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Philly furniture show breeds optimism

The 19th annual Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show, held April 5-7 at the 23rd Street Armory in downtown Philadelphia, had a full slate of exhibitors, dominated by furniture makers seeking a share of a resurgent high-end clientele that frequents this retail show of handmade products.

Leonard Marschark's clocks and booth at April's show.

Show director Josh Markel said there were 60 exhibitors, up from 53 last year, and about 1,800 attendees, a 15 percent increase from 2012. Many of the furniture exhibitors were from beyond the Philadelphia metropolitan area, a sign of strength for the show and an improving economy.

“I think it’s a result of the fact that over time, there are less and less venues devoted to this specific type of show. There are still plenty of craft shows but very few that are focusing on furniture and furnishings,” says Markel. “We have kept at it and demonstrated that we’re a great place to market this kind of product. So if you’re a furniture maker, you know this is where you’ve got to be to be exposed.”

Leonard Marschark, a maker of 18th century clocks, was exhibiting for the 11th time. He confirmed an increase in attendance, which he attributed to a warm spring weekend and more familiarity with the show’s venue.

“Every time you change a venue, the numbers are a little low the first year. But with a sold-out show, that proves the administration is marketing it the right way. I made a few sales and had a few leads. But I’m not like your typical exhibitor because all of my customers are new. I sell 18th century clocks and usually my customers only want to buy one. So the show is a nice place for me to make a good first impression,” says Marschark.

Jarrett Maxwell, a furniture maker and owner of Geometric Innovations in Oklahoma City, Okla., says he made the long drive to test the East Coast high-end furniture market.

“I had heard about the show for years. Oklahoma City is a decent-sized market, but there’s not a huge market for high-end luxury furniture products and I was just wanting to go somewhere else and I thought that would be a stepping stone to at least test and see it,” says Maxwell.

Robert Hare, a furniture maker from Ulster Park, N.Y. said he did very well this year, a big turnaround from previous years when the economy was down. He has been a frequent exhibitor through the years.

“I started with the very first show in at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, then a few times at the Navy Pier and then backed off for a while. This year was great. I liked the size of the show. I made a very big sale to existing clients and over the years that’s been the main reason why I’ve continued exhibiting because I’ve developed my client base here and they see my work. I like them to see me there so they know I didn’t just make a sale and walk away,” says Hare.

The show also featured an emerging-artist contest for the first time. It was won by Ryan Meacham of Just in Grain in Chester Springs, Pa.

Contact: Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show, 3605 Hamilton St., Philadelphia, PA 19104. Tel: 215-387-8590.

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.

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