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Buyer interest up at Philadelphia show

Sales and buyer interest were up at this year's Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show, held March 26-27 at the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal, according to exhibitors interviewed by Woodshop News. Show director Josh Markel says the turnout was almost identical to last year, with close to 70 exhibitors and about 2,000 attendees.

Furniture maker Michael Brown's booth at the Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show.

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"Would I love to have more? Sure. But the key thing was that there was buying going on. These were people who came to shop and knew why they were there, so a lot of people were making sales," says Markel, noting that one couple flew up from Miami specifically seeking custom work to furnish their new condo.

The quality of buyers appealed to Brian Bright, of Bright Studio Furniture in Randolph Center, Vt., a first-time exhibitor planning to return next year.

"The caliber of work was top-notch and there was a constant flow of potential customers there to buy. I spoke with many potential clients, took orders off the floor and made connections with architects, retailers and high-end galleries interested in my work," says Bright.

The furniture pieces exhibited were the same stylistic mix as in the past, according to Markel. The majority of work is conservative in nature, consisting of reinterpretations of historic styles with a modern twist. This year's show featured reproduction makers, including Leonard Marschark of Bedminster, Pa., who specializes in 18th century clocks.

Exhibitor Michael Brown, of Grantsboro, N.C., says he's fortunate to have previous customers return to the show and place new orders.

"There are fewer people through the door [at this show], but they are the right people, those with an interest in fine furniture. What a difference that makes to one's psyche," says Brown.

Brad Smith, of Bradford Woodworking in Worcester, Pa., has been exhibiting at the show for 17 years. He says attendees remain cautious about spending their discretionary income.

"I sold a couple of stools and got one call back since the show. That's not nearly what I need to do, but it's still important to be out there even when sales aren't happening," says Smith.

The quality of work was very high, which Smith attributes to a poor economy. "Slower sales have given furniture makers like myself more time to make more interesting work. I think if the public would see that, they'd get out and buy."

The show will need a new home because the cruise terminal is no longer available for public events. Markel is considering a return to the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

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This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue.

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