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From Home Furnishing Business

Take5: Martin Ploy President, AICO

Throughout a home furnishings industry career that has spanned more than 50 years, Martin Ploy has thrived on change. It’s a skill that has served him especially well since joining forces with Michael Amini, the high-profile founder of AICO/Amini Innovation, in 2002 – just as the industry was beginning to establish a manufacturing footprint in China. He loved the idea of change back then, and as AICO’s president since 2010, he’s enjoyed it even more as the industry has undergone more rapid change as the digital world unfolded.

But that hasn’t slowed down the 75-yearold Ploy. He maintains a schedule as rigorous as an executive 20 years his junior, and travels regularly to furniture markets and meetings with customers. “I love what I do,” he says. “I wake up every morning eager and anxious to get to work.” Recently, Ploy made time in his busy schedule to talk with Home Furnishings Business about what keeps him motivated, AICO’s unparalleled success in the past two decades, and his work with non-profit groups such as City of Hope and the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame.

HOME FURNISHINGS BUSINESS: What is it about the home furnishings industry that keeps you motivated to go to work every day?

MARTIN PLOY: One of the wonderful things about this industry is the fact that there is constant change. This change is the challenge we face every day, and this continues to drive and motivate me more. I’ve always believed that yesterday’s lessons quickly move to the rear-view mirror as we train our eyes on the road ahead. The unpredictability of the day is an exhilarating and stimulating part of my life. I may drive to work with an agenda in mind for the day, but it often changes with the first email or the first phone call. Take5 The one constant is the fact that we still need to work and deal with people. Each employee is unique, and their needs, concerns and efforts make them a part of my daily routine. Sometimes their issues are about business, and occasionally they are even greater -- they are personal. If our staff didn’t feel that I care, then I can assure you that our turnover would be higher and productivity lower.

HFB: Much has been written about the culture at AICO. What makes the culture so unique? What are you doing to make sure it remains intact for years to come?

PLOY: I think our culture has been very solid and appreciated because it is very employee centric. We call it the AICO Family. We encourage new ideas. Each person has the power to make a difference, and we make sure they feel empowered to recommend and create change. Plus, it’s critical that individuals feel respected in our company. We help by giving them the best working environment possible. From the break room to the individual office spaces, to all the available facilities, we prioritize quality and comfort. Their health and well-being are most important, so we provide a complete gym, locker room and showers for their personal use. In addition, we provide excellent employee benefits … and host a fun filled AICO Family Day picnic, an annual Holiday party with recognition awards, a fabulous Halloween costume contest, various employee luncheons as well as our Employee Appreciation Day. And we always have a monthly Employee of the Month meeting. In the end, AICO has a very loyal staff, with over 65 percent employed for more than 10 years, and we have many at 15, 20 and even 25 years. I feel confident that this culture will sustain itself because it is so heavily employee focused. If the culture of a company is strong and positive, it will mark the path to the future.

HFB: The industry has changed significantly since you joined AICO in 2002. How has the company continued to grow and thrive in this rapidly changing environment?

PLOY: The shopping experience has been dramatically altered by generational changes and constant access to the digital world. Consumers have become far more educated and their expectations are greater than ever. It is our responsibility to be adaptable and have the flexibility to offer different designs that are more targeted to today’s consumer tastes. As you know, we were once known for our ‘Old World’ traditional designs. Michael Amini was able to sling-shot this company forward by offering these heavily carved, over scaled traditional masterpieces at great values. As one of the pioneers in China, he created a company synonymous with unique and original designs at great prices. Then Michael created a look the marketplace didn’t even know it needed -- the brilliance and bling of ‘Glam.’ Our Hollywood Swank collection launched a new era at AICO, and since then, we’ve introduced a diverse catalog of contemporary, modern, urban loft and now elegant and chic transitional furniture. As a designer, Michael has displayed great creativity and flexibility in his ability to answer the buyer’s question of “What’s new?”

HFB: What have been the keys to the success of the Michael Amini/Jane Seymour Collection? What makes it stand out from other licensed collections?

PLOY: Jane is not just a celebrity. Aside from being a world renown actress, she is an artist, author and a mother. She has always shown her commitment to the Michael Amini – Jane Seymour brand by her consistent visits to all of the markets. She’s always eager to engage and even educate customers on the new products. She’s really a part of the sales force and part of the public relations team. The longevity of this collaboration goes back to the launch of Hollywood Swank ten years ago with the introduction of Michael Amini – Jane Seymour, A Design Collaboration. This Glam collection was slow starting, but rapidly picked up steam. And after all these years,it’s still one of our top sellers. It’s just remarkable. This truly helped position Michael and Jane’s acceptance by retailers everywhere, which eventually led to other Glam intros like Overture, Hollywood Loft, Glimmering Heights and Melrose Plaza. There appears to be a greater consistency in the Michael Amini and Jane Seymour offerings that other licensed brands don’t seem to have. The longevity has so much to do with the ability to keep coming out with fresh new collections that reinforcethe brand and resonate really well with retailers and consumers. Today’s recent offerings of Michael Amini & Jane Seymour Living are setting new sales records with multiple collections offering a look of chic elegance, neutral tones and refined transitional designs. It appears that customers like the quiet elegance and subtle details that these designs offer, not to mention the value they represent. We’re also proud of our more recent relationship with Kathy Ireland. She has demonstrated a similar commitment and dedication to supporting the Michael Amini - Kathy Ireland Home Designs brand. Of course, these offerings are more causal and at lower price points. We’re optimistic that this relationship will be as long-lived as Jane’s.

HFB: AICO is well known for its support of several charitable causes – notably the City of Hope. Why is this important to the company?

PLOY: AICO does support several charitable causes, not just City of Hope. We also support industry groups like The American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame Foundation and ADL, as well as (organizations outside the industry) like Jane Seymour’s Open-Heart Foundation. When you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to achieve and experience the rewards and accomplishments of your efforts, it becomes very appropriate and important to give back. But yes, there is a close connection at AICO with City of Hope. We have many supporters here. There is always a large turn-out for the annual Walk for Hope at City of Hope, benefiting women’s cancer research. (Executive vice president) Chuck Reilly does “Chuck’s Ride,” a hundred-mile fundraising bike ride for COH. Many of our staff participate every year in the West Coast Golf and Tennis Tournament for COH. And more recently, AICO hosted the City of Hope’s blood mobile with over 40% of our employees donating blood. We’re most proud of Michael’s philanthropic efforts, especially the Michael Amini Transfusion Medicine Center at City of Hope. This facility is where blood, platelets and stem cells are collected, processed and stored. Robert Stone, CEO and president of City of Hope said, “That building is the beating heart of City of Hope.” Why are we tied so closely to City of Hope? I think it’s because we have all been touched in some way by cancer and/or diabetes. It is the extraordinary work, research, clinical trials, and new drugs and treatments discovered by the scientists, doctors and researchers at City of Hope that pridefully connects us to this special place.

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