Industry Insights

Furniture Markets: Where All the Magic Happens in the Furniture Biz

We were joined by Jonathan Wilson from Legends Furniture for an exclusive interview. He shared his wealth of knowledge about the High Point Furniture Market.

Inside the High Point Furniture Market: Insights with Legends Furniture's Jonathan Wilson

Wouldn't it be great if you had a friend in the furniture industry? Someone you could chat with about the latest trends, insider tips, and the intricate workings of the furniture market?

Well, I recently had the chance to sit down with Jonathan Wilson from Legends Furniture for an exclusive interview. Jonathan, a true industry veteran, shared his wealth of knowledge about the High Point Furniture Market, often referred to as the "Super Bowl" of furniture markets. From understanding the purpose and significance of these markets to exploring emerging trends and building long-term retail partnerships, Jonathan's insights were both enlightening and fascinating.

Not only did we delve deep into the mechanics of furniture markets and Legends Furniture's strategic positioning, but we also had a great time discussing the evolving trends in the industry. Jonathan's expertise made me feel like I now have that industry insider friend who can offer invaluable advice and knowledge, just a conversation away. Here are some highlights from our engaging and informative discussion.


Introduction to the High Point Furniture Market
Jonathan Wilson shares his recent experience at the High Point Furniture Market, often dubbed the "Super Bowl" of furniture markets, and provides valuable insights into its significance for the furniture industry.

Purpose and Significance of Furniture Markets
Jonathan explains that furniture markets like High Point and Vegas serve as crucial events where retailers connect with manufacturers and distributors. These markets offer a unique opportunity for retailers to see and test products firsthand, ensuring they select the best inventory for their stores. The High Point Market, in particular, is essential for planning product purchases in preparation for major sales events like Black Friday.

Legends Furniture and Market Positioning
Jonathan offers an overview of Legends Furniture, detailing its history, product range, and market positioning. Known for medium plus goods, Legends Furniture competes on price and quality, providing a range of products from entertainment consoles to mattresses and upholstered furniture. This positioning allows them to cater to both promotional and high-end markets.

Key Retail Partnerships and Strategies
The conversation highlights Legends Furniture's partnerships with major retailers such as American Furniture Warehouse, RC Willey, and Macy’s. Jonathan emphasizes the importance of building long-term relationships with these retailers, which is vital for continuous product placement and business growth. He also shares insights from market visit data, showing that a significant portion of their visitors are major retailers grossing over $20 million annually.

Jonathan’s Role and Responsibilities
Jonathan discusses his role as VP Strategic Partner Success at Legends Furniture. His responsibilities include managing the sales rep force, overseeing marketing efforts, and designing show floor layouts for market events. He describes the intricate planning and substantial investment required for participating in furniture markets, from space rental to freight and decoration costs.

Emerging Trends in the Furniture Industry
Jonathan and I explore current trends observed at the market. Jonathan notes the popularity of curves in both upholstered and case goods, a shift from grays to warmer tones like browns and tans, and the rise of bold patterns and floral prints. He explains his strategy for identifying trends, which involves taking numerous photos and analyzing common themes.

Challenges and Future Outlook
The discussion touches on the challenges of predicting and riding industry trends. Jonathan compares this process to surfing, emphasizing the need for precise timing and positioning. Continuous participation in markets and strong relationship-building are crucial for long-term success in the furniture industry.

Wrapping it Up
The episode concludes with a reflection on the complexities and significant efforts involved in the furniture market. Jonathan’s expertise and detailed insights provide valuable knowledge for anyone interested in the inner workings of the furniture industry, highlighting the critical role of markets like High Point in driving the industry forward. 

Full Transcript: What is a Furniture Market: featuring Jonathan Wilson

Alex: Hey everyone, it's Alex with here with my friend Jonathan Wilson. He is a legend, quite literally, from Legends Furniture. Jonathan, how are you doing today?

Jonathan: So good, happy to be back in Phoenix after a week in High Point, North Carolina.

Alex: Man, what were you doing in High Point, North Carolina? It is the focus of our episode today, but please tell the good people of what you were doing.

Jonathan: That was the furniture market. There are four major furniture markets every year, two in Vegas and two in High Point. This was the High Point Spring Market, sometimes called the Super Bowl of furniture markets, because it's where most of your majors go and pick out what furniture they're going to buy for the remainder of the year. Now we start selling stuff that's prepping for Black Friday. It's going to be too late by the time the next market comes to buy in time for Black Friday.

Alex: Interesting. So just to define what a furniture market is for, which is really catered towards consumers buying couches, I think it's important that people understand the back end of the industry a little bit too. So just to define it, it sounds like it's the place that retailers will go to be connected with manufacturers and distributors like the one that you work for to essentially buy product to buy inventory. Is that correct?

Jonathan: That is the way the industry works as a whole. It’s mainly through manufacturers' representatives. So you have a manufacturer that might be in the state of Mississippi or we're in the state of Arizona, and then we have a sales force that covers the entire country. Some might have five states, some might have more, depending on how many furniture retailers are in their area and how many key accounts they're working with. But they're usually selling just off of picture catalogs, whether that's on paper, an iPad, or something like that. The markets give the buyers an opportunity to come see the product, touch it, and actually sit on it in the case of a couch, or open the drawers and see what kind of joinery is done and all that kind of stuff in the case of case goods.

Alex: So you're saying that the people buying the furniture in the stores that we go to actually see it in person first?

Jonathan: They do, usually. The good ones do, yes. The great ones do. I would say all of your top hundred retailers across the country do for sure. Typically, you have your two Vegas markets and your two High Point markets. It seems to be like the western half goes to Vegas and the eastern half goes to High Point. There’s some crossover, but for the most part, it is regional.

Alex: Why High Point, North Carolina? Because here’s what I know of High Point, North Carolina: best restaurant, Cracker Barrel; best hotel, the Howard Johnson. No, I don’t think that’s a thing. It’s not a big city. So what do you think it is that, why did the furniture industry sort of converge? Why is the Super Bowl in small-town North Carolina?

Jonathan: There’s a lot of history that goes there. That’s a great question. High Point pretty much was like the furniture capital of the world 100-200 years ago, whatever it was, and small little companies would rise up. Most furniture in America is made in the Mississippi area, sometimes in Tennessee. A lot of it was made in High Point. It was just easier to go directly to this town and visit all these different manufacturers that were making furniture pretty much in the same area. Long story short, everybody was going out to visit these factories, and the town of High Point became a hub. Now if you go to High Point, it is bizarre because the entire city becomes Furniture City. You have to walk blocks and blocks to find all the different furniture dealers, not to mention you might have a seven-story building with furniture all across it. The buildings are old; we are on the East Coast, kind of the origin of America, so it’s an old city with old buildings. Sometimes these buildings blend together and all of a sudden become one building. You’ll enter into the second floor of one building, ride the escalator up to the third floor, take a catwalk, and all of a sudden you’re on the fourth floor, but then you go back across the catwalk and you’re on the third floor. It’s a very confusing layout, at least in High Point. That’s the furniture capital of America, at least.

Alex: What’s your favorite High Point, North Carolina restaurant?

Jonathan: Oh man, I took a picture of it. We went and got some pizza at this place that was just over the top amazing. I’ve got to give them a shoutout because I took a picture of their door because it was so good. Here it is. It is called Blue Rock Pizza and Tap. Shout out to Blue Rock Pizza and Tap. We went out and ate there as our executive force one night for dinner, and then the next day we called in pizza and had it for dinner for the entire rep force because it was so good we wanted to share it. We’re talking chicken and artichoke pizza, pizza with a mango habanero base, and beef brisket, bacon, and jalapenos on it.

Alex: I’ve got to tell you, I’m from the pizza capital of America. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I’ve never heard of mango being put on pizza. You’re telling me this was good?

Jonathan: It wasn’t mango the fruit. It was mango habanero sauce, like the glaze that you would have on wings.

Alex: Blue Rock Pizza and Tap, we’re coming for you. Okay, so let’s get back to basics here. I think we’ve explained the fundamentals of the purpose of a furniture market. It’s literally for a retailer to meet manufacturers and distributors to figure out which products to buy and see a lot of them in person. A lot of it is just keeping up relationships. Let’s get a little bit more literal for our listeners now. You represent a manufacturer. How do you guys position yourselves at your company? Tell us about that first, and then I’ll ask you about some customers, some retailers that you serve, just so there’s a little bit more of a linear touchpoint for our users and viewers.

Jonathan: For sure. Legends Home, we are a furniture manufacturer that’s been around since the '90s. Historically, we’ve done entertainment consoles and fireplaces. The guy who bought us out and owns us now got his money in the mattress world. He was making mattresses, bed-in-a-box mattresses, and selling them years ago, an early adopter of this new style. Made enough money doing that to be able to buy Legends Furniture, blended the mattresses into Legends Furniture, and then put upholstery in there also and now called it Legends Home. We do most everything except for patio or bathroom vanities, but just about everything else in the house. As far as selling to retailers in general, it works out into price points. You have your promotional, your high-end, and your middle. Usually, how we describe it is we’ll say we’re medium plus or medium minus, and that’s the industry terminology. With that in mind, Legends Home considers themselves medium plus goods. We often are able to be price-point competitive with our promotional industry, but as far as our construction goes, we’re medium or medium plus goods.

Alex: Great, that’s really helpful. Give us a sense of what that translates to on the retail level. Tell us some of the larger retailers that you partner with.

Jonathan: Sure. There are broad categories: you can have bedrooms, dining, upholstery, and all that kind of stuff. One of the weirdest things in the furniture business is that a sofa has cost about $399 for the past 50 years. It’s like the price hasn’t really changed; it’s really weird. So, $399 is your promotional price point. We don’t have a lot of promotional price points at that range. We’re going to get into the $599 to maybe even $899 range, depending on some of our looks. Big companies like Restoration Hardware, for instance, might be getting $4,000 for a sofa. Then you go into super high-end and you might be getting $14,000 or $40,000. There’s a huge spread. In general, we’re in the $500 price range for a sofa, $1,000 for a bedroom group or something like that. Majors that we deal with: we do a lot of business with American Furniture Warehouse. Last I checked, they were number 19 in the top 20. They’re nearly, if not, a billion-dollar conglomerate by now. We do a lot of business with RC Willey, Macy’s, and we’re on an upward trajectory with Slumberland. Rooms To Go is a big account of ours, Living Spaces is a big account of ours. These are some names that our listeners probably recognize all across the country.

Alex: I think everybody probably recognizes at least one name from that list. Most furniture chains are regional; there are very few fully national traditional furniture retailers with a brick-and-mortar focus. But you’ve named a lot of big ones here.

Jonathan: Correct. I was going through the numbers. We get a report whenever somebody comes into the market. We scan their badge and that tells us a little about them, basically gives us their email address so we can retarget them after they leave and try to follow up and find out if all is good. I was looking over that report and pulling some data from it. An interesting little tidbit: 33.3% of our visitors this last week at High Point Market are grossing over $20

million a year. That’s a big number. If you break it down, 83% of our retailers who visited are doing a million dollars or more. I think that’s cool. It shows that High Point caters to big businesses and big boxes, but it also shows us that we want to be doing more business with our mom-and-pop retailers. We hope that’s where is going to come in. That might be a good opportunity to plug it and give you some time to talk about how we as a manufacturer could reach out to the smaller retailers. Obviously, those that came to visit us at Market that are doing less than half a million was only 5%. How do we get ahold of those people?

Alex: That’s a great question. Just to give a sense of where fits into all of this, we’re building out a national database of furniture retailers, both large and small. Online retailers like Wayfair and Amazon, and some boutique ones like the one I used to run, along with all of the brick-and-mortar-focused chains across the country like the ones you previously mentioned. Mom-and-pop stores will have a place in our platform solution, so everybody can have a presence on and get the word out about their business or brand to users. Sometimes that’s RC Willey, sometimes that’s Wayfair, and sometimes it’s the place down the street that’s going to give them excellent service on a custom sofa that they want a specific way. If a furniture store is in business, they probably do something really well, so we’re looking to figure out what that is and help provide a platform for the furniture industry, all the retailers, to market to users large and small.

Alex: Tell me, what is your general role on a day-to-day basis in your job, and how does that change when it’s market time? These four events per year, these markets in Vegas and High Point, are so vital to the sales cycle of the furniture industry. It’s where you have a chance to meet with all the retailers, as you’ve mentioned, so it’s super important. I guarantee you play an important role in it. Am I wrong?

Jonathan: We just got back from High Point Market yesterday, and at Market, we already started having conversations about what the October market is going to look like. We have to start looking at what our floor looks like here in April and how that’s going to change. What do we need to get rid of and what do we need to pull in? You ask what my role is. A lot of that is what’s going on behind the scenes. My title is VP Strategic Partner Success. What that really means is that I work here at the factory, and my key priority is to hook up with some of these top-tier retailers across the country, finding out strategic areas on their floor that we can grow or maybe swap out. Maybe they have a SKU that is just starting to fall flat a little bit. Let’s have some tough conversations about getting rid of that and putting something that’s going to do better. That’s a lot of my job. It entails managing our sales rep force all across the country, so I am doing a whole lot of that. It includes a lot of marketing, trying to get product images from our new stuff that’s being made and turning that into good preview material or marketing materials, videos, or whatever I can get out. It’s looking through the data of these reports we pulled in and what’s selling, trying to extrapolate relevant, valuable feedback we can get to our retailers using the quarterly data to help them make a decision to buy the right things to start selling more of. There are a lot of hats throughout the week. When I go to Market, I actually got to design the show floor this last Market. I was very pleased with designing about 50,000 square feet of show space with our rep, Laura Gwyn, who’s over in North Carolina. I have the blueprints, I section it all out, draw out what SKUs I want in certain areas, then work with her to design it. Then I show up a couple of days early to Market and just get my hands on it and move stuff around, make it look pretty, and try to make it look shoppable.

Alex: 50,000 square feet, that is a huge space to manage.

Jonathan: It is.

Alex: You know what you’re doing, right?

Jonathan: I do know what I’m doing. I consider myself a master stager. I absolutely love staging, but I have had to train even my fellow co-workers that I don’t consider myself a designer. I don’t enjoy laying down rugs and choosing lamps and pictures and all that, and I don’t think I’m the very best at it. But as far as thinking about the show floor and the layout, how everything is going to get positioned, what the focal walls are going to be, and what I call the sales path… Ikea, we all know the sales path in Ikea. You’re forced to go a certain route, and there is a lot of brainpower that goes into that strategy.

Alex: It really is. I have browsed many a showroom in my career working in the furniture space. From the first time I went to Market when I was in my early 20s, I was absolutely amazed at how much goes into just the commerce in this industry, how much thought. I think if we’re all listening to you go walk through some of your planning strategies and your role in that, managing partnerships with the retailers, setting up the showroom and staging it, there’s so much that happens even before these retailers go out and buy the furniture to sell to the customers. There’s an entire industry within the industry of manufacturers and distributors really just doing all this work to make sure that the industry works as it should. It’s pretty amazing. How would you label this market? A successful market? How do you measure success? Is it just in sales, in written business (meaning actual purchase orders that you’ll get from retailers), or is it in general level of interest or just a gut feeling you have?

Jonathan: All of the above. Our CFO would absolutely say it’s all about sales. He doesn’t really care about relationships; he only cares about the end-of-the-year gross revenue, which is valid.

Alex: Sounds like a CFO.

Jonathan: Sounds like a CFO, exactly. Honestly, you don’t write a lot of business at markets, which is interesting. Yes, I think this was a very successful market. We had a lot of key players come through and visit us. This is a weird trade show because it technically starts on Saturday, but we are selling stuff to people on Tuesday, and that’s not a joke. Let’s talk about Comic-Con. You go into Comic-Con the day before it opens, what’s going to happen? You’re not going to get in, let alone five days before it happens. The furniture business is the opposite. These top retailers, the furniture market starts on Saturday, but they show up on Tuesday and they already start shopping. The big guys like Wayfair, they’re gone. They have come and gone by Thursday, and the market hasn’t even begun yet. Anyway, it does get a little bit weird because it’s spread out so much. It doesn’t feel like your foot traffic is that heavy. Back in the day when it might have just been Friday, Saturday, Sunday, you’d have a lot of business. But now it’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Now it’s Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Your foot traffic gets spread out, and so you get these long lulls. But at the end of the day, we look at our market report and we’re pretty consistent with the number of visitors, if not even a little bit up. Our close rate was really high, had a lot of good feedback. Just beginning relationships is really what we look to get from Market, because we’re not selling a one-time product. We’re not trying to get a widget into their hand that is going to help them for the next 20 years. We’re trying to get a placement on the floor that is going to become basically like the real estate industry. I want to grow my real estate on every single retailer's floor until I have more and more share of their show floor.

Alex: Look, it’s very much a relationship-based business. When I, as a retailer, would make relationships with a manufacturer, like you said, it’s very rare that we would buy one thing. We would probably go do a number of SKUs, and then when those SKUs ran their course, we would replace them with other SKUs from that manufacturer. It is a long-term partnership and relationship. That’s part of the reason why, as we can all tell by your explanation of it, so much work goes into these markets because it’s a major investment in the company's and the manufacturer’s future with a given retailer and at large.

Jonathan: Speaking of the investment, the amount of money that we have to spend just for that space alone, plus all of the freight money we have to spend to send it there from Phoenix to High Point, we have to hire decorators. We spend literally millions of dollars to make the furniture presentable and available for retailers to sit on. Then there are those who just say, "I don’t go to markets." How can you not go to a market? How can you consider yourself a responsible buyer if you don’t go look at this product, sit on it, touch it, open it, flip it over?

Alex: In the online space, something that always differentiated us at my former company, Apartment Therapy, was that we would go to markets and vet the furniture in person. For years, the online space was full of people just putting up products and grabbing images from wherever without actually vet

ting the manufacturers at all. I think that was part of our success because at the end of the day, people were happy with the products they received. Why? Because we, as furniture experts, were vetting them before offering them to our customers. Like in a good restaurant, you want the chef to taste the food first. I think that’s really important for retailers to do.

Jonathan: Right. To your point, a lot of retailers, especially in the online sector, focus on what’s called drop shipping. You and I probably know it, but our average listener might not. What drop shipping is, I handle all of the warehousing and logistics of getting the product from my manufacturing plant to the customer, and the retailer doesn’t have to do anything except try to get the customer to buy my product. They’re not touching the product, they’re not really vested in it. If they make five bucks off of it, they make five bucks, and if they can do that a thousand times, they made 5,000 bucks. But you’re right, they’re not verifying the product, the company, making sure it’s good. They’re just trying to get the best possible deal in the easiest way. Ultimately, I don’t believe that to be a sustainable strategy. It’s why you see Wayfair and Amazon buyers converge on a furniture market like a sea of people. They’ve invested in going to markets. They’re not just selling images of products; they actually have relationships with manufacturers like the one you’re a part of.

Alex: I think that’s great. Wayfair came and visited with us at market. I was looking through the scan badges report, and we had over a dozen different people at five or six different meetings across different times, coming in and sitting down with our team. That’s a whole different level of business once you get into that. You think about returns in general: how do you as a retailer handle returns, and now turn those into online returns, and now turn them into Amazon or Wayfair? We’ve been trained as consumers that you can return anything, and it’s a lot more difficult to return a sofa or an entertainment center that weighs 400 pounds.

Jonathan: Big time. It costs a lot of money and it costs everybody a lot of money, except the shipping companies. They make out like bandits.

Alex: Oh my goodness, do they ever. You’re right. I think this is a great first entry point into the world of furniture markets for the viewers, so I thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise. The last question I’ll ask you is about trends. Every time I go to market, after I visit a number of showrooms, it usually is fairly obvious some of the trends that are emerging. When I was in Vegas last, I saw certain fabrics on couches, like chunky corduroys and this monster fur that was coming out, just very plush fabric. I’m sure you’ve seen it too. I saw a lot of wicker on indoor furniture. What are some other trends? Was there any one thing that really stuck out to you this market as being the hot thing, or what are some things on your mind?

Jonathan: Markets fluctuate, but I have a strategy. I’ve been doing this for a little over 10 years, and I almost always reserve one day at market to go around and look at everything. If I can, I’ll take a lot of pictures. They don’t always want you to take pictures. A fun side note: the first time I got called out on taking pictures, I just took more pictures and then got a press pass so I could go to market with a press badge and take as many pictures as I want. If you want to see some of these pictures, go to Furniture is Fashion on Instagram, @furnitureisfashion is my Instagram handle. I like to just take fun pictures of furniture. What I’ll do is take a lot of them, then go back through my photo log and start to see some commonalities, especially in the color world. If you’re just flipping past them and not even putting a second of notice on each one, you start to see colors. So, current trends: curves, obviously. Everybody is doing curves in the upholstered world as well as the case goods world. We’re getting away from rectangles and squares, and you’re starting to see a lot more soft corners. Warm tones: it seems like grays are fading out some, and browns and tans and oats are on the rise. We’re starting to see some patterns, almost like tapestry-like patterns, floral prints, wallpaper-style prints. We’re starting to see some bold mixing of patterns.

Alex: Plastic on the furniture to go along with the floral patterns, Jonathan. Is that a thing? In my grandma’s house, she had a floral pattern couch and plastic covers.

Jonathan: I have not seen any plastic covers for sofas in a long time. Not a bad idea unless you’re in Phoenix, Arizona, in which case, oh my God, the worst. The absolute worst.

Alex: It’s fun to look at the trends. It’s all sort of prediction at this time. You’re always on the back end. We have your picture on the internet of you couch surfing as it is. It’s very much like surfing. If you’re too early, you’re not going to get it. If you’re too late, everybody’s run away from you. You have to really be right on that wave, right in the tunnel. That’s a hard place to get to.

Jonathan: It really is. Whether you’re surfing or predicting furniture, I think if we learned one thing today, again as I said before, it’s how much work and thought goes into the process of being a manufacturer, thinking about furniture markets. It’s a major driver of the furniture industry, and you have your finger on the pulse of it. Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge and expertise with us today, Jonathan. Hope to have you again soon.

Jonathan: My pleasure, man. Anytime, Alex. It’s always fun chatting furniture.

A smiling man with short brown hair and a beard stands on a beach during sunset. He is wearing a black short-sleeved shirt with small white dots. The ocean and sandy shore are in the background, creating a warm and relaxed atmosphere.
Alex Back is the founder and CEO of Previously, he was the co-founder and COO of the popular furniture brand, Apt2B, which was acquired by a large US retail furniture chain in 2018. He worked to integrate Apt2B, one of the very first online furniture retailers on the Shopify platform, into the operations of the 100 year old larger business entity and was deeply immersed in the business operations of both online and brick and mortar retail for 4 years before leaving in 2023 to start Working in various parts of the furniture industry since 2004, he has 20 years experience in retail sales, e-commerce, marketing, operations, logistics and wholesale manufacturing and distribution. He has worked extensively with partners such as Costco, Bed Bath and Beyond and Amazon and his work has been highlighted in many publications such as Forbes, CNN and HGTV, among others. Alex is delighted to bring his experience and authority on couches and the furniture industry to this platform, along with many of his industry colleagues who are helping him keep the audience informed and engaged on a daily basis.
Alex Back CEO & Founder