From Home Furnishing Business
Welcome to our inaugural 40 Under 40 list of retail executives who are making a difference in our industry and their communities. The foundation for the list was created in part by our readers, who took the time to make thoughtful and enthusiastic nominations.
The constant ping of my e-mail during the nomination period last month told me that we’d struck a nerve with our community in celebrating and spotlighting the bright young faces in furniture.
To those skeptics out there who continued with their snide comments about the furniture industry having no young people in it ... well, that’s just not so.
As the nomination deadline approached, we had more than 60 names on the list. That’s quite the slate to winnow down, and trust me, if 60 Under 40 carried the same sing-song word play, we would have been all over that!
Just so you’ll know — we had a number of young execs from the supply side of the furniture industry to be nominated. Those, however, will have to wait on the sidelines for a bit while we go about honoring RETAILERS.
As we were compiling the final slate, a few things jumped out at us that I think are worth mentioning.
When you break down the list, more than half of the 40 Under 40 are working in their family business. Some are the fourth or even the fifth generation to follow in their forefathers’ footsteps.
If those great-great grandparents could only see how their legacies are working now, they may be shocked to find the new tools being put to work in the business. Tools like social media, the Internet and retail technology that allows for easy sales tracking, payroll and other retail back-shop operations. I’m sure the generations before would be in complete wonder of it all. Can you imagine the great, greats with an iPhone? That would be a super picture to Tweet or post via Instagram!
Men make up the bulk of the list with women holding 25 percent of the slots on our 40 Under 40 list.
I’m pretty certain the number isn’t skewed because of some huge conspiracy to prevent young women into the retail environment. Instead, I think it’s more likely the nature of the beast. Furniture retail requires long hours that often include nights and weekends and aren’t the most family friendly.
Our slate is filled with strong, smart, creative, intuitive, savvy retailers who are shaping the future of our industry. They continue to push themselves, their peers and their co-workers to adapt to the ever-changing retail environment.
The furniture industry is much better off with them being part of it.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
This under-40 set is definitely built for the future and is well on its way to shaping the industry for the next generation of leaders.
Enjoy the list.
Jerome’s Furniture Looks to Expand Its Customer Reach While Keeping Firm Hold of Its Base.
A family company that looked outside the fold is making waves in Southern California’s furniture retail scene.
Jerome’s Furniture in San Diego had built a thriving business, and while the Navarra family behind the company remains firmly in place, some new blood has added some pop.
CEO Lee Goodman joined the company six years ago, bringing in a fresh face with furniture retailing chops developed at Bob’s Discount Furniture to bear on a promotional institution in the San Diego area.
Jerome’s is expanding into the Los Angeles market and bringing new retail concepts to bear in its efforts.
“Jerome’s has been in business in Southern California for 59 years,” Goodman said. “We are family owned and have a genuine relationship with the community. San Diego has seen Jerry Navarra (our chairman) on TV for the last 40 years, and now his sons Mark and Jim Navarra have begun to show up in some branding ads. “People know us and trust us. We honor our relationship with them by not participating in phony promotions and gimmicks. We have every day low prices. It’s a much more respectful approach to the furniture buying process and our industry. As we expand into the L.A. market, where people are not as familiar with our brand, it presents a wealth of opportunity.”
IT STARTS WITH PEOPLE
What makes Jerome’s different from other home furnishings retailers in the markets it serves?
“To sum it up, it’s our people,” Goodman said. “We have built a team here that is nothing short of phenomenal. Nothing works without the right people, their ability to execute our strategies at the level they do is extraordinary.
“It all starts with the Navarre family. Their warmth and generosity, coupled with their trust has created a relationship that allowed us to make the kinds of decisions we have to make to be successful.”
Those changes included a reorganization of management, but the biggest was a move away from running promotions and sales to working with the “Jerry’s everyday low price” that Goodman mentioned above.
A combination of an established retail brand and avoidance of gimmicky sales paid dividends during the recession.
“It was hard on us, just like it was on the rest of the world,” Goodman said. “We focused on doing the right things and staying disciplined to our model. During tough times, the trust our brand created through the years is seen as a real plus.”
IMPROVING THE EXPERIENCE
Jerome’s has stepped up the shopping experience in its stores. In-store signage allows is helping customer to engage with the brand in an informative, fresh way.
“In-store signage is now more design- and creative-oriented,” Goodman said. “It’s all under the umbrella of improving the customer experience, and we do serve a wide range of customers.
“You can’t be all things to all people, but with our large selection, we’re able to approach a lot of them.”
Finding that “right” selection of product so the consumer can find what she’s looking for is easier said than done, Goodman said.
“After that, it becomes all about value. We pack a lot of features into our product for the dollar,” he said. “We have decades of relationships with vendors, where it makes sense we go direct, and we negotiate great prices on behalf of our customers. We work diligently with our partners to ensure value.
“Merchandising is dependent on what sells best in each individual market. We do notice style preferences shift from market to market, so it’s constantly reviewed.”
THE RIGHT TOOLS
Jerome’s also gives sales associates the tools they need, such as tablets, to create relationships with customers and ensure they are making the right decisions for their home. The store also shares numbers to keep associates on track.
“We get closing rates at not only the store level but at the individual salesperson level—and we find out where they lost the sale, based on questions sales managers are trained to ask,” Goodman said. “We create a dashboard for people so they gain understanding and a perspective of where they stand.”
Metrics “are a big part of who we are,” he added. “We use them to help guide us in finding issues in our company. What products are (customers) coming in for? What’s the impact of our advertising?
“It allows us to make changes based on real information. (For example) We’re a little light on bedding compared to where we want to be. We’ll look at the numbers to see where we should be changing our product offerings.”
SENDING THE MESSAGE
How does Jerome’s express its retail vision in marketing and advertising efforts?
“We run several different messages at one time—branding, services, product focused—whatever we feel is most important for us to communicate at the moment,” Goodman said. “Our target customer covers such a wide range of the American public, we want to be relevant to what they are looking for.”
In addition to television, radio testimonial ads and the occasional print ad, the retailer is exploring digital more and more, and it publishes an upscale custom magazine twice a year.
“As far as digital goes, we’re on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Houzz.com,” Goodman said. “We are constantly revamping our Web site. We’re learning like everyone else, but I know those aspects of our business are only going to continue to get more and more important.”
The aim is to build a big tent that serves as wide a base of consumers as possible.
“No matter how much people make or how much they want to spend, we’re going to have something for most of them in our model,” Goodman said. “We can send out different types of messages to different people without losing who we are. It’s not class-based. All those different ingredients, all those different prices, reach a lot of people.”
Moving forward, Goodman pointed to strategic partnerships with suppliers “and a little thing called the World Wide Web” as keys to future growth.
“We look at e-commerce as a tool to, first, engage customers; and then drive them into our stores,” he said. “The Internet is our focus. We’re going to expand our customer base but not lose our existing customers.” HFB
What do you do to get away from it all?
If I have 10 days or more, I’m going to a seaside village in Northern Tuscany. If it’s less than a week, it’s the beach in Hawaii.
What do you get from what you do that recharge your batteries?
The first stage is taking the time to unwind. That can take to or three days. After that I can really dig into relaxation and disconnect my prejudice to always be honing in on a solution to something. When I do reconnect, I can really approach the tasks I deal with using a fresh approach.
I tell everyone on my team to always have a vacation planned. It gives you something to look forward to and helps you do your job better.
Lee Corson, chairman and CEO
Corson Furniture International
Pompano Beach, Fla.
What I do: For the last 65 years, my primary summer relaxation has consisted of “messing around in small boats.” Having sailed and raced well over 100,000 miles to date on a variety of my own and other’s boats, I’ve found they all have different personalities and I’ve enjoyed everyone of them—even the slow ones!
On a few occasions, Poseidon, The Mover of the Seas, has rebelled against some unknown transgression by me or one of my crew members, resulting in less than a desired smooth passage. Giving him the respect he deserves seems to mitigate the problem, and over the years he has generally been reasonable.
What I get: The experience of an offshore passage or the close competition of a around the buoy’s race is totally exhilarating and few experiences can compare. Those of us that have been captured by the lure of the sea share a very strong bond and will likely concur.
(The photo is of one of Corson’s prior boats, all of which have been named “Jilly,” after his bride of 50 years.)
Debbie Suter, co-owner
Owen Suter’s Fine Furniture
What I do: My husband, Owen Suter III, is a sixth generation furniture manufacturer. He loves to unwind and relax by shooting skeet and sporting clays.
What I get: He always says to me it doesn’t take as much time as golf. We have a beautiful outdoor shooting club, Conservation Park, in Charles City Va., that uses the profits from the shooting sports to fund quail preservation. So he relaxes, has fun with friends and helps the environment!
What’s in a name? Sometimes, everything.
That’s what the store now known as Heavenly Bedrooms found out, to its benefit. Previously known as Waterbed Heaven—and later, Waterbed Heaven Bedrooms—the Quakertown, Pa.-based retailer found that, as the bottom dropped out of the waterbed market, the store was probably losing business due to consumer perceptions.
“People didn’t realize we had more than waterbeds, and our conventional (bedding) sales were very slow,” recalled Linda Duell , who co-owns the store with her husband Brian. When the store opened in 1995, it was an all-waterbed business. By around 2005, it was half waterbeds and half conventional mattresses.
“We talked and prayed about what to do, and thought maybe a name change was in order. The very next day, we had 20 clients come in and they said, ‘You need to change your name. I never knew you had all this.’ So in 2007, we changed it to Heavenly Bedrooms. We then added Tempur-Pedic, and a year later, added Serta.”
The rest was history. Heavenly Bedrooms is now a leading bedding retailer in its area—not just because of the new name, but because of the Duells’ philosophy of treating customers right.
Turning Up the ‘HEAT’
“We follow these steps,” Duell said, “We call it HEAT. H is for Hear. E is for Empathize. A is for Apologize. T is for Take Action. … Our big saying for handling customer service is ‘the customer is always right and go from there.’ We always like to ask, ‘What would you like us to do for you?’ We never argue with them, just try and narrow it down to what it is they want to do, and then do it. You’ll find the client is never asking for anything unreasonable—they just want you to sympathize with them and correct it.”
This consideration for customers also impacts the Duells’ sales strategy as well. “We approach everyone with a smile and just a simple greeting,” Duell stated, “telling them our name and then welcoming them to our showroom. We like to tell the client upfront that we don’t work on commission, so we are just here to help select the right product. We are never pushy. It’s all about the client. We don’t follow close behind, but close enough that they know we are here. They really like this approach … they know we are here to help.
“We ask questions pertaining to the bed you have now and why you are replacing it,” she continued. “Is it too soft, too firm or just downright old? This helps us to narrow the search and direct you to a line of mattresses that will work best for your needs. We find most clients shopping today have pre-shopped online and already have an idea what they may be looking for—and now it’s time to try it.”
Show and Explain
Taking care of customers is a top priority for the Duells, and this begins the moment they enter the store. “They are why the sale even exist, so we don’t just talk—we show and explain everything,” Duell said. “We find the more the client is involved with the presentation, the more likely they are to understand the product and make a more-educated purchase. You can talk all you want, but until they see it or touch it, they just don’t get it.
“We feel it is really important to involve the client every step of the way through the purchase,” she continued. “That can be as simple as handing them the remote to a bed and (having) them play around with it (so) they can see how easy it is to use. … Get them involved—get them interested!”
Just Like At Home
While bedding stores often take a simple approach to merchandising, displaying plain mattresses with little else, leave it to Heavenly Bedrooms to do things a little differently.
“We like to display all our sets in an ‘at-home’ atmosphere—tastefully decorated and homey,” Duell said. “We want the client to feel at home and get a true idea on what it can look like at home. Too many stores are so sterile and don’t give the client any idea on what it’ll look like at home. Simple things like accessories, table lamps and pillows can really spruce up a display. We also make sure our store is clean and smells inviting (using a fragrant hot wax burner). We also make certain everything on display is properly set up—we’ve been to so many stores where the display is falling apart or is broken or even set up wrong—not good.”
A Heavenly Future
Looking forward, the Duells are more focused on growing their current location than expanding into new ones. “We don’t want to thin ourselves out, especially in this economy,” Linda Duell said. So to strengthen the Quakertown store, the business is looking to expand its online presence. “We are working on a new Web site—one with more search options, comparison options and product detail,” she stated. “We’re also working with an SEO (specialist) to get our site up to a higher ranking. Even though most of our business is local people, they are searching the Net first for what they are looking to purchase, so we feel it is very important to have a great Web presence.”
Long-term, the Duells, who took over the business from Brian’s parents, have a wish for the future: “We have two older sons—Lake, who is going into collision repair, and hopefully the youngest, Nathan, will want to be the start the third generation of Heavenly Bedrooms.”
Taking Time for Getting Away, Getting Healthy Can Pay Dividends.
When’s the last time you insisted that someone on your staff take a vacation? You might miss them while they’re gone, but you might find yourself with a more productive, satisfied employee upon their return.
At Jerome’s Furniture in San Diego, vacations are part of the planning process.
“I tell everyone on my team to always have a vacation planned,” said Jerome’s CEO Lee Goodman. “It gives you something to look forward to and helps you do your job better.”
Goodman believes the anticipation of a fun time away from the job helps people feel better about what they’re doing, especially when problems pop up. They know they’ll be getting a break.
Vacations are all part of striking a balance between work and life, but research shows a lot of people aren’t taking time off.
According to a Harris Interactive consumer poll last May of 2,634 adults, three in five adults (60 percent) planned to take at least one leisure trip through August. That’s down from the last such polls, 65 percent in 2009 and 66 percent in 2010. The percentage of consumers planning multiple trips also dropped.
VACATIONS CAN IMPROVE HEALTH
Canadian insurance and investment provider Standard Life operates an online wellness center where clients can get advice on a range of lifestyle and health issues. Vacations are part of a healthy lifestyle, according to the company.
The wellness center enumerated ways a vacation can benefit your health.
The very first benefit is reduced stress. Studies have shown a direct link between stress and health conditions such as headaches, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other types of infections acquired as a result of a weaker immune system. Vacations also reduce the incidence of psychological burnout.
Studies also have found a positive relationship between vacations and intellectual function; and that well-rested mind is often more effective.
A vacation can improve your physical health by providing opportunities to catch up on sleep and exercise, two simple remedies for many aches and pains.
All work and know play isn’t good for family relationships. A helps families re-connect in a different setting and to build lasting memories.
Finally, taking time off can be a great opportunity to meet new people, laugh and do the things that you most enjoy.
Rest, relaxation and stress reduction are important for a person’s overall well-being.
Yes, some of this can be accomplished with regular, daily activities like exercise and meditation. However, vacation—an extended time away from work—is an extremely important part of staying healthy and balanced, according to primary care doctors and mental health professionals.
Jamine Hanson, a psychologist, is adamant about the benefits of vacation on a company’s bottom line and a person’s health.
“The impact taking a vacation has on someone’s mental health is amazing,” she said.
“Most folks return from vacation with better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals. Even a relatively brief time-out can be helpful.”
Another study, this one conducted by travel planning site Expedia showed that the average American earns 18 vacation days a year, but only uses 14 of them.
According to the study, the American worker is sadly behind on the vacation calendar when compared with workers in other countries. Every European country included in the survey reported more vacation days earned and used than Americans.
France is at the top of the list with the average worker earning 37 vacation days and using all but two of them.
So, just what is this doing to our state of mind? Well, Hanson said people who don’t carve out down time for unwinding, may find it harder to relax in the future.
“We require down time so that our bodies can go through a restoration process,” she said. “Only when we are safe from external stresses can our bodies relax enough to truly restore themselves.” HFB
Wellness programs can benefit employees—and their employer—by promoting their health, safety and well-being.
The California Department of Public Health offers the following suggestions for implementing a worksite wellness program.
• Why develop a wellness program?
A wellness program may improve staff health, morale and productivity.
• What are some components of a wellness program?
A program may include some or all of these components: wellness newsletter, health risk assessments, health screenings, workshops on wellness issues, walking groups, health fairs, healthy potlucks and healthy snacks for meetings and breaks, physical activity breaks, fitness classes, smoking cessation classes; and incentives such as water bottles, insulated lunch bags, drink coolers, tote bags, stress balls, pedometers and cook books.
• How do you start a wellness program?
First, develop an advisory committee that represents the interests of employees and management.Second, conduct a needs and resource assessment: Determine employee needs, interests, concerns and schedules; identify available space and facilities; determine employer liability under existing health insurance, property owners’ insurance, workers’ compensation to pay, time frames and relevant skills; and identify relevant partner organizations.
Third, develop program components and activities based on the findings of the needs assessment: Determine if services will be provided by agency personnel, consultants or local community agencies; partner with other health-related non-profits organizations to broaden program offerings; develop a written document of program components and expected outcomes; develop formal policies for administering the program; and develop an evaluation plan for the program to specify how impact will be measured (include cost, participation rate, employee satisfaction, employee behavior changes and impact on participant education).
Fourth, include incentives, such as employee release time or items such as pedometers or water bottles, to encourage employee participation.
• Implement the program.
• Evaluate the program.