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Las Vegas Market tops expectations on return to city, CEO says

Las Vegas Market — one of the first large events to return to the city since the start of the pandemic — proved a success for buyers and sellers.

That’s according to Bob Maricich, CEO of International Market Centers, who said the company’s five-day home furnishings trade show “exceeded all expectations.”

“That included our own expectations but, most importantly, the expectations of the buyers that were there and the exhibitors (that) chose to show,” Maricich said Thursday in an interview with the Review-Journal.

“It’s a reaffirmation as to how strong the consumer economy is. The demand for everything related to home is just really strong at retail, and that was apparent here,” he added.

For many attendees, it was their first visit back to the city in more than a year.

The trade show, which ended Thursday, allowed many buyers and sellers across the country to see new merchandise amid a boom in sales, spurred by more spending on home design and furniture.

Buyers Wendy Williams and Wanda Randall, both from Eugene, Oregon, said they came to the Las Vegas Market specifically for new products. Especially those made in the U.S.

“It feels great, we’re so glad to be here,” said Williams.

“We found some new people to work with,” Randall said. “(We) found a lot of things made in the U.S. and for the most part, a lot of the stuff that we found are for the first time, which is really nice.”

Others, like local buyer Joshua Walter, came to the Las Vegas Market to find “unusual furniture” that might be a good fit for his coffee shops across the valley. Walter, owner of Mothership Coffee Roasters, is planning to open a few more locations soon.

“I’ve been coming here for about five years, and there are a few vendors that I like to follow up with to see the things that are on their catalogs in person,” he said, adding that he’ll likely return to the Summer Market in August. “I think we’re going to be opening some more coffee shops around then so always try to find some unusual furniture that’s a little bit different and I like working with the vendors here.”

‘Three steps forward’

Industry experts say trade shows, like the Las Vegas Market, are the lifeblood of the city’s economic engine.

“We need some of these tentpole conventions that typically bring tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of visitors to Vegas,” said Nehme Abouzeid, founder and president of marketing consultancy LaunchVegas, LLC. “Everyone is rooting for their return and success. If the big ones return, the small ones will follow. The industry has been retooling during the pandemic. We have a lot of rooms and space to fill – the segment is too valuable to not come back.”

Attendance for the trade show was about 45 percent of World Market Center’s biggest market, “which we consider a really strong step forward,” said Maricich. “All along, we’ve been saying that the journey out of COVID – and it’s just that, a journey. With this market, it feels like we took three steps forward.”

There’s growing confidence that trade shows and conventions will rebound, he said.

“Especially with the progress made with vaccinations being rolled out more rapidly,” Maricich said. “People are much more optimistic about next month and the months after that. I think there’s a real sense that we could head to a post-COVID environment as soon as the third quarter. I don’t think at the beginning of the year, any of us felt that that was possible.”

Touch and feel

Some visitors who attended the Las Vegas Market have never skipped a show. The twice-a-year event allows buyers to meet new vendors and see new merchandise.

Williams, of Oregon, said it was important for her to touch and feel the products that she was checking out.

“We actually did some stuff online, and then when we got here we looked at the things and it was not what we thought why we thought it was going to be,” said Williams.

Maricich said it’s a common theme that he’s heard from both buyers and sellers.

“As good as Zoom and Microsoft Teams are to get together virtually, it is without question no substitute for face-to-face interaction and physically touching, feeling and judging the quality of products,” he said.

Walter, of Mothership Coffee Roasters, said it was important for him to test the products before placing them in his coffee shops.

“I have to see things in person, I have to be able to sit on the chair,” said Walter. “I can’t buy furniture unless I know that it’s going to be comfortable. Sometimes it looks really good but you sit in it and you’re like, ‘This is not right,’ and then also like build quality, there’s a lot of tangible, qualitative things you can see when you’re seeing it in person.”

For Paige Breidenbach, of Fargo, North Dakota, the visit marked her first time coming to Las Vegas and to the trade show.

“I’ve been basing the experience off of all my boss’ past experiences have been like, and he was right about definitely all of it: It’s very fun but exhausting,” she said. “Having less people than what I presumed to be normal, (it’s) almost as nice because then you really get that one-on-one time with your (sales representative). You’re not running around with your head cut off.”

Coming in person to the show allowed Breidenbach to see and touch the items she saw online.

“It’s so different looking online versus actually touching, feeling, seeing in person and then really being able to sit for like comfort level and all the little details you can’t capture online,” she said.

Sophie Stanton, a high school senior from Scottsdale, Arizona, said she came to the Las Vegas Market on Thursday with her parents. Stanton said the trade show has been a “full immersion” experience to see what representatives and interior designers do.

“Everyone’s pretty eager to be here and I understand why it’s a great place,” she said, adding that the experience at the trade show has continued to spark her interest in design: “Hopefully this is what I get to pursue in college.”

Trade shows and conventions

Abouzeid said that with conventions and trade shows returning, employers are looking to bring back employees that were furloughed last year.

“So much of the local employment sectors are based on the variable occupancy of the city year-round so when it is busy, people are called in to work,” he said. “First it was casino workers. Next, it’ll be convention workers like banquet servers. Traditionally, they have been pretty stable and well-paying jobs. These are the jobs that were crushed last summer, leading to 30 percent citywide unemployment.”

Abouzeid says that after a year of quarantine, people will want to return to Las Vegas as a travel destination, especially now during pool season.

“Ultimately, it is about the vaccination levels, testing, and protocols that will bring the convention business back,” said Abouzeid. “After all, people do want to meet and do business. Holding Zoom calls for the rest of our careers simply isn’t enough.”

Heightened COVID-19 safety protocols will likely remain for the summer. At the Las Vegas Market, Maricich said only a handful of people objected to mask-wearing at the market.

“We just don’t have tolerance for it: It’s a requirement,” he told the Review-Journal. “But other than that, people want physical, live events. They realize that safety protocols, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and mask-wearing are key to the next phase of this.”

Lessons learned

Maricich said that come August and the summer event, the World Market Center will offer more food choices.

“Because our attendance was so robust, and people shopping longer, we definitely need more food options and more seating spread out,” said Maricich.

The facilities had enough room to accommodate folks eating socially distanced. “I think that was the biggest lesson coming out of this is that we needed to have more convenience for getting food quickly. We just need more of it when it comes to grab-and-go foods.”

Maricich said the ride-hailing service shortage in Las Vegas had affected some visitors at the trade show.

“There is a severe restraint with Uber, taxis, and public transportation,” he said. Currently, the World Market Center is a partner with more than a dozen different hotels with complimentary shuttle services. Some visitors wanted to get a cab or an Uber, Maricich said, to explore the city.

“Frankly, they’re just not available and it’s a huge inconvenience,” Maricich said of that shortage. “I would hope that by the time World of Concrete gets around – and that looks like it’ll be a really big event – that this will be sorted out. I would hate for people that have a bad experience within the city because of transportation.”

Contact Jonathan Ng at jng@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ByJonathanNg on Twitter.

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