Ray Allegrezza              Executive Director

 

The other day I was discussing the furniture business with someone I worked with for more than 20 years at Furniture/Today.

This person, who has been in the business as long as I have, is someone I respect, both for his understanding of business in general, as well as for his keen insights into the home furnishings business.

So, when I asked for his appraisal of our sector, I must confess to being a bit flustered by his initial statement.   ‘Ray,’ he said, “we are in industry mostly influenced by asses.’

But as he began to explain what he meant, I understood where he was going.

My friend clearly was intentionally using the word ass on more than one level.  From a purely anatomical perspective he was referring to the fact that our products have to provide a certain level of comfort to our posteriors.

For years, I’ve heard retailers at market (particularly right before they sat down on a chair, loveseat or sofa) proclaim they were ready to give it the “tush test.” So, from that perspective, the furniture industry has certainly been influenced by asses…be they those of the retailers and or consumer.

Having said that, I do believe my former associate also was using the word ass to refer the characteristics of an ass, as in donkey. Just to make sure I was not being an ass, I went to a website called Habitat for Horses and found the following information: Donkeys have a reputation for stubbornness but this is due to their highly developed sense of self preservation. It is difficult to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it sees as contrary to its own best interest or safety.

Truth be told, I would have to concede that this is an industry steeped in tradition, protocol and maintaining the status quo. I would also say that like the donkey, we can be stubborn, adverse to change and extremely interested in self- preservation.

Perhaps my friend was right to say we are an industry influenced by asses.

However, since the onset of Covid-19 and the ensuing pandemic, which turned everybody’s apple cart upside down, we are morphing into an industry that has begun to think with its head.

Since Covid, less attention has been paid to the traditional April and October time slots and finding new ways and dates to come to market is clearly eclipsing traditional strategies, platforms and show dates.

For example, premarket is becoming increasingly important, both to retailers and exhibitors and most recently, First Tuesday emerged to satisfy the needs of exhibitors and retailers who concluded that this interim meeting between suppliers and retailers fills a need.

And for those who hold sacrosanct the traditional April and October show dates, I should mention that back in the day, as in 1909, the first formal Southern Furniture Market was held in High Point March 1–15, 1909.

In 1921, the Southern Furniture Exposition Building opened for its first show June 20. Following that, regularly scheduled furniture shows were held in January and July.

Clearly, the goal of the furniture markets should be to best serve the needs of retailers.  History has shown us that purpose far outweighs market dates.

If the pandemic has prompted us to sacrifice tradition in favor of new market iterations that best meet the needs of our customers, we should applaud, embrace the changes and find ways to grow our businesses along with the changes, rather than in spite of them.

Make no mistake…the days of retailers debating about which showroom serves the best lunch have been replaced by frank discussions about which showrooms can help them eat their competitors’ lunch.

My hope is that our industry will embrace the changing paradigm shifts and use them to our collective advantage.

I will never forget the warning given to our audience one year when I was hosting the Leadership Conference at Furniture/Today. The theme that year was about change, and our keynote speaker that year not only delivered the keynote on the topic but stayed for the entire event and came up to make some closing remarks.

Although this event took place years ago, I will never forget his final thoughts. He said, ‘I’ve spent the last few days with you, talked to most of you and observed quite a bit.  I leave you with this final thought. You seem to be an industry that is not anxious to embrace change, so I will close the conference with this observation. If you dislike change, you are really going to hate extinction.’

I think the time is here for us to both literally and figuratively get off our collective asses and not merely embrace change, but facilitate it.

As always, I am anxious to hear from you.  Reach me at rallegrezza@ihfra.org