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.

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