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IHFC's Tom Lindh Speaks About High Point Market's Challenges

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Tom Lindh, banker turned CEO of High Point’s original and largest showroom building, is convinced the biggest challenge facing the High Point Market isn’t the Las Vegas World Market Center – you know, the one shimmering on the edge of the Vegas Strip and craving everything High Point has (except the humidity). Nor is it the economic double whammy – rapid migration of manufacturing to Asian factories and widespread industry consolidation that’s driving many venerable companies out of business. The biggest challenge, he says, is for 188 showroom buildings – stretching across 20 miles, covering 12 million square feet and showcasing new products from 2,600 manufacturers – to embrace the High Point Market Authority’s new slogan – “One Market/One Vision.” “I sure wish we worked together and communicated more clearly,” says Lindh, who is wrapping up his first year at the helm of the International Home Furnishings Center (IHFC). “We need to speak with one voice and share one goal. But we all run different businesses – and in some cases very different businesses.” IHFC, for example, opened in 1921 as the market’s first building with the 250,000-square-foot Main Wing and over 85 years has expanded to 3.5 million square feet – home to 650 of the leading manufacturers, including 13 of the top 20. While there are other major, multi-tenant players – Merchandise Mart Properties, Showplace and 220 Elm/C&D, most notably – many of the 188 buildings are occupied by one tenant and most by fewer than five. Lindh, however, is increasingly optimistic, giving the Market Authority team – most notably Brian Casey, the new CEO – a lot of credit for pulling the High Point Market closer together. He applauds efforts to establish comprehensive ground transportation, including the state-of-the-art Mendenhall Transportation Center; and to unify opening and closing dates. Together, he says, these improvements will speak volumes to the industry about our commitment to make this market easier to shop and more productive for buyers. “It’s a good start – we’re getting things done,” he says. “I do think we’re all realizing that we need to work together for the betterment of High Point, and we understand that such cooperation requires some sacrifices. We all must understand that High Point doesn’t have a hold on the industry like it once had. We have to work on relationships. We have to work on making High Point a compelling place to sell home furnishings.” A Miami native, Lindh was Bank of America’s city executive for High Point, Winston-Salem and Thomasville in 1999 when he was recruited to be IHFC’s next CEO. He learned the business as Bruce Miller’s understudy, was named president and chief operating officer in 2002 and then CEO on Dec. 31, 2005 when Miller retired. The opportunity to build relationships with IHFC exhibitors, to learn their businesses and explore ways IHFC can help facilitate their growth is what most appealed to Lindh as he considered moving from banking to the showroom business. The direct relationship he has with exhibitors remains his favorite part of the business. “I was a commercial lender,” he says. “I try to use some of the same disciplines here. … I don’t tell Hooker or Stanley how to run their businesses, but I don’t just ask them to sign leases either. The relationship we have with exhibitors is far more than just landlords. We help them promote their businesses. We help them with special showroom needs.” Lindh is overseeing a multi-million-dollar renovation to IHFC’s main entrance, the Commerce Wing lobby, scheduled for completion by the March 2007 market. And that’s just the beginning. “Piece by piece, we will transform the whole building so that it’s new, fresh,” he says. “After all, we are in the fashion business. We can’t ask exhibitors to make these investments if we don’t. We have to walk the walk, and we will.”

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