks at Lane, who said they would be glad to sell samples, but I had to buy the entire showroom. I got the salesman’s card and told myself I’d try to cut a deal before summer. Or, I may have to pay full retail, daggone it.
So…no patio set. And I wasn’t alone. As it turned out, none of us bought a single piece of merchandise. And we ended up paying for almost every morsel of food we consumed. That hidden lunch buffet? Perhaps it’s hidden from desperate housewives, because we never did find it. But there’s no question about it. It was a blast. We walked and walked and gawked for hours – the people and the products were riveting. We loved seeing the local artisans. N.C. metalworker Tommy Mitchell’s pieces are incredible, and did you know they are now making temporary wallpaper? You get tired of it, you just peel if off the wall!
Our day ended outside the Market at BoBo Inspiring Objects. Of course my sister was right: The inventory was incredible and it was “cash and carry,” but I didn’t. Instead we settled ourselves in makeshift chairs by fires that burned in galvanized containers. A local family was grilling ribs and “trotters,” or pigs’ feet. I’m glad I tried them but I won’t again. It was like nibbling a human hand. But propped up with my friends, my trotter, and a glass of Two Buck Chuck, I was in heaven. My dear friend Betty Nelson of Raleigh’s Eatmans Carpets & Interiors joined us as her day of work was done, and we made our way to dinner in Jamestown, which offered more people-watching. We never did make it back to Market to hear The Pointer Sisters. We stumbled to the hotel to sleep.
So, this desperate housewife did not go home with The Celerie. But I did leave inspired and excited about what I saw in the marketplace. If you are worried for the economic future of our country, come to High Point Market. The USA still has “the secret sauce.” If you think business friendships have been eliminated by email, join the friendly crowd at the Eastern Accents’ PJ Punch after-party. If you think that no one is willing to “walk across the aisle,” then you haven’t seen a completely tattooed art director hugging a suited furniture factory owner. The High Point Market is the result of a grand collaboration of talented, diverse people and its community, which supports it 100 percent. Watching this magic happen in my backyard makes me proud to call North Carolina my home state – no matter what patio chair I’m sitting in.