Getting to Know the Next Gen: Alex Macias

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

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.

Getting to Know the Next Gen: Abi Merkle

May 2, 2014

How did you come into the home furnishings industry and what is your role?

Abi: My advertising career started in grocery. When my role as graphic artist was dissolved, my boss at the time knew a gentleman who was the vice president of the advertising department here at Badcock and she put me in touch with him. Website2I was first hired on as the advertising billing specialist (in 1998) and worked my way up through the ranks of graphic artist, advertising coordinator, and now creative manager. I oversee most of the creative and copy for print, email blasts, radio, and TV along with other managerial duties.

What changes (both positive and negative) have you seen in the industry?

Abi: The biggest change I have seen over the years is where our product is sourced from—overseas. When I first started with Badcock, 80 percent of what we sold was from here in the U.S. Now it’s the other way around. I hope to see that starting to turn back around over the next several years.

The “art” of selling furniture really hasn’t changed though the vehicles we use to get the word out to the consumer have changed. Digital advertising cannot be ignored. Not that it‘s the end all, be all, but our younger consumers live on digital technology.

Why do you think it’s such a challenge for our industry to recruit and retain the next generation?

Abi: Those who are considered the “next generation” tend to look for something bigger and better, possible greener grass. Longevity, in many cases, seems to be a thing of the past. As our industry gets younger more instant gratification, flexible working hours, and a higher level of technology is expected to achieve goals and ideas. Companies need to be willing to change, to keep up with the times. The whole “who moved my cheese” mentality has to be set aside and companies need to look at what will keep our industry growing.

In your opinion, what challenges does our industry face in general?

Abi: Knowing what the next generation of customers expects in the way of furniture is important and a challenge. We have to ask ourselves these questions—how important, to the overall consumer, is being “green?” Durability versus convenience? Price versus quality?

Loyalty to a brand is key when it comes to Millennials. We all need to find the formula to ensure we are doing everything in our power at the corporate level, at store level, even in the distribution centers and warehouses to create and maintain that brand loyalty.

What social media do you use?
Facebook, Pinterest, occasionally LinkedIn.

Who do you follow on Twitter?
I have an account, but don’t use it. Not crazy about it and just not enough time to play on it. Maybe I should learn to like it more!

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I’m not sure. I love advertising, always have. But I would love to work with horses. I like to get dirty. I don’t mind mucking stalls, cleaning hooves, etc. Going back to my grocery days, I like food styling. I had always said if I were to go back to school, I would go back for that. I know, two totally opposite ends of the spectrum!

Mailer

What do you do for fun?
I love sports. Both of my sons play baseball and I love to watch them in action, even on those “bad” days. We go to a lot of sporting events too —Ray’s baseball games, USF football and baseball games, and Lightning hockey games. I also run a lot, helps me with my stress and to stay healthy. Being with my family and friends is important to me.

What’s your fave piece of furniture in your house?
I would have to say my favorite piece of furniture is actually my dining room set. It was my parents’. They purchased it back in 1968. It’s made from beautiful pecan, I think it’s by Burlington. My mom was an interior decorator and she decided one year, that it needed to be airbrushed lavender. It was pretty, but when we got it, it just didn’t work well with what we had. My husband, for two weeks, painstakingly stripped the color off and made it match the table again! It’s beautiful.

As a graphic designer, have you seen any changes in how we reach out to younger consumers? And are there ways the industry as a whole could refocus its efforts?

Abi: Most retailers rely on what they know and trust as ways to communicate to the younger consumers. Though traditional media is still very relevant and reliable, digital media has become highly important! We, as retailers, need to look at how we can become more personal with the younger consumers, to gain their trust and their loyalty, and to have two-way conversations with them. It is a fast paced and quickly changing world when it comes to digital advertising, but we need to do a better job staying on top of and getting out in front of the trends.

If you were designing a marketing campaign for the home furnishings industry, specifically targeting Millennials, what would that look like? Would you use print? Social media? Video?

Abi: Simple copy. Large pictures in minimalistic settings. Clean. Bright colors. Fun. I would continue to use the traditional forms of media as well as the digital side of life. Social media, blogs, video. It should all be used. We want consumers talking about what we have to offer, what services we provide and the ease of their experiences. Millennials like to share their experiences with the world and we want to be a part of that. Brand loyalty is huge.

Our theme for this issue is After the Sale. As a consumer (not just of home furnishings products)—what draws you back to a retailer?

Abi: The experience. I would expect the sales staff (at any level) to be attentive. I want to know that the sales person (and the company) appreciates my business and I want them to “woo” me. Follow up to the sale is key. Am I satisfied with my recent purchase? Do I have any questions? Has something that accentuates my recent purchase gone on sale? This is not a generational expectation, this is everyone young and old. I want to continue to go back if my experience is satisfying.

Why is it important to you to be a member of Next Gen Now?

Abi: I don’t want to become stale. I’ve been in the industry a long time and views can become mundane. I want to continue to stay relevant. I want be creative and bring innovative ideas to the table. Being a part of Next Gen Now will help with all of this. Others come into the industry with experiences from other companies and with them they bring a spark, a new perspective and so much more. I like to be challenged.
Next Generation-NOW

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.

NAHFA’s Next Gen Now™ Endorses HFNC Sessions

Roseville, CA, April 23, 2014 — The North American Home Furnishings Association’s (NAHFA) Next Generation NOW™(NGN) is endorsing several sessions and events during the all-industry Home Furnishings Networking Conference, June 1-3, 2014 in Phoenix. These sessions will help NGN retailers grow their businesses, connect with and learn from successful retailers, and learn how to use technology effectively in their businesses.

Key sessions include:

Monday Sessions: Tuesday Sessions:
How Much is that Doggy in the Showroom
Knight & Day
Your Personal Brand
Lunch with Mattress Mack
You Got a Problem With That?
Platinum Customer Service
Awesomely Awesome
People Power
Employee Matters

The NGN is also promoting networking during the conference with reserved tables at all Main Stage events, a focused facilities tour at American Furniture Warehouse (Monday afternoon), a social hour (Monday evening) and a dine-around option in downtown Chandler (Monday night).

“I believe conference holds a lot of answers to questions young people are asking,” said Lael Thompson, COO, Broyhill Home Collection and one of the NGN leaders. “The benefit of this conference is that the education and networking opportunities are geared to help retailers operate better and make more money. Young people have the opportunity to meet and learn from industry veterans and young people alike. These three days can replace years of learning things the hard way. Plus we have a lot of fun networking and socializing.”

“Along with sessions geared toward seasoned retailers, conference delivers content that is relevant to professionals just starting their journey.” said Sharron Bradley, NAHFA’s CEO. “Conference suits the needs of all retailers no matter where they are in their career.”

View all the HFNC education and networking opportunities and register online at www.theHFNC.com. Contact Cindi Williams, the NAHFA’s NGN liaison for scholarship opportunities to attend the HFNC, 916-960-0277, cwilliams@nahfa.org.

About the North American Home Furnishings Association:

The North American Home Furnishings Association (NAHFA) was founded in 2013 with the merger of the three largest home furnishings retailer associations in the U.S. The NAHFA is the nation’s largest organization devoted specifically to the needs and interests of home furnishings retailers, with more than 1,800 members representing more than 7,000 storefronts across all 50 states and several foreign countries. Association offices in the East, West, and Central United States provide its members with programs, resources, services, and a unified voice in government relations by partnering with home furnishings industry suppliers, vendors, affiliates, and other organizations. For more information on the NAHFA visit www.nahfa.org.

Gary Fazio to attend NAHFA’s Lunch with Leaders at High Point Market

April 4, 2014

Gary Fazio, CEO of Serta SimmonsThe NAHFA announced today that Gary Fazio, CEO of Serta Simmons, will attend their Lunch with Leaders event this Sunday, April 6 at the High Point Market, providing Next Generation-NOW members access to one of today’s biggest-name home furnishings executives.

The Association launched Lunch with Leaders at the Las Vegas Market in January 2014, with the simple goal of offering young industry professionals quality face time with leaders and influencers in the industry.

Jeff Child, RC Willey; Lori Kelley, Palliser Furniture; Toby Konetzny, Coaster Fine Furniture; Kerry Lebensburger, Ashley Furniture Industries; Robert Maricich, International Market Centers; and Chuck Reilly, AICO/Amini Innovation Corp were the leaders who met with 35 Next Gen NOW members at the January Las Vegas Market.

Based on positive reception from both Next Gen NOW members and the leaders at the inaugural event, the Association rolled out the same program for this market, opening up appointments with the following furniture execs:

Kevin Castellani, President, Furniture Today

Kurt Darrow, President, La-Z-Boy Intl.

Kim Knopf, Owner, Innovative Mattress Solutions

Keith Koenig, President, City Furniture

Marty Melcher, Group Vice President of Sales, Serta

and now, Gary Fazio, CEO, Serta Simmons Holdings.

The NAHFA is accepting sign-ups up until the event begins Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

Appointment times vary between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and are subject to availability.

Interested? Learn more and sign up at ngnow.org.

Tips from the Kids

Surviving in the Family Business

April 2, 2014

As the saying goes, things come in threes. Well, it does in my family at least. I’m the youngest of three kids (girl, boy, girl). We each played instruments, but different ones; we each were involved in the arts, but in different media; we each love dogs, but different breeds. Our parents never encouraged us to go into college with big expectations. My dad always said to learn what you love and the rest will come into place. What my dad didn’t expect, however, was that two out of three kids would go into the family business.

That’s right. I’m the black sheep of the family, or at least that is what friends and family jokingly say (it gets old after awhile). My dad opened his own law firm when I was 14 years old with the help of my brother, and eventually my sister joined in as well. Oh, I should also mention my mom helps out in the office too. But while watching Law & Order is a pastime of mine, being a lawyer was never a passion.

To this day, I’m still mesmerized by how my family can work with one another. Sure, there are family events with occasional arguing and eye rolling, and everyone gets that “I desperately need space” feeling. But they see each other every day, and I don’t know how they do it.

When I entered the home furnishings industry, I came into a family business. I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with other young, aspiring storeowners who come from family businesses. I listened to how each interacted with their parents, got a glimpse of what they have learned and have seen parents open enough to learn from their kids. I’ve seen firsthand a new kind of interaction between children and parents. With my own family’s business, I see from the outside looking in. Working in a family business, I wondered how to make coming to work with parents and siblings more exciting. Does working in a family business become more like a chore you had as a kid rather than an opportunity to grow professionally?

Still thinking in threes, I’ve thought of three ways a young professional can make the most out of working in his or her family business.

Take advantage of how well your family knows you.

There’s a big age difference between my siblings and me. Even though music and fashion make us each unique, my sister and brother know me better than I know myself. From inner struggles to big life decisions, they have provided excellent guidance from a distance. My family knows my skillset and what gets my creative juices going. Get advice from your family’s familiar faces. If you’re not sure where you could help in the store, ask your experts. They might challenge you to create a new business plan, or put you on the floor to see how well you work with customers.

Learn and teach at the same time.

A lot of my best work habits come from my dad. He taught me how to be a presentable professional and how to converse appropriately with different kinds of people. While he’s my favorite teacher, he is also very open to hearing about what I do and how it could potentially help his business. It’s one of the best moments that could happen: you teach your parents something new. Even though you were young when they started the business, you’ve seen it in the best and worst of times, which makes you the greatest free consultant they could ask for. Don’t be afraid to suggest an idea or ask to take on a responsibility like redecorating the floor or starting social media channels to help boost business.

Make sure it’s not always about work.

Last year, my family had a company dinner to celebrate some of their latest successes together. It sounds a little redundant, but a company dinner is different from a family dinner. Family dinners involve unwinding, a chance to not talk about anything that happened during the 9-to-5. Commemorating business events with your parents is important. Many companies do bagel breakfasts or special lunches, so why not do the same? Pick an evening out of the week, or the last Friday of every month, and do something together as coworkers. It allows each of you to reflect on the past month and discuss in a casual setting, but you are able to focus on the business—and then have a family dinner.

Great mentors are hard to find, but family will always be there. I take all the knowledge and past experiences from each of my family members and apply them to myself. Never think you cannot grow to be a prosperous businessman or woman if you work in Mom and Dad’s store.

Brooke Feldman, Contributing Editor

 

 

Brooke Feldman operates the blog ArtSeed; she also works for Nourison Industries and is on the Sustainable Furniture Council’s board of directors.

NAHFA Sets High Point Next Gen NOW Events

Roseville, CA, March 17, 2014 — Based on the success of Next Gen NOW events at previous markets, the North American Home Furnishings Association (NAHFA) will host several NGN networking and educational opportunities at the April High Point Market.

Sunday, April 6, the Association invites young professionals to a Lunch with Leaders, with appointments available between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Marty Melcher, group vice president of sales, Serta, Keith Koenig, president, City Furniture, and Kevin Castellani, president, Furniture Today Media Group are among the leaders who will meet with NGN members to discuss best practices and the importance of mentoring, and share their insights on our industry and their respective roles in it. Interested market attendees can register at ngnow.org.

Later Sunday night, NGN members and those interested in learning more about the NGN community are invited to the Surya-hosted Market BASH, 6:00 p.m. at Showplace 4100 for cocktails, appetizers, and a live DJ. Unwind from a day at market in the exclusive NGN area with foosball, air hockey, and double shot basketball.

Monday, April 7, NAHFA offers endorsed market education for NGN members in the Retailer Resource Center (RRC), 1st floor of Plaza Suites. MicroD, Inc. will host Adapting to Maximize the Evolving eCommerce and Digital Landscape, from 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Monday afternoon, Bob George from FurnitureCore/Impact Consulting, will present a seminar on Targeted Advertising from 4:00-5:00 p.m.

“Networking with peers and getting the opportunity to meet with leaders in our industry are so important for our community of young professionals, “ said Next Gen NOW member Alex Macias, Muebleria Del Sol Furniture. “While we obviously come to markets to see and buy new product, we’re also here to work on building relationships that will benefit the future of the industry.”

Next Gen NOW members can learn more at ngnow.org or by contacting Cindi Williams at (800) 422-3778 or cwilliams@nahfa.org.

About the North American Home Furnishings Association:
The North American Home Furnishings Association (NAHFA) was founded in 2013 with the merger of the three largest home furnishings retailer associations in the U.S. The NAHFA is the nation’s largest organization devoted specifically to the needs and interests of home furnishings retailers, with more than 1,800 members representing more than 7,000 storefronts across all 50 states and several foreign countries. Association offices in the East, West, and Central United States provide its members with programs, resources, services, and a unified voice in government relations by partnering with home furnishings industry suppliers, vendors, affiliates, and other organizations. For more information on the NAHFA visit www.nahfa.org.

About Next Generation-NOW:
Next Generation-NOW is a community of young, passionate, vibrant home furnishings professionals that represents the future of the home furnishings industry. Working together, this community helps develop the next group of industry leaders through educational events, social networking, and peer guidance and gives a voice to the distinctive needs of future generations in the furniture industry. For more information, visit www.ngnow.org.

Getting to Know the Next Gen: Stephanie Smith

March 1, 2014

The furniture industry gets younger every year. In order to embrace the new generation of retailers and welcome them into the business, RetailerNOW features a different member of the Next Generation NOW social network in every issue. Next Generation NOW is the premiere social scene for the new era of furniture professionals. Join the conversation at social.ngnow.org!

For this month’s spotlight, we introduce 21-year-old Stephanie Smith of Chariho Furniture in Richmond, Rhode Island.

RetailerNOW: Tell me about your industry history.

Stephanie: My dad opened the furniture store before I was born with their wedding money, so I was always around furniture. I wasn’t encouraged or discouraged to get involved; however, in the past two years I’ve taken an interest to interior design, so my dad took me down to the High Point Market. I’ve gotten more and more involved in the past couple years.

 

RetailerNOW: Are you aiming to be an interior designer?

Stephanie: I’m graduating in May with my psychology degree and I am going to try and put that towards here. I’d also like to go for an interior design degree. However, my grandmother will be retiring in May so I will be taking her spot. So as time permits, I would like to get my certification. I guess we’ll see!

 

RetailerNOW: Does your store sell sustainable products?

Stephanie: Yes. We actually carry quite a few upholstery lines that are very eco-friendly, and we carry 20 Amish brands. Simply Amish is one of them. That one company has more than 6,000 items so we’ve got quite a variety. We’ve got everything from reproductions to contemporary American leather, but it’s all American-made.

 

RetailerNOW: Why do you think it’s important to stock both American-made and sustainable products?

Stephanie: My dad has always been a firm believer in American-made, and I’ve just been brought up that way, supporting our jobs and supporting ourselves, creating more jobs for people in America. It’s hard if you actually think about trying to find stuff that is American made, like clothes and everything, and eco-friendly, too. Green is just the right thing to do.

 

RetailerNOW: How do you convey the value of those products to your customers?

Stephanie: We do have customers who have been to other furniture stores and the frame of the sofa will break or it’ll have rips in it, something like that. We have a lifetime warranty on all of our frames. We flip over chairs. We do what we have to do to show the customer that what we carry is good. We carry Harden Furniture, and we’ve had people come back after 30 years and say they still have their sofa from Harden. I think it’s more a lesson learned, and when they do come in here, it’s a little bit of sticker shock. But you get what you pay for and I think people realize that after experiencing it.

 

RetailerNOW: How have you seen the industry change throughout your life?

Stephanie: It definitely has improved in the past couple years. I listen a lot to Jerry Epperson. I didn’t think quality was always such a big thing, and I think now, if you can afford to buy quality, people are realizing that’s a better way to go. I think the economy definitely seems like it’s getting better.

 

RetailerNOW: What challenges have you personally had to face as a female part of the next generation?

Stephanie: It’s definitely tough going to Market and meeting with reps and stuff. They have a lot of respect for my dad and they want his opinions. They talk to him. I feel like I’ve kind of been introduced but, not that I’m not taken seriously because I’m a young female new to the industry, I’m still trying to figure out how to get that attention and to make people notice that I am serious about this and I do have a lot of passion for what I’m doing.

 

RetailerNOW: What are the biggest challenges store owners face today?

Stephanie: I think it’s tough to find a good and honest team to work for the company. We definitely have a good, trustworthy team here. I don’t know how other family businesses are run, but it’s also a challenge living with someone and working with someone. Trying to balance whether you bring this home or you don’t bring this home is interesting.

 

RetailerNOW: What advice do you have for other family businesses?

Stephanie: Have patience. My dad has an eye for all sorts of things and since I’ve been working here we’ve brought on many more contemporary lines. I’m learning from him and he’s learning from me. I definitely think patience is necessary.

 

RetailerNOW: What do you think the industry needs to do to adapt to changing technology?

Stephanie: I see more and more online purchases, and I think that’s kind of tough. We show all of our brands online but it’s kind of hard to show all of the pieces. I don’t think it’s hurting the furniture business, but seeing a sofa on the computer screen and actually sitting in it… Buying is an emotional thing, so when you get to sit in something and feel something, it’s totally different from looking at it on a computer screen.

 

RetailerNOW: Do you think the industry is moving more towards online business?

Stephanie: I hope not! But I think it depends on the age group, also. You usually don’t see 50- and 60-year-old people wanting to buy something online. I have had a customer in her early 30s who bought something online and they delivered it and she absolutely hated it. I hope it’s not going towards more purchases online, but it is still good to see what’s out there and what you can get.

 

RetailerNOW: What advice do you have for new retailers?

Stephanie: It’s overwhelming at first. The hardest challenge for me was that this table can come in 20 different finishes, six different leg styles, and each company is different. There are a lot of different things you need to know. At first, I thought I would never remember it, there’s too much to study—but it comes to you after a while and you get more and more enthusiastic about your product if you’re proud of what you’re selling. You start knowing the facts after you’ve been exposed to it for a little while.

 

RetailerNOW: What advice do you have for retailers that have been in the business for awhile?

Stephanie: Not that I want to seem stereotypical, but it would be nice for the next generation coming in if you give us opportunities and take us seriously. It’s hard to come by opportunities that people are passionate about. When you have someone who’s been in the business for so long, someone fresh and new coming in might be a little scary. But I think everyone should have the chance to prove that they are worthy.

 

RetailerNOW: What benefits do you see in belonging to a group like Next Generation NOW?

Stephanie: I was down at the High Point Market in October and I went to the Surya party and there was someone passing out buttons for Next Generation NOW. I didn’t really know anything about it so I went to the website. I thought it was interesting and nice to know that there are other people your age coming into the industry. I’ve been meeting some people on there, getting to know the ropes a little bit. I think it’s great to get to know people your age, and I do like the videos they do online. I’m still trying to learn how to use the website. Knowing that there are other people out there going through the same things and being able to connect to them and ask questions if you need guidance with anything is great.

 

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.

NAHFA’s Las Vegas Lunch with Leaders a Success

Roseville, CA, February 9, 2014 — The North American Home Furnishings Association (NAHFA) hosted its first Lunch with Leaders event Monday, January 27, 2014 at the Las Vegas Market for Next Generation NOW members and industry leaders.

Jeff Child, RC Willey, Lori Kelley, Palliser Furniture, Toby Konetzny, Coaster Fine Furniture, Kerry Lebensburger, Ashley Furniture Industries, Robert Maricich, International Market Centers, and Chuck Reilly, AICO/Amini Innovation Corp. were the leaders who met with 35 Next Gen NOW members. They discussed best practices and the importance of mentoring, expanded upon their knowledge of the industry, and walked away with sage advice.

Based on positive reception from both Next Gen NOW members and the leaders, the Association will roll out these Lunch and Learn events at the April High Point Market.

“The group I met with had excellent questions and was very engaging,” said Kelley. “They were there due to their own passion to be better by listening to someone who has traveled that path. I asked them to all share one experience from their career that they were the most proud of. Each of them had an example. That reaffirms that we all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and to be able to impact something successfully. It was a great conversation.”

Next Gen NOW member Alex Macias, Muebleria Del Sol Furniture said, “Hands-down the best learning experience to date in the furniture industry!”

Next Gen NOW members can learn more at ngnow.org or by contacting Cindi Williams at (800) 422-3778 or cwilliams@nahfa.org.

About the North American Home Furnishings Association:
The North American Home Furnishings Association (NAHFA) was founded in 2013 with the merger of the three largest home furnishings retailer associations in the U.S. The NAHFA is the nation’s largest organization devoted specifically to the needs and interests of home furnishings retailers, with more than 1,800 members representing more than 7,000 storefronts across all 50 states and several foreign countries. Association offices in the East, West, and Central United States provide its members with programs, resources, services, and a unified voice in government relations by partnering with home furnishings industry suppliers, vendors, affiliates, and other organizations. For more information on the NAHFA visit www.nahfa.org.

About Next Generation-NOW
Next Generation-NOW is a community of young, passionate, vibrant home furnishings professionals that represents the future of the home furnishings industry. Working together, this community helps develop the next group of industry leaders through educational events, social networking, and peer guidance and gives a voice to the distinctive needs of future generations in the furniture industry. For more information, visit www.ngnow.org.

Getting to Know the Next Gen: Lael Thompson

January 14, 2014>

The furniture industry gets younger every year. In order to embrace the new generation of retailers and welcome them into the business, RetailerNOW features a different member of the Next Generation NOW social network in every issue. Next Generation NOW is the premiere social scene for the new era of furniture professionals. Join the conversation at social.ngnow.org!

For this month’s spotlight, we introduce 35-year-old Lael Thompson, Chief Operations Officer at Broyhill Home Collections in Denver, Colorado.

RetailerNOW: Tell me about your industry history.

LT: My parents started the company when I was 5, so pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve been exposed to the furniture industry. It was everything that accompanies growing up in a family business, from helping assemble and deliver things to cleaning around the store. One of the unique things about our history as a store is that we specialized in unpainted furniture. You could either pick the stains and the materials and complete the project yourself, or we had a finishing department where we would actually finish things for you. It was the original roots of this industry, which was all solid wood, American-made products.

RetailerNOW: How have you seen the industry change throughout your life?

LT: It’s changed tremendously. The industry used to have a very deep passion for influencing peoples’ lives at home, and it focused on the end experience that was facilitated through the product. Over time, especially as things have shifted towards imports, the industry really became more about pushing the commodity. The focus shifted from the end experience that would be delivered through the product to just simply focusing on a product at a price. Now it’s kind of become a race to the bottom to see who can make what the cheapest and the industry has lost sight of the role it plays to the end user.

RetailerNOW: What do you think needs to be done to get the industry back to where it was, knowing it’s relying on foreign products?

LT: We get so focused on the specific details of running our businesses, and I think we need to focus more on that end consumer and the experience we’re providing. In the welcome video for our website, I talk to the public about how when you buy the products, you’re not just simply buying an item to fill a room. These items serve a purpose. Like on Thanksgiving. We’re all going to huddle up around this table. And that table is facilitating these life moments, these lifelong memories. If the industry focused more on the role it plays with the people who are buying the products, then the public would find more value in what we offer.

When you look at the industries that are doing the best or the industries that stayed strong through the recession, they were the industries that had more of a connection to the consumer and what the consumer was going to be rewarded with experience-wise for having bought that product. We have to get back to delivering and showing the customer what it is we’re doing to improve their lives, and then they’ll look at us as a worthy place to spend that dollar.

RetailerNOW: Do you think that the furnishings industry is headed back in that direction?

LT: I don’t see the industry as a whole moving that way. The industry, at this point, is still finding its way to race to the bottom. In High Point, Jerry Epperson went through analytical data that showed we’re selling furniture at its highest value proposition than we ever have. We walked backwards in pricing. Our industry defies inflation. So the numbers tell us that we’re not focusing on any other aspect than trying to do it cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. But look at how many retailers it’s put out of business. There are only a certain number of retailers who can survive at such razor-thin margins. So that race to the bottom has actually done a significant amount of damage to the livelihood and value of this industry. For people that have spent decades in or grew up in the industry, we remember times when the relationship aspect was the core driving force of the industry. And on the back end of the industry, we still experience that between ourselves, but I think we’ve lost that connection with the public.

RetailerNOW: Do you think those are the biggest challenges facing store owners today?

LT: I think those are probably right up at the top. The challenge is that it’s self-fulfilled prophecy. We drop prices, we run thinner margins and it reduces our ability to do the things we want to do. So what happens is we’re working harder for less. You have to sell more $200 dressers to make up for the one $400 dresser you used to sell. When we drop our numbers, we have to work a lot harder and do a lot more to make the same amount of money.

RetailerNOW: What advice do you have for older retailers?

LT: I would remind them that things constantly change and although their past experience is valued and valuable, it’s not the only way to get things done. When times got tough in the recession, a lot of the retailers fell back to what they knew worked in the past, but it didn’t necessarily work as well now. I believe the statistic was that during the recession, the furniture industry lost one out of four stores nationwide. The attrition level through this last recession was the heaviest this industry has ever seen, including the Great Depression. But I think part of what caused that was a resistance to change and the fact that they were going to do what they knew, but not try new things. They have to get out of that “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality. That was based on an old business model. To try and do the same thing in a new business model is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Not everything is going to be perfect all the time, but we have to learn to try things, but be smart about it so that if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t sink you. They have to embrace the change and welcome the technology and find ways that they can be successful with it.

The other thing is that almost anyone who’s great in this industry, if you ask them if they had somebody who made a difference in their furniture career, someone who took them under their wing and gave them a leg up, or mentored them or gave some advice that changed things for them, almost anyone you talk to is going to have someone that did that for them. So I would urge them to make sure they’re doing that for the next generation coming in. Find a way to contribute into these new people who are going to carry on the traditions.

RetailerNOW:What benefits do you see in Next Generation—NOW?

LT: The major ones are being able to find a friendly resource to help you get plugged in. There’s this kind of network, and that network shares influence, information and best practices. Those people stay on top because they stay abreast of what’s relevant and what’s working. What I love about Next Gen is that it’s providing an opportunity for young people to get plugged in and access all those resources. We can provide education, networking, information and best practices. Back in 2004 or 2005, we started the concept of this program, and the gist behind it was that we wanted to see young people who came into the industry stay in the industry. A lot of young people come into the industry and after two or three years, they’ll burn out and go elsewhere. They have challenges and problems and frustrations they encounter, and if they don’t get past them, that’s when they leave. We’re able to help people become successful and rooted and planted in this industry sooner. A lot of entrepreneurs, it takes a long time before they get it right. They had to get out there and do it and fail and find what worked, and there was a lot of energy and time and resource that was lost in that process. So what Next Gen can do is avoid that headache. If you have someone telling you, “don’t put your hand on the stove, it’s hot,” they save you the frustration and pain of getting burned. In this industry, we can come in and basically help people be more successful quicker and avoid the burnout—and hopefully have a little fun doing it at the same time.

 

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.

Roving Reporter: Hannah Rowell, High Point University

January 13, 2014

You know it’s market when the seemingly empty streets of downtown High Point are filled to the brim with sophisticated business people from all over the world and the crowd in the elevator makes you realize that all of these people are here for one thing. Every year thousands of people in the furniture industry congregate to enjoy yet another furniture market full of diverse and unique displays in the “furniture capital of the world.” With this being my first time encountering such an event, I was amazed at what I saw.

As a freshman studying visual merchandising and design at High Point University, let’s be honest—I had no idea what the furniture market had to offer. Not only that, but I hadn’t a clue what I was getting myself into when I signed up to job shadow a professional there. All I knew was that I would get to have lunch with some of the best professionals in the industry, and then job shadow someone. So I said, “Why not?”

My day began with a slightly longer than normal bus drive to the International Home Furnishings Center in downtown High Point, where I had the good fortune of being able to have lunch and listen to a discussion, hosted by editor-in-chief of Furniture Today, Ray Allegrezza, including speakers like Kerry Lebensburger (president of sales at Ashley Furniture Industries), Seth Goldberg (VP of business development at Raymour & Flanigan) and Rod Gordon (VP of technology at MicroD Inc.). They gave ample insight into what it takes to be a professional in the industry and shared their personal stories of how they made it to where they are now.

After lunch, I was able to job shadow Lael Thompson, COO at Broyhill Home Collections in the greater Denver area. Luckily I was paired with the right person. Not only did Lael show me some of the most amazing showrooms including Michael Amini and Surya, but he also introduced me to some truly unique professionals. Our most memorable stop was at the Nourison Industries showroom, where I met Jeff González, director of furniture and store sales.

As we walked into the chic showroom full of rugs, pillows and other textiles, I must admit I was a bit skeptical. But after a minute and a lesson later, I realized why Lael brought me there. There’s more to interior design than just picking out pillows and slapping down a rug. No, interior design is much greater than that. There is a whole industry that devotes its services to creating not just a room, but also a complete and cohesive atmosphere, including textiles, lighting, accessories, furniture, electronics and so much more. It was impressive to see all these industries come together in one place to network and share their ideas.

As the day progressed, Lael eventually led me to Ashley Furniture’s Urbanology display. This quickly became my favorite part of the day due to the displays and outlook on design. It is exactly what I want to do with my career. It was fitting that earlier in the day, one of the panelists at the luncheon suggested we “present a lifestyle, not just a price,” because Urbanology displayed a convenient and unique lifestyle that most Americans can afford.

The displays included elements showing creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. The use of raw materials and upcycled items such as old books, paint-chipped doors and worn-out shutters brought a new and inspirational aspect to the idea of design. Design doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go out and buy the most expensive items on the market. No, design can be created out of almost anything, including items you could find at a flea market or thrift shop.

Taking everything into account, the day was full of new experiences, acquaintances and opportunities. I was able to mingle with some of the most inspirational professionals in the industry, including designer Barclay Butera and Satya Tiwari (president and founder of Surya). I got the opportunity to shadow someone with real experience and wisdom in the furniture industry and I was able to experience, for the first time in my life, what it’s like to go to my first furniture market. Not a bad start to my career.

Are you visiting a show or new market event? Let us know at jennifer@retailerNOWmag.com!