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From Home Furnishing Business

Editor's Letter : Legal EASE?

When it comes to furniture retail, most folks in the business speak to the passion they have for helping everyday people make their homes beautiful and comfortable. The furniture retail business is a bit of a passion for most of you.

Think about it, after all; retail has amazingly long hours, little thanks, sometimes finicky consumers.

That’s a lot to take without a love for helping people create welcoming homes.

Several conversations with retail friends have all led back to the frustration that legal topics and issues bring into their businesses. Staying abreast of changes in regulations impacting business owners is more than a full-time affair—there are hour and wage regulations; safety regulations; truth in advertising regulations and the list goes on and on.

Hint at the possibilities of a lawsuit over copyright infringement from a competitor or supplier and some retailers may break out into a body-coating sweat. Heaven forbid a legal squabble with a consumer who happened to break her arm and injure her rotator cuff when she stumbled over a low-profile cocktail table while she was admiring great artwork on the wall. (True story, by the way, that cost a retailer a good chunk of change in lawyer and settlement fees.)

In today’s world of hurry-up electronics, smartphones, the Internet and social media, copyright regs get more and more murky and indepth. It’s hard to know what is a copyrighted content, images or designs when surfing through Pinterest, Facebook and Google+. When does someone cross the line from sharing and step into copying?

On another regulation front, the industry is having to reevaluate the use of flame-retardant chemicals in upholstery and bedding. I remember stepping into this industry nearly 20 years ago when the debate over flame retardants was raging as to should we or shouldn’t we use such chemicals in home furnishings to prevent fires.

Today’s research shows the chemicals could leach and result in ill effects to people. Back in 1994, there were folks in the industry who stood firmly against  such treatments for the very reason of the unknown human impact of the chemicals. California—the state with some of the strictest regulations­­—is currently leaning toward changing its standards on chemical treatment for upholstery. Typically, as goes California, so does the rest of the Union.

It’s enough to make one’s head spin, and it’s not easy.

The legal aspects of running a retail business seem more complicated than our country’s tax code. Thankfully, there are lawyers in the world who understand the ins and outs of legal matters that mean the most to retailers.

Inside this month, we take a look at a few of the legal issues retailers face on a regular basis. By no means did we delve into every single law or nuance that you or your colleagues have to worry about. THAT would take some doing.

My advice?

Read the issue, and take some notes. Voice your concerns with your legal counsel. Make him or her a true business partner that you consult on a regular basis instead of only in times of legal crisis. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy reading.



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