Atlanta showroom AmericasMart merged with International Market Centers July 20, creating the largest showroom company in the world. The new entity combines IMC’s existing properties in Las Vegas and High Point, N.C., with the Atlanta market under IMC’s name.
AmericasMart, which occupies 7.1 million square feet of space on Peachtree Street, has called Atlanta home since it was founded by John Portman as a furniture market in 1957. Today, AmericasMart is one of the world’s top venues for uniting wholesalers and buyers.
IMC CEO Robert Maricich sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the day of the merger to discuss the direction of IMC and what the change means for AmericasMart. Maricich characterized the deal as an opportunity for all three markets to grow. He also said the merger between the three locations will better position each to embrace and influence change in the buyer-to-buyer (B2B) marketplace going forward.
Q: When did the idea of a merger between International Market Centers and AmericasMart first arise?
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A: I’m going to say it was probably back in September, [that] we actually had a change in our partners. We were founded and nurtured for six years with Bain Capital and Oaktree, and in September Blackstone bought their interest. One of the senior managing directors for Blackstone is Tyler Henritze. Tyler’s an Atlanta guy. One of the early conversations was if you could buy anything, what would it be? The answer was ‘Atlanta, but I don’t think they’re for sale.’ So Tyler approached the Portman family, and they said ‘Maybe we should talk about it.’ I think that combination of Blackstone’s credibility, Tyler’s Atlanta ties, and we really approached it as a merger.
Q: With this merger, will things change for the individual markets (High Point, Las Vegas, Atlanta)?
A: No. If you lived in our world, the brand AmericasMart is 60-something years old. It’s been nurtured. Within the gift and home decor industry, it’s known globally. You could say the same thing about High Point with furniture. It’s funny, you go to this small city in China and mention High Point and they’ll say ‘Furniture.’ The events and the venue will retain their individuality, and we’ve got unique growth opportunities in all three cities by being together.
We really view it as a growth play. We’re not doing acquisitions to quote optimize something where we go in and run it incrementally better and cut costs and call it a day.
Q: Are there lessons IMC learned from the merger between Las Vegas and High Point that can be applied to the merger with AmericasMart?
A: What worked there was a reinforcement of something that I felt through my 30-something years before and that is if you can get the strategy right, that’s critical. Once you’re convinced you got a strategy to grow, then there’s just two other factors. One is capital. Obviously, with Blackstone, largest private equity firm on the globe, we’re not capital-constrained. So, strategy, we’re working on. Capital, not an issue. Then it’s all people. My focus is getting the right people, having the right culture, a culture that; really built around our customers.
Q: Is the Portman family going to be involved with AmericasMart after the merger?
A: [The son of AmericasMart founder], Jeff [Portman] is an advisor to our board, so we’ll tap into his, 30-something years of experience and relationships and all of that, but the Portmans are not going forward with a financial interest.
Q: There has been a lot of disruption in the retail industry by online sales. Has that affected the showroom industry in any way?
A: Our customers are Amazon and Wayfair and Overstock and Walmart and they’re e-commerce businesses. Professional buyers say they have to look, touch and feel. All of our products are tactile. If you look at where there’s been the most significant disruption, it has been B2C (business-to-consumer). There’s not been a lot of disruption B2B, and that’s because of that.
We look at it in that light that if there is a part that can be disrupted, we’re in the position to do it ourselves.
Q: What impact will the merging of all three markets have on IMC’s influence over the showroom industry?
A: We are a major player for all commerce. We’re furniture, gift, home decor, rugs, a little lesser extent apparel. Atlanta certainly is in apparel, we’re not in the apparel business in the other cities. There’s a thought that we could be and should be in Las Vegas in a non-competitive sort of way. There’s other verticals, but we are a major influence because we are at that confluence of commerce. The responsibility there is we make it as friction less as possible [for buyers].