HP Market Authority CEO Says Tariffs Have Disrupted Furniture Industry

HP Market Authority CEO Says Tariffs Have Disrupted Furniture Industry

12:47pm Apr 08, 2019
International travel to the spring High Point Furniture Market could be down as much as 20 percent over trade and tariff disputes. Image courtesy of the High Point Market Authority.

The High Point Furniture Market is back for its spring session. A recent study found the twice-a-year event has an estimated annual impact of more than $6 billion dollars across the Triad area.

But politics sometimes plays a role in attendance, and this year is no different. Tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration have added to the costs of many goods imported from China. And that has disrupted the furniture industry.

Tom Conley is President and CEO of the High Point Market Authority. He says North American visitors haven’t skipped the market over the tariff issue. But it’s a different story for international travelers, especially those from China.

“So we’re probably down 15 to 20 percent from an international perspective,” he says. “And I think when the tariff issue is settled, we can recover nicely, but it has definitely impacted us.”

The tariffs started at 10 percent and had been planned to bump to 25 percent if negotiations didn’t go well. That was most recently set to increase back on March 2, but it’s been postponed indefinitely as trade talks continue.

The shifting timetable has created uncertainty in the industry. Manufacturers have had to decide whether they can hold their prices or pass the expense on to consumers.

“That ten percent duty obviously doesn’t change the makeup of the product, it just increases the cost ultimately to the consumer,” he says.

Much of the talk about tariffs focuses on imports, with China by far leading the way. But U.S. furniture manufacturers want to be a part of the Chinese market, and Conley says the ongoing trade war has made it difficult for them.

“We have seen the exports into China virtually dry up,” he says. “The Chinese market is number two to the United States, so it’s been a real hardship for U.S.-made furniture products.”

The could be silver linings, though. Conley says the trade war may make products made in other countries more cost effective.  

“It very well impacts U.S. jobs,” he says. “It may impact our long-term reliance on Chinese-made products...Clearly long-term it may have some positive effects.”

There have been other political issues that have had an impact on market attendance in recent years. The passage of HB2, the state’s so-called “bathroom bill,” led to boycotts of venues across the state, and the market was among those where that was felt. The international travel ban in 2017 also had an impact.

“Our international attendance has been a little soft of the last two to three markets” as a result of such controversies, Conley says.

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