Q: When business picks up, what is your first priority?
Russell Turner, CEO
1915 South, Thomasville, Ga.
It’s not what we do when business picks back up, but what we are doing now to prepare.
This is our Lexus year in that we are targeting the relentless pursuit of perfection. We are questioning every aspect of our business process to make sure it is in line with the customer, as well as repainting and remodeling stores to be up to date.
Jake Jabs, CEO
American Furniture Warehouse, Englewood, Colo.
We haven’t really had any projects that we stopped, as business is solid, and we are sound financially. We have expansion plans in place and will continue to look for additional opportunities for new locations.
Veronica Schnitzius, president
In the current business landscape, we have chosen not to adopt a passive approach, waiting for a surge in business activity before addressing the opportunities that lie before us. Instead, we are proactively using this period to make strategic investments in our facilities, seek out and recruit top talents within the industry, and further expand and diversify our product portfolio.
This deliberate and forward-thinking approach is a testament to our commitment to long-term growth and sustainability.
Our decision to invest in our facilities underscores our dedication to enhancing our operational capabilities. By upgrading and optimizing our infrastructure, we are positioning ourselves to deliver even better products and services to our customers when the market rebounds. We recognize the importance of having a strong foundation in place to support our growth ambitions.
Additionally, our ongoing efforts to expand and diversify our product portfolio speak to our agility and adaptability as an organization. By broadening our offerings, we are not only mitigating risks associated with market fluctuations, but also positioning ourselves to meet the evolving needs of our customers. This adaptability is crucial in ensuring that we remain relevant and competitive in an ever-changing business environment.
Perhaps most importantly, we recognize that maintaining strong connections with our customers is paramount, especially during challenging times. We are dedicated to fostering these relationships through open communication, active engagement and a deep understanding of their needs. In doing so, we are not only building customer loyalty, but also gaining valuable insights that can inform our strategic decisions.
Our proactive approach during this period demonstrates our commitment to growth, innovation and customer-centricity. We firmly believe that, by making these investments and staying closely connected to our customers, we are not merely weathering the storm but positioning ourselves for success in the long run.
Jeff Arditti, president, CEO
Customer Engagement: Enhancing customer communication and support to continue loyalty and gather valuable feedback for growth and improvements in Aria’s stationary upholstery offerings.
Market Expansion: Identifying new products and market opportunities and growth strategies to sustain momentum in the long term. We’ve always offered style at a value, and we have kept this philosophy in our new occasional tables program debuting October 2023.
Supply Chain Optimization: Ensuring a smooth flow of materials and components to meet increased demand efficiently, reducing lead times and preventing disruptions. For example, Aria’s improved order lead-time and mixable programs from Vietnam as well as LTL and mixable offerings shipped from Mexico.
Production Management: Scaling up the workforce and optimizing existing teams to meet production demands.
Quality Control: Maintaining product quality standards to uphold customer satisfaction and growth.
Stuart Carlitz, CEO
Bedding Inds. of America
When business starts to pick up, we will expand on our affordable luxury line with additional price points and choices of firmness levels.
Our business across the board is very strong. Our New Jersey, Chicago, and Rialto, Calif., plants have been experiencing incredible success over the past few months in particular, with introductions like our Fabulous Five, a five-number line that qualifies the customer for firmness preference, and our Curve series.
In addition, our split-head technology is opening doors for us in major accounts nationwide. These various products were designed to extend our business into different segments of the industry and have been successful for us and our dealers.
Our most recent introduction of the Eclipse Curve series provides our dealers with a somewhat lower retail price than our competitors while also allowing them the same dollars they would make selling the higher priced products. These programs allow our dealers to work on a 70% markup.
With less consumers walking through the doors, the dealers need longer margins to succeed. We will continue to be the high margin, affordable luxury supplier for the bedding industry.
Andrew Koenig, CEO
City Furniture, Tamarac, Fla.
The top focus for us is always continuous improvement. Whether it’s good times in the economy or tough times, we’re always focused pushing ourselves to get better whether that’s our product lineup, website, stores, supply chain, culture, customer experience, etc.
Everyone in our company is always focused on getting better. Now if the market and customer turn more favorably, we’ll take advantage of it and pick up the aggressiveness for our future growth plans.
Kyle Deets, owner
Deets Furniture, Norfolk, Neb.
Our focus remains on merchandising. We believe that people want a beautiful home, and having the right merchandise mix displayed properly will keep us in position to achieve our goals.
Chris Taheny, senior vice president of sales
Our business has been growing robustly because retailers understand that a greater focus on premium accessories adds to each ticket. When fewer customers are shopping, that means a retailer’s strategy needs to add more items to the cart in order to be profitable.
Specifically, we’ve made our support resources more immediately accessible to our retailers so RSAs are bettered armed to communicate product details to their customers. We are also creating new and innovative products that give retailers more assortment to offer customers.
By working together with our retailers, their profits are improving, and our business is growing.
David Crimmins, vice president of sales and product management
Regardless of business conditions, we are constantly investing in customer experience and culture. These things are foundational to our mutual long-term success.
We are also investing in new innovation, new product development, brand-building, and content and marketing assets, but as business conditions improve, we’ll expand and accelerate even more investment in these areas to support our customers and long-term growth of the business.
Jodi Brookshire, corporate vice president of sales and marketing
Furniture of America
Our strategy is to always keep moving forward with new product and initiatives that bring substantial value to our retail partners. While sales are challenging right now for the entire industry, we believe in staying the course and finding the right opportunities to strengthen our business for the future.
Furniture of America has grown tremendously over the years thanks to our wonderful dealers and will continue to with strategic investments, new and exclusive products. Our focus going into market will be showing new products that will be in stock and ready to ship, along with offering the kind of sharp deals that retailers are looking for right now.
Gat Caperton, CEO
We are 60 days from completing an expansion of our factory that will eventually double our production capacity. We have incorporated a lot of new technology, specifically in finishing materials/process and wood cutting optimization/automation. Tackling this (continuous improvement in manufacturing) is at the top of our list.
Bob Naboicheck, CEO
Gold Bond’s strategy has always been relatively simple. Listen to our dealers, introduce innovative products that they want to sell, build them with the finest quality material available, and provide training and support that is unmatched by other manufacturers. W
e’ve been doing this since 1899, and it is a strategy that has endured through pandemics (even ones before COVID), a historic depression, recessions, world wars and just the plain ups and downs of business. We continue to grow and increase market share despite these challenges. Our dealers don’t want us to change this strategy, and we don’t see a reason to do so.
Following the pandemic, when consumers began traveling again, we pivoted to focus even more attention on our customers in the hospitality industry, while continuing to serve our retail customers with products and ideas that drive business. Quite frankly, we are busier than ever, and while others are clearly pulling back on marketing budgets, we’re leveling up.
Troy Lerew, vice president of vales
Greenington Fine Bamboo Furniture
Greenington is already seeing a positive change, and we’re looking forward to a great High Point Market. Our primary focus remains the same: providing our dealers with sustainable and eco-friendly products that add value to their sustainable platforms and meet the needs of increasingly aware consumers wanting to make a positive impact on the environment.
That said, our top priority is to remain consistent in the design and quality of our products that are expected. It’s critical that our dealers feel comfortable knowing that we are a trusted source for sustainable furniture made from highly renewable bamboo materials.
Kyle Johansen, executive director of merchandising and marketing
HOM Furniture, Coon Rapids, Minn.
It’s hard to predict when the furniture industry is going to pick up in a meaningful and sustainable way. We’re not looking to sit and wait until then.
We are continuing to evaluate our product mix to ensure we are offering strong values to our customers from the promotional to luxury price points and focusing on providing the best customer service possible. Our core values at HOM do not allow us to just sit around and play the “hope strategy.”
We have several new promotions we are trying out in the fourth quarter and evaluating our 2024 marketing calendar to see where we feel market share can be added. 2024 may be more challenging than many are anticipating due to the continued high inflation, high interest rates, tightening consumer credit, low housing inventory and the wild card in 2024: the election.
Joshua Hudson, CEO
Hudson’s Furniture, Sanford, Fla.
We’ll focus on margin. Because by then we will have moved through our excess inventory and will have a clearer picture of who and what is performing.
Todd Lehman, president and CEO
Interiors Home, Lancaster, Pa.
Top in our priorities is reviewing our marketing plan to ensure we’re doing everything we can with the budget we have to increase our customer traffic. We need to look at new ways of reaching our customers. The next generation of consumers is not looking at traditional media such as television, which is currently the core of our marketing program.
The next priority is to continue to bring inventory levels back in line with current volume. This effort was further exacerbated by the sudden closing of Klaussner.
David Binke, CEO
While it would be nice to be able to predict when business gets better, we choose to operate our business the same way in good times and bad. This means that we’re very aggressive, and we work closely with our retail partners at all times, supporting them with innovative product and sophisticated marketing that engages and speaks to affluent consumers.
Our approach is paying off, with SmartLife continuing to set the bar on the technology front and our new Wellness+ concept receiving high marks this summer.
In fact, we came out of Labor Day, always the biggest weekend of the year, with the largest two weeks we have ever experienced in the history of our company, and it was across the board at all price points and at most every retailer that we work with.
We are continuing to work to fulfill the demand the Wellness+ presentation has generated, and as the momentum continues to build, we will add people in the plant and in the field to ensure we continue to effectively support the business and our retail dealers.
Frank Hood, CEO
Our business is already growing steadily. We continue to gain tremendous traction with both major retailers and independents alike with the rollout of our highly effective Style + Substance program. Kingsdown is increasingly becoming the manufacturer of choice for dealers looking to expand beyond their legacy S-brand offerings. With the number of factories we have positioned across North America, and our industry-leading design and innovation team, Kingsdown mattresses really shine.
We will continue to deploy this successful strategy that leads to increased sales for the foreseeable future because helping retailers stand out in their marketplaces with clearly differentiated product is the name of the game whatever the economic environment.
Chris Pelcher, president
There has been a lull in the industry, and that’s when you tackle things. When things roar back, you’re ready. If you haven’t been tackling those things the past six to eight months, things could be challenging.
For us, it’s all about the future and optimism. We consistently try to get better, improve, anticipate and build. Our North Star is operational excellence, and we’re focused on instilling that in the team.
We’re a creative business, and you can’t be pessimistic. You have to always see the blue skies ahead.
Phil Haney, CEO and president
Lexington Home Brands
Business has already begun to accelerate. Labor Day was very strong across a number of markets.
Our commitment is two-fold: First is fulfillment. Today, we are 98% in-stock on case goods and back to 30-day shipping on custom upholstery.
Second is product to support our retail and design partners, meaning exceptional design, styling diversity and brands that matter. Across our three showrooms in High Point, that will be on full display this week.
Derrick Ng, president of case goods
I’ve been thinking a lot about the current business landscape, and it seems that many are aggressively pursuing new opportunities and striving to secure as many orders as possible at very competitive price points.
However, I wanted to share my perspective, and for me, my top priority is to ensure the stability of our production and strengthen our relationship with our Asian vendor partners. The reason behind this focus is the experience of the past 12 months, particularly during the post-pandemic period. During this time, we witnessed numerous Asian factories having to consolidate or downsize their production capacity due to overstocks and sluggish business in the U.S. and globally. This situation resulted in a significant loss of production capacity.
As we see business gradually picking up, it’s becoming clear that a fierce competition for production resources is on the horizon. Just as the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day,” the restoration of our lost production capacity won’t happen overnight either.
I believe that by prioritizing our relationship with our Asian vendors and ensuring a stable production process, we can better position ourselves in this competitive environment and avoid potential disruptions down the road.
Billy Curtright, national sales manager
I feel like there will be an uptick later in the fall and through the new year. We have two things currently in progress:
We have already lined up some powerful lifestyle advertising in our key metro markets. We have identified some architectural and lifestyle magazines, and we will tie those in with our digital advertising. We are investing in markets where we have multiple dealers.
Our second point of focus is balancing out and shoring up our inventory levels here in the U.S. When business slows, inventory gets out of whack; now we’re ramping up for later in the year.
Gabriele Natale, president
We’ll focus on one thing: We’re striving for more penetration and adapting to market penetration. We want to get to 15% market share, and the best thing in our business is what the company has done all along.
As Manwah continues to reengineer continuous improvements of the manufacturing processes and facilities, we’ve been investing in new manufacturing techniques that will allow us to continue to improve our efficiencies.
Keith Meriweather, senior director
Top of the list is to be ready and have new innovative products for the retailer to ship when they need it. For lift chairs, since consumers are in our chairs more than their mattress, we are getting asked for more features and benefits with more fashionable covers. That is our focus.
Plus, with a minimum of four chairs, we prepay the freight. So, our logistics are awesome to help dealers manage their inventory.
Glenn Kobylarczyk, executive vice president
One of our top priorities is a bigger focus on inventory management. This is not dependent on business conditions per se but rather a result of lessons that many of us in the industry learned from the pandemic. We’re keeping a closer eye on levels and exercising more discipline in reviewing our status on a more consistent basis in order to manage the inevitable changes more responsibly in the market and cyclical nature of our business.
Mlily USA is also prioritizing product innovation in a way the company has not done before. There is greater emphasis on research and development in conjunction with strong collaboration between our product design team and our partners at the International Chiropractors Association.
As a leading mattress manufacturer, we are challenging ourselves to look at product innovation differently to address more of the sleeper’s needs and overall sleep experience.
Bobby Papazian, vice president of sales and marketing
Napa Furniture Design
We don’t think the disciplines for being a sound resource are altered by economic cycles. Napa will continue to produce the highest level of quality product at a value and provide prompt delivery through our domestic warehouses and mix ability from our overseas factory, so our customers remain in stock with our all-wood bedroom and dining. Ingenuity in design and finish is paramount and will separate Napa from our competitors.
Tina Nicole, co-founder
Nathan Anthony Furniture
We’re seeing some pickup now and hoping the momentum continues. At the top of our list is the customer experience.
We’re doing everything in our power to meet the demand for orders with accurate delivery timeframes, which requires a strong focus on our vendor and supplier relationships.
Scott Hill, president of sales
New Classic Furniture
Fortunately for New Classic, 2023 has been a very good year in written business coming off the COVID years. Our business for 2023 is up double digits, and we attribute that to making aggressive moves in pricing last year and understanding the consumers open to buy was going to be reduced due to the economy.
We speak with and sell most of the largest retailers in the country, and the majority of them are not bragging about business as door swings continue to be down, but I attribute our success this year to offering promotable goods, helping dealers advertise price points to get door swings and counting on their marketing and salespeople to do a good job of continuing to increase that average ticket.
That being said, we must continue to make strides in our overseas flow of products, making sure we always have our best sellers in stock, at all times. Also, working with our partners overseas to help them reach their MOQs to help them maintain profitability and to ship quickly.
The other focus is speed to market domestically. With distribution points on both coasts and dealers not wanting to stock large amounts of inventory, we need to be that warehouse for them, and we need to be able to get goods to our customers quickly. Offering multiple categories allows it to be a team effort with the store and ourselves to make sure we are building large enough orders to ship quickly at rates that are acceptable.
Caroline Hipple, president
I suppose it is the same as if business was not picking up and maybe not very sexy: more blocking and tackling.
We are working on optimizing the tools that make our customers heroes with theirs. We are analyzing all of those critical tools that a dealer or designer needs to be successful in selling custom upholstery, and we are updating them.
There is a high demand for custom upholstery (thanks to all the female shoppers who want a different fabric from her friends), and it can be a complicated process. Fortunately, the visualization tools are getting so good that they are becoming a real aid in that process.
We are continuing to work to make the tools we provide fun, fast and foolproof. Who wants to botch an order to make a $6,000 custom sectional, whoops??? By refining the visualization tools and making it fun and quick to model a unique piece for a customer, then to show how to write the order, brings confidence to the salesperson.
We are working on adding pricing now as the final frontier. Also, our fabric selection, catalog and help centers are getting focus to make sure they are the best they can be to support our customers.
Doug Townsend, chief operating officer
Although we have all seen retail tightening up for most of this year, and especially this summer, we have seen an upswing in business the past six weeks. August was a very good month, and Labor Day sales and the month of September have been very strong, too.
With COVID business in the rearview mirror, our focus is back on price points, and our emphasis is on the “value” in our line. We are in a deflationary environment currently in Asia, so we are working closer than ever with our manufacturing partners to add value into our furniture while still hitting strong retail price points.
Price points are always the driving factor, but where we are putting more value in furniture is where we are seeing our business growing.
Alex Shuford III, CEO
Rock House Family of Brands|Century Furniture
Top of our list is process automation to reduce the cost in time absorbed in non-value-added work within our factories. We want our craftspeople working on their craft and not spending time looking for materials, moving parts around or trying to understand paperwork.
Additionally, we want to tackle enhanced product presentation tools that make all our brands’ products easier to understand, specify, order and track. We want to make the entire process of working with our companies easier for salespeople and designers so they can focus more of their time in front of the client instead of in front of a computer screen. We certainly feel that many of the emerging A.I.-enhanced tools will accelerate this effort.
Bill Hammer, president
Shifman Mattress Co.
The weakening of the housing market due to inflation, higher interest rates, as well as other factors have certainly impacted the bedding industry. Despite these economic headwinds, Shifman’s ability to consistently grow our retail network this year has given us positive results over last year, and we haven’t had to change our strategy and priorities.
Our continued investment in our people and programs bolster revenues, and we reinvest those dollars to support our leadership team and their commitment to continuous improvement and growth of the brand.
Shane Spiller, president
Spiller Furniture, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Top priorities when business starts to come back will be to make sure the delivery department is equipped, staffed and trained to meet our customers’ expectations. Getting the merchandise to the customer in a timely fashion and without damage is key to making our customers happy.
Nick Bates, president
Spring Air International
We’re not waiting for business to pick up to tackle anything. We are aggressively working with our retail partners to help them with their business today by driving traffic into their stores. If we wait until business picks up to do that, we’ve already lost the race.
We’ve built an incredible engine in Spring Air, with 13 of the best domestic factories in the business operating like a well-oiled machine, and these are the times that tell the tale.
We’re staying close to our existing customers and working to increase door clicks with smart marketing and products that help differentiate them in their marketplaces, from Grand Hybrid to the new Four Seasons collection.
While others tap their brakes and stick to the same worn road map, we’re pushing the gas and accelerating through the curves.
Adrian D. Parker, CEO
Temple Furniture/Parker Southern
The recession slowed our factories down. Temple and Parker Southern’s main goal is to get Catawba County back to work. Creating new jobs is our number one goal. We will continue to persevere.
Gerry Borreggine, president and CEO
The ebb and flow of business really doesn’t impact our “to do” list. We continue to plan and promote as aggressively as is needed within the market, regardless of whether business is going strong or relatively slow. That strategy appears to be working to keep our factories on a steady and consistent footing.
Sean O’Connor, president
2023 has been a good year for Universal Furniture. Business is strong, and we have seen significant order growth every month since April year-over-year. Custom Upholstery orders are up 35% YTD, driven by the success of our U/Choose program launched a year ago, and we’re introducing a new Modern U/Choose upholstery program this fall.
From a marketing perspective, we’ve continued to increase website traffic through digital and traditional marketing efforts throughout the year and ramped up spending during national sale periods. Our website traffic is up 10% year-over-year.
As we head into 2024, we will focus on normalizing product cycles. Both our Coastal Living Weekender and Universal Coalesce collections launched in April will ship before the end of the year, and we’ll be back into a normal production flow to support customers.
Andy Bray, president
The past three years have been crazy. A roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Vanguard has been fortunate. Our orders have been pretty steady, up 4% from a year ago. Much of this is attributable to our ability to ship custom furniture in four to six weeks.
About a year ago, our management team looked into the crystal ball and tried to predict what business would be like in 2023. Like everyone else, we were bombarded with economic news of an impending recession and out-of-control inflation. We concluded that was the wrong question.
We have been in business for more than 50 years and expect to be in business another 50. For the foreseeable future, everyone is going to need a place to sleep, a place to eat and a place to sit. Furniture is not going away.
A quote attributed to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky admonishes: “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” We started this journey a year ago.
The most important decision we made was to increase our manufacturing capacity by opening another plant in Morganton, N.C. We predicted that interest rates would increase, and that there would never be a better time to borrow money. This has paid huge dividends in our ability to ship quickly and attract a quality experienced workforce.
Equally importantly was our goal to reconcile inventory. There is little that is more worthless than obsolete case goods inventory. Many of the companies that are going under have choked to death on overvalued inventory and debt. In addition to being obsolete, it is overpriced because of the inflated container costs built into the cost of the products. In some cases, the freight was more expensive than the furniture.
No retailer is willing to pay for a manufacturer’s inventory mistakes — nor should they. By the same token, retailers need to shed their excess inventory, regardless of what it does to the balance sheet. It will never be worth more than what you can sell it for today. Likewise, no retailer should pay inflated prices to cover a manufacturer’s debt.
A continuing issue that faces all furniture manufacturers is the ability to attract, train and retain talent that will replace our existing labor force in the coming decade. Making custom furniture requires skill and experience. It is artistry and craftsmanship rather than assembly. It takes passion and a special kind of workmanship. As an industry, we need to promote the nobility of working with one’s hands to create luxury of enduring value.
Finally, we need to work with our customers to help them be more profitable. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and one cannot succeed without the other. This has always been a relationship business, but to stand out we need to provide our customers with the fashion-forward product they want, in a reasonable period of time and at a fair price. We depend on each other to keep our promises and look out for one another.
We are now poised to scale our business intelligently and profitably. We are optimistic about the future of our economy and the furniture sector in particular.
Historically, every trough has been followed by a peak. We are due. Inflation is under control. The stock market has recovered most of its loss and consumer confidence is trending up. Slowly, but surely, retail inventories are being re-balanced.
Demographics are on our side. Households are increasing. Moreover, people are getting married later, creating a greater number of single households. In every city, large and small, there is massive apartment construction at all price levels.
We have every reason as an industry to be optimistic. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Those manufacturers and retailers that can read the tea leaves and adapt their models will be successful. Those who try to do business as usual will become extinct.
Zack Taylor, president
As I look into the near-term, reeducating our dealers and their floor associates is top of mind. The past three years have witnessed immense change.
While Wesley Hall is emerging from this chapter a stronger company with increased capacity, the core values for which we are well known remain unchanged – namely our commitment to consistency, transparency, and quality.
As a result of the rampant supply chain, pricing and lead-time ripples our industry has traversed, many of the talented people selling our product have become numb to “realities-of-the-day” and are too inundated with such to keep up with each brands’ comings and goings.
Job No. 1 is reminding them of who we are, what we stand for and what they should expect from us.
Jason Kennedy, brand manager
If we change our whole business model because we want to serve a downturn economy, we’re in trouble. We keep striving toward greatness and working toward larger things. If we say when this happens, we’re going to do this.
We have a plan for success and greatness now. We have to be careful not to overshoot and be foolish when times are tight, of course, but the biggest thing is to use the added buzz to boost the growth we are currently experiencing and to continue to nurture it.
For us being a global company, our owners have seen a lot of changes over the past 50 years. We’re positioned for growth, and we’re not operating out of a private-equity ownership position.