Twenty five years ago, an Olympia, WA furniture dealer was discussing with a factory rep, his concerns of trying to transition his five children into the family furniture business. John McHugh was concerned that the furniture industry was losing the next generation of retailers to “sexier” industries such as computer technologies and financial brokerages.
John’s concern was voiced by numerous other store owners on how difficult it was becoming to convince the upcoming generation that they could have a rewarding career working as a Main Street retailer—it was just going to be long hours and lower pay for the next 10-15 years, with a promise that, “Some day son (daughter), this will all be yours!”
With the assistance of the McHugh family, rep Sam Marks and the Northwest Furniture Retailers Association (now a part of WHFA), Next Generation was created. The premise behind the organization was to assist the sons, daughters and key-managers in becoming the future leaders of their family’s furniture business; that the home furnishings industry was a great career path and owning a retail store could be an avenue to significant financial rewards.
Beginning in 1985, Next Generation began holding annual conferences focusing on the following areas:
• Peer-to-Peer Networking
While their parents built a network of “industry friends” through conferences, markets and supplier trips (remember those) and regularly counted on their fellow retailers for advice on various business issues unique to furniture retailing, Next Generation provided a conduit for their children to cultivate their own network. Many of the relationships built through Next Generation exist to this day!
• Management Training
It might be one thing to have a child take over the company, but without the proper skill-set, this transition might not be successful. Next Generation conferences featured management seminars focused on providing business education to keep the company healthy for the third and fourth generations (and beyond).
• Tax/Succession Strategies
Even with a willing and capable “heir-apparent”, many businesses cannot handle the tax burden of ownership transfer. Tax consultants—experts in succession planning, were regularly on the Next Generation schedule. NG attendees soon learned that a cost-effective business transfer from one generation to the next often takes careful planning and many years of implementation.
• Inter-Personal Relationships
In many family businesses, Thanksgiving dinner can become a “Board of Directors” meeting. One of the most important aspects of Next Generation was providing speakers that addressed the unique issues of working with family members in the business. Common themes included: Do you bring “in-laws” into the company? What is the patriarch/matriarch’s role when Jr. takes over the helm? How do you structure a company with multiple siblings involved?
Whether part of a natural “business cycle” or a strong real estate market of the past decade, the Next Generation conferences of 25 years ago faded into some very fond memories, but the friendships and business relationships and education are as strong as ever among the participants.
As times have once again changed, and many new up-and-coming professionals are entering the home furnishings business, many of us from the original Next Generation are gathering to create a new group called Next Generation-Now.