A Nov. 10 conference at Mississippi State University addressed the global and competitive environments for furniture producers.
Titled "Competitive Strategies for the Furniture Industry: Emerging Issues in a Global Environment," the 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. gathering was held at the university's Franklin Center for Furniture Manufacturing. The program featured industry and trade leaders who discussed a variety of topics and concluded with a panel discussion.
U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker [R-Miss.] opened the morning session by enumerating the many benefits the furniture industry brings to Mississippi and the Southeast. Wicker--whose district includes north Mississippi--praised the industry for employing some 40,000 of his constituents and was optimistic about several initiatives on the Bush Administration's second term agenda designed to strengthen the economy and encourage global competitiveness.
Keynote speaker Joe Carroll, publisher of Furniture Today, noted that consumer spending for upholstered furniture has increased since 2001; however, specialty and discount stores are becoming a strong competition for furniture stores in the marketplace.
"Pier 1 Imports and Wal-Mart are among the top specialty and discount stores selling furniture today,” Carroll said. "While about 75 percent of U.S. furniture sales are in furniture stores, the actual number of furniture stores is declining.”
He predicted that the fundamentals for U.S. furniture manufacturers--quality, price and delivery—will reverse priority order in the next decade to emphasize delivery first, then price and quality. For U.S. manufacturers, delivery can be a market advantage when competing with foreign imports, he added. "Technology will allow customers to custom-order furniture and know the status of their order at all times. This is a niche that the U.S. manufacturers can easily fill,” Carroll said.
Others making presentations included Russ Batson, vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association.; Judy Dunaway, president of Airline Manufacturing; Jeff Holmes, president of J. Holmes, LLC; and Bill Morris, founder and partner of Small World Marketing.
Ivan Cutler, a well-known furniture industry analyst and marketing communications specialist, moderated the concluding panel discussion.
MSU President Charles Lee and Hassell H. Franklin also made remarks. Franklin, an MSU alumnus whose major gift made possible the facility that now bears his name, is chief executive officer and president of the Chickasaw County-based Franklin Corp., a leading manufacturer of upholstered furniture.
"The furniture industries in Mississippi and throughout the South have experienced extreme global pressures,” said Liam Leightley, MSU forest products department head. "This conference provided an assessment of the current competitive situation in the furniture industry and recommended strategies and action steps toward improving the environment for regional furniture producers.”
Leightley said imports from the People's Republic of China are of considerable concern for furniture manufacturers. Chinese producers currently are shipping a container of furniture to the U.S. at prices 20 to 30 percent lower than the same furniture produced domestically, he explained.
When speaking of the Chinese import predicament, Franklin said, "Our industry has never been faced with a situation like this. The key to survival is to change the way you think, develop creativity and hire people that can think, solve problems, and take pride in their workmanship,” he said.
In addition to MSU's Institute of Furniture Manufacturing and Management, the conference was sponsored by the Mississippi Development Authority, Community Development Foundation, Tennessee Valley Authority, and Mississippi World Trade Center.
Future conferences are being planned by the Institute to address the needs of the furniture industry.
"The furniture industry is of vital importance to Mississippi, and the Institute of Furniture Manufacturing and Management was created to enhance the long-term competitiveness and prosperity of the furniture industry in the region,” Leightley said.