We tend to keep busy. We come to Middle West with other responsibilities, interests, and passions, and the magic of the whole thing is when we get to meld all that together for a singular purpose. No one is this more true for than Peter Jacob. When he's not dazzling us by turning unsuspecting spaces into the perfectly arresting terrain that our experiences need, Peter "dabbles" in furniture and lighting design where he has his own line of internationally sold home furnishings. He also runs a bakery with his partner Jason. And he's got mad style. And ever evolving but constantly on point hair. And he likes puns - they range from charming to eye-rolling.
Anyhow...that "whole furniture thing" brought Peter to North Carolina last week for the semi-annual High Point Market. We wanted to know what happens down there amid all the comfortable seating. Here's what he had to say:
MW: So what exactly is the High Point Market? Why does it matter? How often does it happen?
PJ: High Point Market is the world’s largest international, residential furniture and home products trade show. It's an opportunity for manufacturers to get product in front of retail stores and interior designers. It matters because it’s the way that humans buy furniture. If there were no trade shows the pipeline would be much more cumbersome and the furniture more expensive. The show is in High Point, NC (hence the name) and happens twice a year, once in April and again in October. The fact that there are two shows per year might give you a sense of the volume of traffic and dollars that flow through this peculiar system of sales and distribution. It’s a 100 billion dollar a year industry that still uses face-to-face interaction as it’s go-to marketing strategy. Being at High Point Market is a must for designers and manufacturers. I’ll be honest, I like the fact that it’s an industry that makes it mandatory to share face time (and happy hours).
MW: You work with a company called Wesley Hall. What does that mean and what does it look like?
PJ: I have a few contracts as an independent designer. Wesley Hall is my only client that has licensed my name. So I’m the designer of the product and also the named endorsee of it. It’s common in the product industry to have a name attached, but typically others are doing the actual behind the scenes work and the endorsee is just the front man. I’m both in the background and out front promoting the brand. It’s a good balance. We’ve been at this for three years and the results are great, so I think we’ll be at it for as long as we can. We’re selling in all 50 US states and in countries like China, Russia and varied parts of the UAE.
MW: What do you do when you're down there? Who are you talking to/meeting with?
PJ: When I’m at the show I’m meeting with people from all parts of the world. There are sales people, retailers, interior designers - and each has their own need to learn about what’s new and to glean a sense of what’s next. On a good day, I’ll arrive at 8am and pivot from one conversation to another all morning, wolf-down lunch, and go right back to chatting people up until, most commonly, a dinner with customers of note or an industry party. My colleagues and I try to form real and lasting friendships with our customers so that if there’s ever an issue in business, there’s a base of friendship to insure that we can work it out easily. The interactions we share in High Point are the best way to build these friendships.
MW: How has the market itself changed since you've been going? Can someone who's not in the industry go?
PJ: The show has certainly changed in the many years I’ve been attending. My first trip was in 2002 and I have missed only one since. That’s 30 shows total, if you’re keeping score. In this time several large companies have been sold or have closed all together, giving way to offshoots and start-ups. That offers a sense of hope in the air for younger people in the industry. There’s room to make an impact and that tends to create fresh products and vibrant purchasing patterns. It’s a good time to grow in the furniture industry.
The event is only for industry insiders… or so they say. A lot of people drive in to say “just walking through” - code for out of industry. You’ve got stand alone showrooms like Wesley Hall that allow for it (it’s a welcoming place) while many others, some with whom I work, will not because they see it as a waste of time. Give it a try and you’ll quickly learn which showrooms allow onlookers and which showrooms are all business.
MW: After your time down there what are the trends you see in the industry? How do they affect your own work?
PJ: A trend that’s present in fashion and is currently hitting the home products marketplace is the use of washed out and pale colors (notably shades of Pink) surrounding strict, heavily weighted, darkly finished objects. It’s a counterpoint thing… like, take a traditionally fem color and mix it with butch structures. I’m into it for two reasons. One, it’s fresh and related to apparel and pop culture. Two, it’s a gender bender and blurs cultural conventions. Let’s keep that coming, right?
I’m glad to attend the trade show on a regular basis. It’s keeps me in touch with what others in my industry are up to both personally and in their work. I take a lot of cues from what’s being created. When I see something I wish I’d designed, I get fueled up to work harder to stay out in front of trends. I want to be a leader/feeder for what’s next.