Fighting Over the Furniture

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From guest blogger and regular magazine contributor Kay Carstens:

The moving van is loaded and taking at least twenty-five percent of San Francisco’s twice-yearly Furniture Mart to Las Vegas. That’s the percentage of exhibitors that have already signed contracts for 2005 space at the new Las Vegas World Market Center. Stretching 1.3 million square feet, the first phase of the Las Vegas facility has been sold out since it broke ground in March 2003. It will open for its first show next July—the same month as the San Francisco show—a complexity scheduled with a one-day overlap even without tear-down and set-up time.

It's a matter of space. The San Francisco Furniture Mart outgrew its former permanent home and hosted shows at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium, about 300,000 square feet smaller than the first phase of the Las Vegas World Market Center. BTW, a second phase to start next year will add another 1.5 million square feet.

The gathering of furniture designers, manufacturers, and buyers doesn't produce enough hotel room sales to be allotted space in the Moscone Center, so competing with Las Vegas on space is simply not an option for San Francisco. Las Vegas officials also acknowledge they're gunning for the San Francisco shows, which together generate 30,000 visitors. Babs Blair, director of leasing for the World Market Center, says San Francisco does great with what it has, "but the industry needs to go to the next level."

Is this how it’s going to be? Shall the industry prepare to see Boston blow Macworld out of New York — without Apple and Steve Jobs—and then host a showcase like the DNC but complain because its new convention center has booked 61 conventions over the next 10 years instead of the expected 60 per year? Will we see more predatory raiding like Las Vegas heading its vans to the desert with San Francisco’s furniture aboard? Has the boom in new and enlarged convention centers over the past 10 years come a cropper? Perhaps not, perhaps the much-anticipated explosion in conventions, and enough tradeshows for everyone, is still over the horizon. A buyers’ market in convention space does not bode well for anyone.

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