June 1, 2014 —
RetailerNOW: How did you come into the home furnishings industry?
Alex: I joined our family business in 2007. Back then I didn’t have a title. I guess you could say I was in charge of doing everything no one else wanted to do, or didn’t know how to do. Before 2007 I had worked in several areas of the business—cashier, deliveries, sales, and I eventually got into buying. I’m currently the vice president and oversee all operations related to the retail part of our business.
RetailerNOW: What changes have you seen in the industry?
Alex: With only seven years in the industry and really only three actively participating in industry events, it’s hard to say. Everyone has told me it was a blessing that I joined the industry during the recession because it taught a valuable lesson: There are ups and downs and you need to save for those tough years, it’s a cycle. It seems business is much better for those of us who made it through. I have also seen a big focus by retailers and vendors to recruit and mentor the next generation. As the years pass, I see more and more young faces at markets and conferences, and I see them taking on bigger roles. The companies that have embraced this have seen a quick return on this investment.
RetailerNOW: Why do you think it’s such a challenge for our industry to recruit and retain the next generation?
Alex: It’s a shame this industry doesn’t have better PR. The first thing people think about when it comes to running a furniture store is that it means long hours, working weekends and holidays, and dealing with employees and customers. I would have to say, in the seven years I’ve been in the business, that is not my only impression. The furniture industry is a lot of hard work but it’s also so much fun. I hear a lot of complaining and negative comments from the current generation running the industry—business isn’t what it used to be, the Internet is destroying the industry, people aren’t buying as much furniture, vendors are commoditizing the product, customers’ expectations are too high, employees are hard to recruit and keep, etc. Why would your son or daughter want to join a business or work in an industry that you constantly complain about? Change is upon the industry and those who realize it’s an opportunity will do well. Like Randy Pausch, said, “Complaining is not a strategy.”
RetailerNOW: In your opinion, what challenges do our industry face in general?
Alex: Technology! It’s incredible how behind the furniture industry is compared to other retail industries. I think this has a lot to do with not embracing the new generation that grew up with computers and the Internet. I really think this is a great opportunity for our generation to come in and change this. It’s also a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs who are looking for an industry to make a difference in. I don’t understand why people are scared of ecommerce. Online retailers will never have what a good brick-and-mortar furniture store has; a showroom full of furniture with expert associates. Buying furniture is hard, people need help. I don’t care if you give me 20,000 sofas to pick from, I want to ask questions and sit in it.
RetailerNOW: As a consumer (not just of home furnishings products)—what do you expect and want from a shopping experience? Which retailers get it right?
Alex: Make it easy for me to buy. If you don’t have log in with Facebook button – hassle! If you don’t have a pay with Paypal, Amazon, Google wallet option– hassle! Make me wait two weeks for delivery – hassle! No returns – hassle! Make it easy to buy, have great customer service, give me ads/coupons that are relevant to me, and if I don’t like it – I’m sending it back.
Which companies do it right? Amazon, Zappos, Macys, Costco, Apple, Chick-fil-A, and Ikea.
RetailerNOW: You are one of the founders/leaders of the NGN group—why are you so passionate about this group and why do you feel it’s important to the industry?
Alex: I love our family business, my job, and this industry. The mission of this group is a perfect fit for me. There are great people in this industry and our group has come across so many wonderful mentors! There is so much opportunity right now in the furniture industry and this generation has everything it needs to run with it. I want to help recruit, network, and promote all of these young people so we can get this rolling faster! There are so many talented individuals that are on the verge of making a difference. It’s a shame at times it’s their own parents holding them back, or even their direct boss. I’m so lucky my parents have allowed me to have an important role in our family business. I hope other parents and business owners will see the potential. We will make mistakes, but we learn fast and we don’t quit!
Next Generation NOW (NGN or Next Gen NOW) is a community of young, passionate and engaged home furnishings professionals. Next Gen NOW seeks to give a voice to the unique needs of future generations entering the workforce to educate the industry on how to attract and keep young talent. Connect with members online at social.ngnow.org or on Twitter @ngnow.