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From Home Furnishing Business

Cover Story: State of the Industry: “Is the party over or just postponed until next year?”

Along with this surge in consumers returning to the stores came a surge in product cost initially driven by the increase in the cost of containers followed by an increase in production driven by growing raw material costs. This surge in costs resulted in a well-deserved consumer price increase as illustrated in Table B. The growth period coming out of the pandemic was unlike the industry growth in 2008/2009 coming out of the Great Recession where consumer prices did not increase. The pandemic increase was driven by other factors. Retailers quickly realized this relationship between units/revenue and reacted to the pricing shift with gross margins increasing accordingly to protect against future price increases. In 2021, gross margins increased industry wide 1.5 percentage points (48.9% - 50.4%) adding to the increase in the Consumer Price Index. (See Home Furnishings Business May/June 2022 issue Retail Metrics.)

Manufacturers’ prices increased and inbound freight added to the total causing a 21.7% growth in prices in 2021. Table C illustrates the impact on a traditional fabric sofa comparing 2019 to 2021. The result is a 10%+ increase in average unit selling price.

The residential furniture industry enjoyed an unprecedented lift in demand (and prices) during the bulk of the COVID years of 2020 through early 2022, as homeowners invested in their indoor furnishings and outdoor/patio environments. However, by Q2 of 2022 demand began to soften due to a variety of factors including rising interest rates, lower new-home formations and rising costs and inflationary pressures. Also, the consumer saw a shift in mentality from “I need this” purchases to “I want this” discretionary spending. And with the COVID-19 pandemic mostly over, the world has re-opened as consumers have become more comfortable traveling and getting on airplanes, going out to restaurants and generally resuming a normal life. That said consumer demand in 2022 should still exceed pre-COVID volumes – despite soaring inflation, recession talk, and wobbly public stock markets.

Looking forward to 2023, we are optimistic that the U.S. economy will settle into a “new normal” and that home furnishings will resume a nice steady growth over the pre-COVID years. Container rates are coming down, gas prices are finally decreasing, raw material price increases have slowed, and the stock market is showing some strength. All these elements should boost consumer confidence and drive solid growth in furnishings’ purchases. Some key points to watch:

E-Commerce:

Adoption to buying furniture online continues and we are increasingly seeing companies take an omni-channel approach via marketplaces like Wayfair, One Kings Lane, and Overstock.com, while the big box stores offer their massive web-portals (WalMart, Costco, Target, etc.), and the lifestyle stores like RH, PB/West Elm, Arhaus and Crate & Barrel offer tremendous in-person and on-line shopping experiences. And increasingly we see consumers bypassing these more legacy retail brands and buying direct from brands like Joybird, Albany Park, and Burrow. We expect to see significant M&A activity in this space as legacy furniture companies seek this higher growth e-commerce channel.

Whole Home and broader furnishings: Increasingly we are hearing about the “whole home” as consumers want to make purchases that can create a holistic environment, the focus not just on one sofa or table but the entire room and a house that flows onto the patio as an extension of the interior of the home. Lighting, rugs, accessories and wall art will play a leading role in how CEO’s guide product development road maps and revenue growth. We also believe patio and casual furniture will remain a high-growth sector and prime acquisition target for legacy furniture companies.

Global Sourcing Rebalanced:

After a tumultuous several years of supply chain strife, our industry is scrambling to find the right combination of U.S.-made, vs. China, Vietnam, India, Mexico and the rest of the world. Tariffs, container rates and factory shutdowns have wreaked havoc with the global supply chain over the last 18 months, and our leaders are trying to assess what the new balance for supply will be. Labor pressures and geo-political strife continue to make this a complicated issue around the world. We anticipate continued exploration of increased reliance on India and Mexico and smaller outfits in Eastern Europe and Portugal, as well as the continued desire to re-shore manufacturing to the U.S. to the extent possible. Blurring lines of Resi-mercial Furniture: Home and non-home furniture continues to look more alike, as historically segmented players increasingly compete in each other’s spaces. MillerKnoll (the merger of Herman Miller and Knoll) has a huge home furnishings presence with its various brands including DWR, Muuto and HermanMilleronline.com. Steelcase has an alliance with several home furnishings companies. Haworth has huge residential product offerings. HNI has several online portals for home and home office furniture. Competition is growing around every corner, and we expect this to continue, and we expect these players to be major contenders for residential market share and digitally native direct-to-enterprise plays.

Shows/Showrooms:

There is increasing pressure on the markets to become modern and relevant in this new economy. The casual market is leaving Chicago and moving to Atlanta. The Neocon show for commercial furniture now has two competing properties. The Las Vegas and High Point shows continue their relentless cadence of four “can’t miss” residential shows per year, amidst various challenges such as the 100+ degree weather of the Vegas market in July and staggering vacancies in the main buildings in High Point as more exhibitors are building their own destination venues, no doubt drawn by the allure of year-round showcases to key customers. More and more vendors are no longer showing at all and are using alternative marketing tools to reach their customers. There is no clear answer to this complex issue. We see a mixed bag of headwinds and tailwinds going into 2023. But overall, we are bullish on the furniture industry and the U.S. economy. 2023 should be a good year. Bring it on.

The bottom line is that the industry increase was significantly, but then not significantly, driven by consumer demand. Figure 1 summarizes from a historical perspective. Traffic is declining into the stores and has now become an accepted fact at the retail level by at least 30% or more of retailers as indicated in Table D.

The next performance indicator will likely be a decrease in selling price driven by retailers discounting due to excessive inventory. Therefore, without the other normal factors that impact the industry performance is the market conditions of product cost and gross margin.

Figure 2 presents the external factors that impact the furniture industry and whether the forecast for 2023 is for these factors to improve over 2022 or decline.

Looking at the factors that drive our industry, the forecast is obvious with all INDICATORS pointing downward. That part is over for now, but not forever.

The Furniture Industry Braces for a Downturn as Recession Fears Remain at the Forefront

The furniture industry will look back on much of 2022 as a profitable, if not chaotic, year, especially through the first half. But the U.S. is now inching towards a recession, more likely in 2023, with most forecasting it to be brief.

The coming forecasted downturn is difficult because it is unfolding in ways we haven’t seen before in any recession. Inflation is still high and consumer confidence has slowed. But job growth remains strong, unemployment low, and in most consumer products, consumption has slowed but remains healthy. Vacation and airline travel demand, usually one of the first industries to feel the effects of a downturn, is higher than airlines have been able to handle. Supply chain disruptions, both labor and material, are easing.

These opposing forces and other key trends are the basis for Home Furnishings Business’ furniture industry economic outlook and forecast presented below. The Furniture Industry The furniture industry averaged 3.2% growth over the first half of this year compared to the first half of 2021. Consumer spending in July shows furniture sales slowed 0.3% over the preceding June and were down another 1.1% in August over July. Most economists at press time placed a 50-50 chance of the U.S. entering a significant economic correction and downturn, if not in the fourth quarter of 2022, then the first half of next year. Furniture industry sales are projected to finish this year 3% higher than 2021 and primarily grow 2.5% in 2023 (Table A).

Bedding sales have slightly outperformed all other furniture products the first half of this year, 3.61% versus 3.09%. In the second quarter, however, growth slowed slightly for both segments in Q2 vs. Q2 last year to 3.07% (furniture products) and 3.2% (bedding). Spending is forecast to slow further during the second half of this year to 2.5% increase year-overyear for furniture products and 2.4% for bedding (Figure 2).

Distribution Channels.
The 3.2% industry growth in the first half of this year was stretched out over many types of retail outlets; however, furniture store sales grew at only 0.1% through the second quarter as consumers trended toward other retail channels. Home furnishings stores (outlets selling less than 50% furniture) have struggled to keep pace in recent years with pressures from e-commerce. But, surprisingly, these retailers of furnishings, accessories, floor coverings and tableware, have made a small comeback this year, outperforming furniture stores by growing sales 5.2% in the second half of this year compared to last. Electronic shopping again led the pack of all retail channels growing 9.9% in 2022 Q2 YTD for all products, not just furniture. Electronics and appliance store sales were down the most falling 6.9% (Figure 3). A notable slowdown occurred in the last month of the second quarter where sales in June compared to May declined in all of the retail outlets shown in Figure 3, most notably e-commerce shopping (-4.5%), home furnishings stores (-5.3%), warehouse price clubs (-1.7%) and furniture stores (-1%). Going forward through the rest of this year, with retail inventories already at high levels, heavy discounting may be coming this holiday season.

E-commerce shopping is on pace to capture over 20% of all retail sales this year for durable and nondurable goods (excluding motor vehicles and parts) and surpass $1 trillion in revenue for the first time. And although the pace of e-commerce slowed to under 10% growth the first half of this year and shake-outs are expected in the future, it remains the major force of retailing (Figure 4).

 

Furniture Buying Population Shifts.

The prime furniture buying population has been identified as consumers ages 25 to 74. The 65 to 74 age group has been included as this group remains a powerful purchasing presence in the industry. The youngest prime purchasers, ages 25 to 34, continue to decline in population as the Millennials completely age out of this segment. Worrisome for the furniture industry is that the 55 to 64 group, a smaller cohort but one that has the highest incomes, is flooding into the older ages 65 to 74. Will this high dollar group slow its furniture purchasing patterns in retirement? The good news is that the Millennials are currently between the ages of 26 and 41 and will continue to advance into the 35 to 44 age group, the prime purchasers of furniture. And as baby boomers begin their assent into the 75 and over population, the furniture industry will feel their loss for years to come.

The Economy
GDP. Gross Domestic Product took a roller coaster ride through the heart of the pandemic in 2020 before settling into solid growth the second half of the year as consumer spending went a bit crazy. This year brought fiscal reality with GDP sliding 1.6% in Q1 and down 0.6% in Q2. Many economists are predicting third -quarter GDP will be up over 1.5%. Another downturn has not been forecast until maybe late this year, but most likely in early 2023. Year-overyear forecasts for 2022 are ranging from 0% to 1.7% growth for the year.

Most economic forecast projects the 2023 downturn to be mild, ranging from -0.4% go 1.1% growth (Table C). Unemployment. The unemployment rate continued to fall from 5.4% last year to 3.6% in the second quarter of this year. Rates have fallen to just below December 2019 levels. August saw an uptick to 3.7% unemployment; however, the rates are expected to remain low through the rest of the year around 3.6% to 3.7% and rise a full percentage point in 2023 as the economy weakens.

Consumer Prices (Inflation).
The elephant in the room for the U.S. economy continues to be inflation and the price gains made by furniture products in 2021 and the first half of 2022. Prices stayed relatively stable throughout the last half of 2020 after the worst of the Covid pandemic. But in May of last year, price increases exploded with July of this year 21.7% higher than January 2021, a period of 18 months. Meanwhile consumer spending on furniture grew at less than half that rate (9%) during the same 1-1/2 years. Much of the price impact came during the supply chain disruptions of last year. This year both consumer spending on furniture and price increases tracked on parallel lines over the six months February to July. Consumer spending in July was 5.3% higher than February, and price increases were 4.0% more (Table F1).

These increases have helped make up for the years of stagnant price growth. In the second quarter of this year, furniture prices increased at an annual rate of 13.6% well ahead of all consumer products, which grew 8.6%. Higher transportation costs throughout the second half of last year and the first half of this year is a big contributing factor. As inventories increase and the competition adds pressure, prices are cooling in the second half of this year which should take the overall average price increase for the year to 7.2%. Falling gasoline prices should also impact price declines as transportation costs lessen for most consumer products. Next year as the economy continues to struggle, prices could fall even more (Table F2). Consumer price increases for furniture products grew more slowly in the second quarter of this year at 2.2% versus the preceding Q1. In the first quarter, prices grew 4.2% over Q4 of 2021 (Table G).

Stock Market.

The Dow Jones has been volatile since before the Covid pandemic began as if unsure which domestic or global event to react to next. Inflation and interest rate increases have spurred negative market reactions. Meanwhile, consumer spending growth and low unemployment have evoked positive reactions. In the second quarter, more negative than positive news sent the Dow Jones down 11.3% at the end of the quarter compared to 2022 Q1. And hawkish talk from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell at the end of August sent the Dow down further hovering around 32,000, which is 14% less than January levels of 36,600. Historical data suggests there is more pain to come. Numerous long-range forecasters suggest 2022 will end at around 31,500 and 2023 could possibly go a bit lower (Table H).

Gasoline Prices. One of the biggest economic indicators driving consumer at $4.07 a gallon for regular gas and 2023 at $3.59 (Table I). Consumer Confidence. In June of this year, the Consumer Confidence Index dropped below 100 for the first time in over a year signaling consumers are less optimistic about the economy and worried about persistent inflation and stayed at 95.3 in July. Many economists were surprised by the August jump to 103.2 when the initial forecast was 98.2. Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, explained the difference in the initial forecast as consumer “purchasing intentions increased after a July pullback, and vacation intentions reached an 8-month high. Looking ahead, August’s improvement in confidence may help support spending, but inflation and additional rate hikes still pose risks to economic growth in the short term” (Table J).

Looking at the forecast for the rest of the year, the third and fourth quarters of this year should show a slow deterioration in confidence and 2023 could see it drop consistently below 100.

Prime Interest Rate. Mid-March of this year the Federal Reserve began to increase the prime interest rate that had been at 3.25% for over two years. In a stair-step approach, at press time rates had increased four times to 5.5% in August, with continuing hawkish talk by the Fed to continue to increase them more to further gain control of inflation. Additional smaller increases may also occur in November and December (Table L).

panic over rising inflation is gasoline, the life blood of U.S. commerce and consumer transportation. A gallon of regular averaged $3.05 last year and $4.64 in second quarter of this year, an increase of 23.1%. At press time, prices had fallen to around $4.00. The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts 2022 average gasoline prices Mortgage Interest Rates.Rates for mortgages have responded in kind to the moves by the Fed to bring inflation under control. At press time, 30-year fixed rates were around 5.7%, up from an average of 3% at the end of last year. Meanwhile 5/1- year hybrid adjustable rates were 4.4%. Rates are projected to continue to increase in the second half of the year to an average rate of 5.2% for the year for a 30-year fixed mortgage and 4.0% for a 5/1-year hybrid adjustable mortgage. In 2023 rates should move even higher at an average rate of 6% for 30-year mortgages and 4.8% for 5/1-year hybrid adjustable (Table M).

The Housing Market
Housing Sales. The housing industry has been the star of the U.S. economy pre-pandemic as well as post-pandemic. Coming out of the worst of the COVID-19 shutdown, in August of 2020, 1.036 million new homes (annualized rate) were sold, the largest number in 18 years. In July of this year, that number was more than cut in half to 511,000 homes (annualized rate). After the third quarter 2020 peak, new homes have continued to trend downward. Forecasters believe the industry will fall further in the second half ending 2022 with existing home sales down 13.2% and new single-family homes down more at 17% decline. The forecast for 2023 should be brighter for new home sales, but existing home sales will show little growth (Table N).

Housing Starts. With new single-family housing starts lagging for 10 years coming out of the Great Recession, starts finally picked up in earnest during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and continued growth into 2021. This year, new single family starts slowed and went negative monthover-month beginning in February, dropping each month through July (-2.13% July over June). Meanwhile, multi-family starts have been on fire, up significantly in Q1 and Q2 of this year, at 20.3% and 17.5%. Housing starts are forecast in 2023 to grow 7.9% for single-family units and 3.5% for multi-family units (Table O).

Housing Prices. The much-publicized increase in housing prices this year has stirred fears of another housing crash. However, according to a report issued by the Conference Board, US Housing: Boom- Bust Redux?, “Supply and demand factors—not speculation, predatory lending and/or bad underwriting practices—are at the root of the latest home price upswing.” This year existing home prices are forecast to be up 14.1% and new home prices 10.2%. Prices should level off to more normal growth in 2022.

 

 

When business is trending downward, it is easiest for economists to say that weakness will continue. And today, more economists are saying the recession will hit its worst in the fourth quarter of this year or in early 2023.

I disagree. I think our recession began early this year and the furniture and mattress industries hit their trough during the summer. Why? First, we already have two quarters of negative GDP, a key indicator of a recession, and the summer did not feel any better. Second, our economy is disjointed. From May of 2020 through 2021, durables prospered thanks to governmental generosity driven by the COVID-19 Pandemic, low interest rates that helped housing sales along with great demographics and a broad shortage of places to live and government restrictions that discouraged Americans from leaving their homes or being around others. Since early 2022, with high inflation, rising interest rates, shortages among many durables and a decline in COVIDrelated restrictions, American consumers have been catching up with services and consumer non-durables. Travel, dining out, event attendance and much more has rebounded, shifting spending away from durables— at least on a temporary basis. Third, the furniture industry has been hurt by one of the most unusual combination of circumstances most of us can remember. As consumer spending slowed this year, logistical difficulties (ports, trucks and rail) have begun to improve, and delayed shipments from Asia began to catch up, while many retailers, importers and manufacturers have been able to deliver long delayed furnishings. A dramatic shift from shortages early in the year, we now have excessive inventories, but these will be normalized as the year progresses.

Fourth, home furnishings have historically sold 55% of annual revenues in the second half of our calendar year caused, I believe, by Americans finding new homes in the first half of the year and moving in the summer and fall.

Finally, we believe there is unmet demand for many home products created by the great housing sales in 2019 through 2021. Also, remember that, for many reasons, we could not meet the strong demand we experienced in 2020 and 2021. Consumers are enjoying their travel, restaurants, sporting events and shopping no doubt, but as colder weather returns and we go indoors, we believe home related spending will recover slowly but this should set great prospects for a much improved 2023.

Let’s hope I am right. I am overdue!
JERRY EPPERSON
Managing Director Mann,
Armistead & Epperson, Ltd.


If I thought I could forecast the residential furniture industry for 2023 with any accuracy, I would not be worried about deciding what investments my retirement plan should be making. I think we are all just trying to forecast —with the hope of being close to right—when this slowdown we are in will phase out, and when business will get back to normal. As one executive and I were discussing recently, we are hoping that something that resembles normal will return by maybe November, just a few months away. Then we reminded ourselves that we believed those words three or four months ago. There is good news for some, however, in that quite a few companies still have good backlogs. Those companies will have some time to see what the next few months bring. Others may not be as lucky.

Of course, the real question is what is normal? We all thought 2019 was the last “normal” year. But that was before the craziness of new orders in late 2020 and 2021. Then, most added some 30% to the selling prices at wholesale, hoping that would cover the increased cost of raw materials, labor and overhead as well as imported finished products and freight— whether ocean or domestic. Now many costs have leveled out, but the price increases continue through a lot of the supply chain and inflation in general.

The Federal Reserve is committed to lowering inflation and their theory is that raising interest rates will lower people’s ability to buy therefore forcing prices down due to lack of demand. To some, this brake pumping seems to feel more like brake slamming. When this will end is not clear to most of us at this time. However, a good deal of the inflation relates to energy, especially gas prices, and with the Federal policies we wonder if that can happen.

What impact the elections will have is another big question. At one point, folks thought the Democrats were going to lose in a big way. But that does not seem as clear as it did a month or so ago as the politicians are doing all they can to make things sound and feel better. So, with all that said, what will 2023 look like for residential furniture? We think, as has been the case in the past, the general economy will need to pick up to be able to drag furniture along. We would expect that to happen in a small way sometime in the first quarter of 2023 with meaningful improvement not happening until maybe the second quarter. This should allow the furniture business to get back to a more normal 3% - 4% growth rate by the second half of the year. That growth will be impacted by what we are comparing to as if the ocean freight costs decline even more, then the surcharges that many have added will decline, causing more difficult comparisons the other way.

Many have started comparing unit sales to take all the clutter out of comparisons. For many, this is difficult due to the variety of products offered, but it is not a bad idea if you can do it, even for given product lines.

 

The residential furniture industry enjoyed an unprecedented lift in demand (and prices) during the bulk of the COVID years of 2020 through early 2022, as homeowners invested in their indoor furnishings and outdoor/patio environments. However, by Q2 of 2022 demand began to soften due to a variety of factors including rising interest rates, lower new-home formations and rising costs and inflationary pressures. Also, the consumer saw a shift in mentality from “I need this” purchases to “I want this” discretionary spending. And with the COVID-19 pandemic mostly over, the world has re-opened as consumers have become more comfortable traveling and getting on airplanes, going out to restaurants and generally resuming a normal life. That said consumer demand in 2022 should still exceed pre-COVID volumes – despite soaring inflation, recession talk, and wobbly public stock markets.

Looking forward to 2023, we are optimistic that the U.S. economy will settle into a “new normal” and that home furnishings will resume a nice steady growth over the pre-COVID years. Container rates are coming down, gas prices are finally decreasing, raw material price increases have slowed, and the stock market is showing some strength. All these elements should boost consumer confidence and drive solid growth in furnishings’ purchases. Some key points to watch:

E-Commerce:

Adoption to buying furniture online continues and we are increasingly seeing companies take an omni-channel approach via marketplaces like Wayfair, One Kings Lane, and Overstock.com, while the big box stores offer their massive web-portals (WalMart, Costco, Target, etc.), and the lifestyle stores like RH, PB/West Elm, Arhaus and Crate & Barrel offer tremendous in-person and on-line shopping experiences. And increasingly we see consumers bypassing these more legacy retail brands and buying direct from brands like Joybird, Albany Park, and Burrow. We expect to see significant M&A activity in this space as legacy furniture companies seek this higher growth e-commerce channel.

Whole Home and broader furnishings: Increasingly we are hearing about the “whole home” as consumers want to make purchases that can create a holistic environment, the focus not just on one sofa or table but the entire room and a house that flows onto the patio as an extension of the interior of the home. Lighting, rugs, accessories and wall art will play a leading role in how CEO’s guide product development road maps and revenue growth. We also believe patio and casual furniture will remain a high-growth sector and prime acquisition target for legacy furniture companies.

Global Sourcing Rebalanced:

After a tumultuous several years of supply chain strife, our industry is scrambling to find the right combination of U.S.-made, vs. China, Vietnam, India, Mexico and the rest of the world. Tariffs, container rates and factory shutdowns have wreaked havoc with the global supply chain over the last 18 months, and our leaders are trying to assess what the new balance for supply will be. Labor pressures and geo-political strife continue to make this a complicated issue around the world. We anticipate continued exploration of increased reliance on India and Mexico and smaller outfits in Eastern Europe and Portugal, as well as the continued desire to re-shore manufacturing to the U.S. to the extent possible. Blurring lines of Resi-mercial Furniture: Home and non-home furniture continues to look more alike, as historically segmented players increasingly compete in each other’s spaces. MillerKnoll (the merger of Herman Miller and Knoll) has a huge home furnishings presence with its various brands including DWR, Muuto and HermanMilleronline.com. Steelcase has an alliance with several home furnishings companies. Haworth has huge residential product offerings. HNI has several online portals for home and home office furniture. Competition is growing around every corner, and we expect this to continue, and we expect these players to be major contenders for residential market share and digitally native direct-to-enterprise plays.

Shows/Showrooms:

There is increasing pressure on the markets to become modern and relevant in this new economy. The casual market is leaving Chicago and moving to Atlanta. The Neocon show for commercial furniture now has two competing properties. The Las Vegas and High Point shows continue their relentless cadence of four “can’t miss” residential shows per year, amidst various challenges such as the 100+ degree weather of the Vegas market in July and staggering vacancies in the main buildings in High Point as more exhibitors are building their own destination venues, no doubt drawn by the allure of year-round showcases to key customers. More and more vendors are no longer showing at all and are using alternative marketing tools to reach their customers. There is no clear answer to this complex issue. We see a mixed bag of headwinds and tailwinds going into 2023. But overall, we are bullish on the furniture industry and the U.S. economy. 2023 should be a good year. Bring it on.

What Sells: UPHOLSTERY: The Choice of Comfort

Based on the FurnitureCore Model developed by Impact Consulting Services, parent company to Home Furnishings Business, research shows that the category has maintained its steady climb, finishing 2021 with $53.98 billion in sales and up from $43.34 billion in 2020 – a 24.6% increase. Although skyrocketing demand across all durable goods is settling down, upholstery sales in the second quarter of 2022 were still 4.6% higher than the previous quarter and 3% higher than the same quarter in 2021. With sales of $28.01 in 2022 Q2 year-to-date, the upholstery category accounts for 34.9% of the total furniture industry.

While comfort is no stranger to the world of motion furniture, manufacturers are placing great importance on bridging comfort and style. “Comfort drives our business,” says Anthony Teague, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Jackson Catnapper. “Aesthetically, we continue to pour our efforts into creating motion that does not look like typical reclining furniture. Catnapper has been the innovator of “pillowed motion” by utilizing the comfort of a classic motion frame core, adding a more current arm treatment and covering with stereotypical stationary fabrics.”

While sleeker, more contemporary designs have gained momentum over the last decade, the majority of consumers are still choosing comfortable, cozy pieces geared toward creating a space the whole family can enjoy. When consumers were polled during a FurnitureCore survey and asked which look they selected for their most recent upholstery furniture purchase, 56.79% selected plump, overstuffed sofas with deep seating compared to 43.21% who selected a sleek, tight body cover following the line of the furniture.

The desire for comfort has also pushed the rise in popularity for sectionals. In a survey from FurnitureCore, consumers were asked why they purchased a sectional sofa and 53.93% answered to have more seating capacity, 21.35% wanted to be able to rearrange seating set-up and 51.69% responded that the sectional matched their open room layout. The ability to customize sectionals is also a growing selling point for many consumers polled in the same survey. While 60.7% purchased the sectional sofa as it was on the sales floor, 39.33% chose to customize the product.

L & JG Stickley has found success with providing consumers the ability to customize. Regarding the company’s bestselling 7000 Series Sectional, Director of Product Development Paul Peters says, “Rather than searching endlessly for the perfect sofa, chair or sectional, customers can design a piece to their exact needs and specifications. They’re excited to choose their preferred arm style, back, base, and even seat depth, finish it in their favorite fabric or leather, and add decorating details.” Whether it’s customized from top to bottom or that perfect upholstery item found right on the sales floor, manufacturers and retailers are providing consumers with the ultimate choice of comfort.

 

Statistically Speaking: U.S. Manufacturers Cautious as Imports Surge

As the global manufacturing economy expands, sorting out the value of domestic furniture manufacturing in terms of U.S.-supplied or foreign-imported parts is tricky and complex. Five years before the 2020 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration issued a research study titled “2015: What is Made in America” to explore the subject in each of the major U.S. manufacturing sectors. The conclusions were the first to bring into focus the impact of the global economy on the U.S. furniture industry. The report showed that 18% of the gross output of domestically produced furniture and related products is foreign content. It went further to look at the distinction between the U.S. content of what we produce versus what we consume. The conclusion states that in 2015, 53% of final U.S. purchases of furniture and related products were imported, either by purchases of imported final goods or imported intermediate inputs in U.S.- produced goods. Against this backdrop, Statistically Speaking in this issue explores the ongoing crises of Made in America furniture products.

Table A illustrates how that trend has exploded since then as e-commerce took off and importing products grew easier and easier. In 2012, the ratio of domestic production to imports was more than double at 2.11 compared to 2021 at 1.17. Imported furniture and related products finally surpassed domestic production briefly for two months in April and May of this year, but then fell below June’s level (Table B). However, it is anticipated this dip is temporary. And even with the Covid-related lockdowns, primarily in China, and subsequent supply chain problems from September to November of last year, the imports recovered quickly. Since December of 2021, manufacturers’ shipments have climbed each month up to $6.22 billion in May from a low of $5.71 billion in the previous March. The climb slowed slightly in June – decreasing 1% to $6.16 billion (Table B).

Figure 1 focuses specifically on the key economic indicators for U.S. domestic manufacturing including shipments, new orders, inventories and unfilled orders. In the second quarter of this year compared to the prior first quarter, average monthly shipments, new orders and inventories all trended upward, while unfilled orders dropped 1.7%. But in the last month, June, monthly data showed shipments trending down compared to May as the other indicators all had increases. These indicators are each explored in more depth throughout this article.

Over the last 10 years, domestic manufacturers’ shipments of furniture and related products peaked in 2018 at $77.8 billion. The value of shipments began to decline in 2019 by 3.7% before diving 7.8% more in 2020 (Table C). U.S. shipments began to rebound in 2021 by 0.6% as shutdowns continued in China, opening a window for domestic manufacturers. Then in the first half of this year domestic production took off growing 6.5% compared to the first half of 2021.

After an uphill battle in 2021 with increasing consumer demand and supply chain disruptions, the value of domestic shipments in the first quarter of this year finally jumped 4.4% from $17.46 billion in 2021 Q4 to $18.23 billion in 2022 Q1. Slow growth returned in the second quarter increasing 1.7% over the prior 2022 Q1 (Table D).

Although not an exact apples-to-apples product comparison, the tables have turned for manufacturers and retailers when it comes to inventory levels. Throughout 2021 and early 2022, manufacturers of furniture and related products carried a much higher ratio of inventory to shipments compared to retailers’ inventory to sales ratios (furniture and home furnishings products) (Table E).

But in March of this year, the tide changed as retailers tended to build more inventory than manufacturers. By June of this year, the ratio of inventories to dollar shipments for manufacturers was 1.57X compared to retailers at 1.69X.

After unfilled orders increased consistently month-to-month throughout most of 2021, manufacturers have been ever-so-slowly whittling down the sizable backlog this year. However, the data for June showed a rise again of 0.5% (Table F).

In the years leading up to the pandemic (2018 – 2019), manufacturers’ monthly unfilled orders/backlog was mostly consistent at 130% of the value of shipments (ratio 1.3X). The ratio peaked in December of last year at 1.87X as unfilled orders approached double the shipment volume. In May of 2022, the backlog ratio dropped to 1.66X before popping up slightly to 1.69X in June (Table G).

New orders, the life blood of manufacturing, stayed close to $6 billion a month for most of 2021 before dipping down to $5.78 billion in November last year. However, monthly orders have consistently been above $6 billion a month since March of this year reaching $6.21 billion in June (Table H).

While manufacturers’ shipments grew consistently 2012 to 2016, the number of manufacturing establishments declined rapidly (Table I). In 2011 the number of companies manufacturing furniture and related products totaled 18,985 before falling 7.2% over the next five years to 17,623 in 2016. Since then, growth in establishments has been relatively flat until an uptick to 17,878 companies in 2021. (Table I).

While the number of manufacturing establishments was falling and shipments were growing 2012 to 2016, employment grew 12.4% by 2017 peaking at 394.9 thousand employees. Not surprisingly, employment took a dive in 2020 down to 359.1 thousand before climbing back up to 385.4 thousand over the first half of this year.

Although manufacturing employment increased rapidly at the beginning of this year, jobs peaked in March at 387.1 thousand and have been falling at roughly 0.2% a month down to 384.6 thousand in July (Table K).

Annual hourly wages have increased every year over the last decade but the biggest gains have been made in the last two years, jumping 5% to $24.17 in 2021 and another 5.3% to $25.46 in the first six months of this year (Table L). High inflation and slowing consumer demand are giving all areas of the economy pause, especially furniture manufacturers, who have seen inventories rise uncomfortably, despite steady orders. Most are taking a cautious approach forward.

Editor’s Note: And Now for the Rest of the Story

The graphic below documents the turmoil in recent history. As can be seen from historical trends, the pandemic was kind to our industry with increased sales. While the graphic is somewhat misleading in that a significant part of the increase was price increases driven by materials and transportation, the sale volume was real in terms of dollar, if not units. The fact is after the initial surge there was not a flood of consumers that returned to the store, but roughly the same number of buying groups (Ups) that were more intent on buying (close rate) even at higher prices (average ticket). The graphic below illustrates the store traffic since January 2020.

Now we are entering a new time with talk of a recession or worse. This time it looks like a normal downturn with consumers disappearing from the store, as can be seen from the same graphic as below but showing the decline from January 2022. Recession? ------- Read the Statistically Speaking article in this issue: STORM CLOUDS OVERHEAD AS INDUSTRY SLOWS. Also we are working on the September/October: STATE OF THE INDUSTRY which will include our forecast. No matter what occurs, the most important defense is your team. Many of who should be in our FORTY UNDER 40 feature.

 

Cover Story: Rising Stars: Rising to the Challenge, Leading the Change

While HFB’s Forty Under 40 Awards are a wonderful way to honor the home furnishings industry’s young and rising stars, it also provides a peek into what is happening with these young industry professionals as they make their mark. This year’s honorees are from all over the country, and they hold a variety of positions representing different segments of the industry. But the one thing they all have in common is a passion for home furnishings, the work they do and the drive to be an important part of the future of the industry. They are the rising stars who are shining bright and leading change.

The Forty Under 40 honorees you will meet here embody the words ‘rising to the challenge’ as there have been many. We can learn from these innovative thinkers as we nurture and mentor them so they can reach their full potential.

To the Class of 2022 we say, congratulations! We pass the torch to you as you lead during these changing times. To you, our readers, we hope you enjoy getting to know the Class of 2022.

JENI ALBERT, 27
Marketing Manager, Dunk & Bright Furniture

Since starting with Dunk & Bright Furniture in 2020—shortly after the COVID-19 mandated shutdown—Jeni managed to increase the company’s marketing efforts, while reducing its advertising budget by 300 basis points, which resulted in record sales in 2021. Her marketing prowess and strong business acumen is evident through the traffic figures and heavy-hitting promotions she devised to get customers excited to shop at the store. She single-handedly coordinates all the company’s marketing efforts, including search, social, TV, direct mail, OTT, SMS marketing, email marketing and web design. Not only is she savvy when it comes to digital marketing but she is also a talented graphic designer.

Jeni believes in giving back and has participated in neighborhood clean-up initiatives to better the community. She also supported a recovery effort for her family’s business after a fire destroyed their offices.

YASEMIN TEKE ARSLAN, 35
CEO and Founder, Leone di Fiume

Yasemin Teke Arslan is the CEO and founder of a luxury hand-blown glass and candle company that transforms glass into unique home accessories. She implements the vision and strategic direction of the brand. Since 2019, she has grown the company to include a retail store in Istanbul, expanded the brand’s distribution and entered the U.S. market. Under her leadership the company has expanded its product line to include whiskey decanters and glasses, as well as decorative bowls. Tapping into her keen business acumen, Teke Arslan opened new business opportunities with 10 retail stores internationally, including a well-known highend specialty store. Her success is a direct result of her work ethic, motivational abilities and leadership style.

Supporting environmentally conscious business practices, Teke Arslan launched the candle product line and worked to assure all pieces would be filled with 100% natural soy and vegan wax. Each candle includes cotton wicks and scents sourced from an environmentally responsible fragrance house. Even the packaging is biodegradable. Leone di Fiume and its parent company consistently donate to the Red Cross. This year, the company donated $30,000 in support of Ukraine humanitarian aid to assist those affected by the war with Russia.

HUNTER CHILDRESS, 29
Director of International Sales,
A.R.T. Furniture

Hunter Childress oversees the development and brand initiatives of A.R.T.’s international business by establishing retail partnerships, empowering local territory managers, and elevating brand recognition on a global scale. By reimagining the strategic direction of the channel, Childress expanded A.R.T.’s global reach to 50+ countries. He frequently collaborates with the A.R.T. product development team to create designs that support the unique needs of international markets and guides the operations team to overcome the distinct logistical requirements of the countries in which A.R.T. operates. He challenges his team to strive for the next level of excellence, producing high-achieving habits and outcomes. His work ethic, intuition, and curiosity are what drives his success.

Childress is actively involved in his local church and volunteers with a children’s ministry weekly. He is passionate about adoption and foster care services and actively supports the Woven Papyrus Adoption Project as well as The Family Room – a resource that equips foster families for new child placements.

RACHAEL CLARK, 29
Digital Experience and E-Commerce Manager, Old Brick Furniture Company, Inc.

Working in the industry since she graduated collage, Rachael Clark is a tireless worker with a mind for the future of digital retail and customer experience. She is described as one of the brightest young minds in the industry today. Spearheading all marketing and digital initiatives for Old Brick Furniture, Clark led the successful roll-out of a new web site for the store and built a very capable team that manages the site seven days a week. Since her arrival in October of 2020 e-commerce orders increased by 650%. Clark and her team also manage the stores’ social media sites, the creation of all in-store signage and the marketing calendar for nine locations.

Clark is a Be The Match volunteer and helps blood cancer and blood disease patients find matching donors for a blood stem cell transplant. She is a member of the National Bone Marrow Donors Association. Clark also leads Old Brick’s corporate donation program.

JULIA CRITELLI, 24
Manager, Critelli Furniture

As a fourth-generation member of Critelli Furniture, Julia has an impressive approach to business that is methodical, yet creative. She has helped bring the company into a new era by embracing technology and overhauling various aspects of the 100+ year old business. She is smart and savvy and has built a wonderful working relationship with her team. During the pandemic, Julia not only opened a new and more modern showroom, but she showed true leadership while helping to guide employees during lock downs. She also assured that the company stayed in touch with its customers and remained relevant during uncertain times.

The Critelli family supports many philanthropic endeavors and is very involved with the arts community in their town. Julia also leads the intern team at Critelli’s and nurtures the relationship with the local design college.

JESSICA DEVANEY, 29
General Manager, Hudson’s Furniture Showroom, Inc.

Jessica DeVaney is responsible for every aspect of Hudson Furniture’s Ocala, Florida showroom. She hires, onboards, trains, coaches, mentors, and holds her sales team accountable for meeting their goals. She also manages over $600,000 in inventory. DeVaney has shown an incredible amount of leadership growth in the last two years. Her store’s volume has increased by double digits in both written and delivered sales all while producing over 13% net income consistently. Last year, written sales volume increased 37% over 2020, delivered volume increased 47% and design segment volume increased by 72%. She has been able to keep the store fully staffed at a time when others are having difficulty hiring. DeVaney has also built a strong design culture within the store and consistently reaches top goals during promotional sales such as Wine & Design Day. To help others in the business community, DeVaney organized a local networking event for small business owners in the Ocala area.

PETER DRESSLER, 34
Manager of Product Management, STORIS

Peter Dressler is the product manager for STORIS’ e-commerce and data analytics product families. He determines the direction of these technologies and guides their entire software development lifecycle including new feature determination, prioritization, design, development, delivery, and success metrics. He works closely with other product managers to coordinate feature determination and design to ensure the company’s goal of a unified software solution is met. Dressler is a problem solver who is highly motivated to find new ways to evolve STORIS’ technology. He has an innate drive to do things better than before, which has proven to be a successful strategy to moving a technology stack towards the future. His role in the development of the eSTORIS e-commerce platform, eBridge Commerce solution, and STORIS APIs has been vital for the company’s retail customers to enable them to execute seamless e-commerce strategies.

Dressler is an active supporter of caresfoundation.org for Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, an organization that strives for advance quality health care through support, education, and research. An animal lover, Dressler has often rescued kittens and cats in need and nurses them back to health.

BLAKE FORD, 39
Senior Sales Associate, Silver Line Sleep

With more than a decade of experience in the bedding industry, Blake Ford oversees Spring Air International’s licensee Silverline Sleep’s sales operation. He has spearheaded some of the largest companywide efforts, including the development and rollout of a product line for a large, multistate retailer with more than 150 stores, bringing together multiple Spring Air factories across the country to service its distribution centers and support their sales teams. He also assisted with the creation and development of Spring Air’s supporter line and worked closely with the Spring Air team in support of the refresh of its luxury brand’s first redesign in seven years, culminating in a rollout to hundreds of stores nationwide.

Ford was a National Merit Scholar who graduated from the University of Texas and continues to be involved with programs for the college. He also volunteers for a voting rights group and partners with some of Spring Air’s major retail customers to create programs that offer free mattresses to consumers during the holidays.

OLIVIA GODFREY, 28
Director of Graphic Design, Malouf

Malouf’s creative capabilities are managed in-house and overseen by Olivia Godfrey. She leads a team of 13 web and print designers responsible for creating visual branding for Malouf Home as well as sister brands Salt Flat and Weekender. Her commitment to quality, creativity and storytelling has helped to win business from multiple retailers. Godfrey fills the gap between strategy and creative production to help her team understand the company’s approach. She led the charge for a shift from product sub-brands to all Malouf branded products that tell one cohesive story. A natural leader, Godfrey fosters an environment that encourages professional development. During her time with Malouf, the department has grown from two to 13 causing her to facilitate multiple restructures to better position her team for the future. She and her team have received 16 nationally recognized awards.

Godfrey volunteers for the Malouf Foundation establishing the brand’s identity and designing visual elements. She works with the youth in her church and actively supports local charities. She also volunteers her time as a guest presenter for the Hashimoto Communication Arts Lecture Series at Utah State University.

JULIANNE GOODWIN, 29
Advertising Manager, B.F. Myers Furniture

In charge of traditional, digital and social marketing efforts Julianne Goodwin grew up in the retail furniture business and understands what it takes to be successful in today’s landscape. She is involved in many aspects of the business including merchandising, floor design, public relations and sales. She spearheaded the advancement of the company’s social media advertising and instituted a program that has helped the brand maintain steady growth. She also brought new vision to the overall operating procedures while maintaining the foundation of long-standing company policies. In addition, Goodwin has successfully established herself as the face of the company on television as well as in other marketing efforts.

Even though Goodwin works over 40-hours each week and is the mother of a two-year-old—with a second child on the way— she still finds time to be involved in helping B.F. Meyers establish and promote its partnership with Habitat for Humanity. She also works to support the community through various other organizations. Goodwin serves on the Leadership Goodlettsville committee to help promote the city of Goodlettsville, Tennessee, which is near and dear to her heart.

DESTINI HINES, 29
Contractor Onboarding Specialist, Diakon Logistics

Destini Hines is a dynamic young professional with drive and passion for her work. She is a contractor onboarding specialist for full-service third-party logistics provider Diakon and is responsible for managing delivery associate relations, retention and new opportunities. During a very difficult driver shortage, Hines has improved driver retention and created new ways for delivery teams to increase efficiency, performance and earnings potential. She has also helped create and lead a new division of the company, Daikon on Demand, which matches delivery teams with retailers across the country for immediate delivery support without long-term commitments. This has proven to be a huge success for retailers as well as delivery teams looking for supplemental short-term work.

Hines is actively involved in the communities in which she lives and works and takes great pride in helping others. Committed to her family, she balances a demanding work schedule without sacrificing her family’s needs.

GRACIE HOFFMAN, 24
National Key Account Manager, Codarus

Gracie Hoffman began her career with Codarus five years ago, while still in college. She worked as an intern at the Laguna Design Center, where soon after she was offered a full-time position as a Codarus sales associate. Hoffman was then promoted to senior sales associate including managing and in part merchandising the showroom. Her ability to sustain and nurture solid relationships with key clients earned her the role of key account manager last year. Hoffman has a degree in interior design. Her love of interiors, coupled with her showroom sales experience has provided her with a broad understanding of the industry. Over the years, she has established strong relationships with some of Southern California’s top designers as well as attained an in-depth knowledge of Codarus’ partners and their product lines.

Hoffman is an animal lover and donates textiles and rug swatches to the local animal shelter. She also coordinates with Habitat for Humanity on product that Codarus donates from its Orange County showroom.

VILLE KARESTO, 38
Chief Sales Officer, Luonto Furniture

Ville Karesto has worked for Luonto Furniture for over 20 years. Starting with the manufacturer of sleeper sofas at age 17, he began unloading furniture containers in its Finland headquarters then moved to the U.S. in 2016 to manage the sales team. As chief sales officer, he has played a pivotal role in the company’s exponential growth. With U.S. headquarters now in Charleston, South Carolina, Luonto exports to over 20 countries across roughly 800 retail locations and is available in most major cities in the U.S. and Canada with over 240 retail locations. Considering himself a passionate furniture specialist, he values the connections he makes with his clients. In addition to running the sales department and supervising sales strategies and targets, Karesto manages highvolume marketing promotions and helps with product development.

Whether it is a Top 10 retailer, independent ethnic store or an interior designer, Karesto treats everyone equally with warmth, care and positive energy. He is one of those individuals that exudes commitment to his customers. When you meet him once, you won’t forget him.

CARA LAHTI, 26
Laurentide Product Manager, FurnitureDealer.net

Cara Lahti began her career with FurnitureDealer.net as a client solutions strategist before being promoted to product manager. She oversees Laurentide, the company’s assistance tool that helps customers get in contact with retailers and receive help through their shopping journey. Lahti manages everything from client relationships to working with the tech team to develop new features. During the pandemic, she led the organization and successful implementation of a virtual user conference. Having completed the FurnitureDealer.net Leaders in Training program, Lahti will be helping to lead the program for future classes. She has been a vital part of the management team, taking on new responsibilities while training new team members to make sure her team is fulfilling their duties.

Lahti is an active member of her church and local community. Her passion for dance drives her to volunteer her time with underprivileged kids who share the same passion. She is a member and volunteer for WithIt, a non-profit organization dedicated to mentoring, education and leadership development for women in the home furnishings industry.

LUKE LARSEN, 32
Lead Vendor Relations Manager, BrandSource/AVB Marketing

A consummate team player, Luke Larsen is described as a “salt of the earth, humble midwestern guy” who has a great future in the home furnishings industry. As the team lead for vendor relations managers, he is responsible for enhancing AVB’s relationship with 250+ furniture brands. He has demonstrated a keen understanding of all aspects of the furniture business, especially the digital side. During his tenure, Larsen established a best-in-class digital catalog with 250+ brands, coached and onboarded new vendor relations managers. He is known for always putting the retailer first.

Larsen is a family man who regularly helps older members of his community with their groundskeeping needs. He also regularly donates blood to help save the lives of people in need.

JUSTIN LEHMAN, 39
Director of Technology, Partner, Interiors Home

As director of technology, Justin Lehman oversees and manages all aspects of the software, electronic hardware and web systems for Interiors Home as well as the training required for the staff to ensure proper implementation. He is also a shareholder in the company and assists the president/CEO in strategic decision making. Lehman was responsible for the research and selection of the company’s new enterprise software and hardware systems and oversaw the training and implementation at all levels of the organization. He put Microsoft Surface laptops in the hands of all retail/design associates and through education and skill assessments ensured that they meet the competencies and utilization goals. Due to his background in banking, Lehman was able to provide insight, document analysis and term negotiation for the company’s decision to switch to a new bank.

AMBER LEVITZ, 38
Vice President, New Product and Corporate Display

Amber Levitz exemplifies leadership qualities that have helped grow her family’s business to become a Top 100 furniture company. Although she has varied merchandising responsibilities, she is fully in charge of new product direction and display plans for all seven of the companies stores, including Sam Levitz, Sam’s Outlet and Ashley Home Stores in the company’s southern Arizona market. Amber has played a significant role in the development of three cutting edge Ashley stores. Her ability to initiate new store design ideas have been recognized by other store owners and incorporated into their stores. She has also played a lead role in successfully keeping the company’s three brands connected through social media.

Levitz is a member of the Home Furnishings Association and the CXO Leadership Group. She brings a youthful, forwardthinking approach to the 70-yearold company. She is well respected in the industry and is recognized for her talents by many. Described as fun-loving, she possesses numerous qualities that make her easy to work with. Levitz has made significant contributions that have led to the company being the largest contributor to its local Humane Society to help end suffering for all animals.

KATIE LIETZ, 32
Director of Marketing, Advertising Concepts of America (ACA)

As director of marketing with ACA, Katie Lietz is responsible for overseeing projects and campaigns for over 100 furniture retailers across the U.S and Canada - including many Top 100 retailers. She meets with store owners and their marketing teams daily to discuss goals and budgets and plan effective ways to reach target demographics. She also works on video assets for manufacturers and their clients, informing them about new and upcoming products. Solution-oriented and a team player, Lietz worked with companies during the pandemic to create virtual showroom tours. A savvy social media user, she tests new ideas and trends on Instagram and shares her knowledge of the ever-changing algorithms with clients to keep them up to date and always ahead of the trend.

Active in her community, Lietz volunteers at the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Florida to fundraise, clean up beaches and help rescue turtle hatchlings. She works with Empty Bowls, a national grassroots event that raises funds for hunger relief. She also provided help during the Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort by organizing two U-Haul trucks full of essential items after the hurricane hit Texas.

ANIKO MAHAN, 29
Director of Operations, Malouf Foundation

As the director of operations for the Malouf Foundation, the charitable arm of Malouf dedicated to confronting child sexual exploitation through education, healing, and justice, Aniko Mahan manages all foundation events like Golf for Freedom, Art for CAPSA and the Human Trafficking Policy and Education Summit. Additionally, Mahan helps supervise the foundation’s high-level initiatives, including OnWatch, Rooms Restored and the Family Justice Center. An invaluable part of the Malouf Foundation team, she has been instrumental in the ideation, execution, and expansion of events and initiatives. Mahan is currently managing all event logistics for the foundation’s inaugural Human Trafficking Policy and Education Summit to help individuals and organizations discover new solutions to combating trafficking. In 2020, the Malouf Foundation raised over $110,000 (the highest amount ever raised) to support child advocacy centers nationwide.

As an outdoor enthusiast and avid skier, she actively volunteers for an outdoor nonprofit group called Nordic United of Cache Valley. She has fostered over 15 dogs through the Cache Humane Society and other shelters.

RYAN MAHONEY, 37
Senior Vice President of Furniture Leasing, International Market Centers

Starting with International Market Centers (IMC) when he was 23 years old, Ryan Mahoney was selling advertising and helping manufacturers and service provider’s build their brands. In 2015, he advanced to his current position where he manages a team of leasing agents and assures occupancy in showrooms. He nurtures relationships that offer value as he assists exhibitors in defining and attaining their market goals. Mahoney’s credo is “always do the right thing,” which is why he is trusted and respected by so many. His presence at all IMC campuses contributes to its position of strength and credibility, which in turn has driven new opportunities. At the same time, he has developed inventive pricing structures to achieve corporate goals. He was responsible for spearheading the campaign to win the bid for the International Casual Furniture Association exhibition, which ultimately resulted in the event being relocated to the AmericasMart in Atlanta.

Mahoney is extremely generous with his time and has worked tirelessly with the City of Hope’s home furnishings team to raise awareness of the lifesaving work they do and to raise funds to help with ongoing support for the organization.

HENRY MCREE, 40
Account Executive, Wm T Burnett & Co Nonwovens

Henry McRee made the move from North Carolina to the West Coast 15 years ago to serve as an account executive for Wm T Burnett & Co Nonwovens. As account executive and key account manager he has built a solid customer base and knows all the players in the market, from competitors to suppliers. Before joining Wm T Burnett & Co Nonwovens, he was a teaching fellow in the department of economics as a master’s candidate. He ultimately chose to pursue a MBA in finance, which has served him well in his career. McRee is a member of the Consumer Product Safety Council.

McRee is an active member of his church as well as in his local community. He is the chairperson for the board of finance at his local church in Scottsdale, Arizona. Volunteering his time since college, he was president of the Order of Omega and the scholarship chair for three years.

GRANT MILLIKAN, 35
Director of Inside Sales and Lead Purchasing Agent for the Furniture Division at C&L Supply

A master of many trades Grant Millikan manages the customer service team at C&L Supply, but he also works closely with inbound and outbound logistics partners and helps to manage key accounts. He is the lead purchasing agent for the furniture division and is an astute buyer who oversees furniture merchandising for four distribution centers. Millikan creates the company catalog as well as all inhouse promotions and ads. Since joining the company in 2010, Millikan has helped grow the furniture division by over 300%, thanks to his attention to detail, knowledge of the furniture industry and willingness to take on difficult projects and see them to completion.

Millikan demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to the furniture industry and is described as a role model within the industry as well as in his local community. He serves as president of the Vinita Rotary Club as well as a member of the board and helped execute several philanthropic initiatives. He has also partnered with local businesses to provide Christmas sacks for nursing home residents and participates in a program that drills wells for rural communities in Central America.

PATRICIA NIELSEN, 26
Vice President, The Furniture Gallery

At 26, Patricia Nielsen has taken to managing the Furniture Gallery’s Augusta, Maine location like a fish takes to water. She eases through whatever needs to be done without hesitation. On any given day, she can be found in the warehouse setting up racks and loading trucks or waiting on customers, placing orders and making sure the store operations are running smoothly. If a customer wants to speak to an owner or manager, Nielsen handles the task with the skills of a consummate professional. She possesses excellent communication skills, fresh new ideas and the knowledge to implement them. She is also the face of The Furniture Gallery in the company’s television commercials.

With a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in small business management, Nielsen possess the skills needed to continue to be successful. She is a member of the Sigma Nu Tau Entrepreneurship Honor Society. Nielsen donates her time to Habitat for Humanity and has also volunteered at homeless shelters to help those who are less fortunate.

ANTONIO PAXTLE, 34
Store Manager, Hometrends – Ashley Stores of Central Nebraska

Antonio Paxtle has been working for Hometrends and Ashley Stores of Central Nebraska since he was 19. He started on the sales team and progressed to sales manager before assuming his role as store manager. In his current role, Paxtle has led his store to a 91% increase in volume over seven years. He has coached many top performers and created a culture of winning, growth and service to the community. He leads the company’s internal Hometrends Leadership Academy, an 18 month, invite only curriculum to identify, grow and develop the next generation of leaders in the company. He is responsible for coordinating speakers, break-out sessions and post-session surveys for the initiative. He also led his team successfully through an enterprise resource planning (ERP) change during pandemic-related shutdowns.

Paxtle and his team have participated in many on-site and off-site volunteer activities for Habitat for Humanity, Hope to Dream, the Chamber of Commerce, American Red Cross, Alzheimer’s Association and Race for Grace. He also led efforts to help families affected by historic flooding in 2019 that displaced hundreds of families by donating furniture and mattresses.

JANE PETERSON, 34
Human Resources Manager, Steinhafels

Jane Peterson is a highly regarded leader at Steinhafels. Her passion and dedication have been recognized and celebrated throughout the organization. Her primary responsibility is to provide guidance to associates of all levels. She performs above par to demonstrate her genuine care for the associate experience at Steinhafels. Tackling challenging tasks head on, Peterson is solutions oriented.

When Steinhafels stores were allowed to reopen in May 2020, one of the company’s biggest challenges was hiring staff. With determination and tenacity Peterson was able to onboard associates for stores and distribution centers in Wisconsin and Illinois hiring qualified delivery driver teams and forklift operators. She created a sales internship program that has enhanced recruiting efforts, and designed, implemented and streamlined management training programs that have enhanced the knowledge and skill of Steinhafels’ managers. As a mother of two young children, Peterson is very involved in her children’s activities and is active in her church and local community.

JONATHAN PEYKAR, 39
President of Hospitality Division, Nourison

Nourison is a leading floor covering and home accents manufacturer that was founded in 1980 and is now employing its third generation of family members. When the company committed to becoming a leading supplier to the worldwide hospitality market, Jonathan (Johnny) Peykar methodically assembled a group of the industry’s leading management, administration, design, planning and estimating, manufacturing and sales talent to help grow the business. His efforts paid off as Nourison Hospitality has consistently increased its revenue by 30%, year after year. He has set a new standard of luxury and style in the world of premium quality floor covers and continues to manage every aspect of the day-to-day operations. Working with Johnny makes the process even easier, according to his clients who say he is always available to help move things along and obtain whatever information is needed to assure successful projects.

With a charitable heart, Johnny supports the City of Hope, Boston Children’s Hospital and Shriner’s Hospital. He also donates his time in support of many other charities.

COLE PHILIPS, 30
Manager, Affordable Portable

Cole Philips is a personable leader with a strong work ethic and demonstrated ability to oversee the daily operations of Affordable Portables furniture store. He handles a tremendous amount of responsibility and balances it with his strong organizational skills and wonderful sense of humor. He is driven to succeed and possesses people skills that make working with him a joy. Philips’ duties include ordering furniture, managing customer orders and organizing deliveries and service calls. With honesty and integrity, he interacts with clients in a way that provides outstanding customer support and solves challenges that may arise to everyone’s satisfaction.

Philips’ commitment to his community is as strong as his commitment to work. He has donated his time to homeless organizations and has worked with the Make-AWish Foundation. His primary philanthropic focus is for Planting Seeds International, an organization in Guatemala that provides preschool and adult education.

KYLE ROBERTSON, 36
Vice President, Product, Malouf

When he joined Malouf over eight years ago, Kyle Robertson assumed all product development responsibilities. Since then, he built a team that now consists of 25 people. He is responsible for 55+ vendor relationships across 18 countries overseeing sourcing, merchandising, product design and quality assurance for 13,000+ SKUs—including sister brands Salt Flat and Weekender. In support of Malouf’s commitment to sustainable practices, Robertson is responsible for the supplier and supply chain conduct in relation to corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and governance. He is a valued member of the senior leadership team where he helps shape the direction of the company for long-term sustainability and success.

When Malouf donated over 40,000 bedding items during the pandemic, Robertson helped champion the cause and assisted with logistics for the donations. He also supports the Malouf Foundation’s awareness and fundraising events. He volunteers as a Sunday School teacher for the youth in his church. Robertson is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

DIANA SAMUELS, 37
Director of Operations, Harounian Rugs International

As the director of operations, Diana Samuels is responsible for overseeing buying, product and product development while managing company resources. She uses her keen organizational talents to develop, maintain and improve operational plans at Harounian Rugs. Samuels began her career in the medical field as a sonographer before switching over to the home furnishings industry in 2014. During her eight years at Harounian, she has upheld the high standards of producing an ever-changing group of creations specifically designed to complement today’s home fashion trends, while ensuring the best value. Driven by results, Samuels has flourished in her demanding role, executing multiple skills and her broad range of knowledge in all aspects of the company.

Samuels is actively involved in the communities in which she lives and works and takes pride in helping others.

STEVE SCHWINN, 37
Owner/President, Ironhorse Home

Steve Schwinn runs two of the three stores in the IronHorse family business and with his help it has grown exponentially and now occupies a 15,000 square feet showroom. He values his customers and takes the time to understand their needs, which is what makes him so successful. A hard worker Schwinn not only contributes to his business, but to his community and the furniture industry at large. He is a trustee for the Contemporary Design Group (CDG), a national association of independent home furnishings retailers specializing in modern and contemporary design. Schwinn was asked to join the board after just a few years of membersip due to his business acumen. He brings refreshing insight and an out-of-the-box perspective to his position.

Schwinn is supportive of the local artist community and hosts them with openings and displays at the store. He also supports the local community food bank. In addition, he owns a home in Nicaragua and when there supports the local medical clinic.

ZACHARY THOMAS SHILEN, 29
Vice President of Sales, Leather Italia USA

Zachary Shilen has shown tremendous leadership in his role as vice president of sales at Leather Italia. He is an enthusiastic and optimistic sales professional with a proven track record of stewardship to the organizations’ sales function. Infused with energy, Shilen brings a fresh perspective to his job, his team and the company and represents everything it means to be a young, up-and-coming, industry leader. He aspires to contribute to the success of the company through a dedicated, tenacious effort and process driven focus. Through his efforts, he has increased the sales force and the company’s customer base over 100% since 2016. An active member of his local community, Shilen led efforts to collect sanitary products for individuals in need during the COVID pandemic. He has also led multiple food drives to collect donations for the Red Cross and helps collect toys and gifts from the community for the annual free Christmas Shop for kids during the holidays.

ROBERT SPILMAN III, 31
General Manager, Lane Venture, Bassett Outdoor

When Robert Spilman joined Lane Venture in 2018, he made an immediate impact. As national sales manager, he restructured the salesforce and attracted new talent to the brand. After being promoted to general manager, he oversaw the introduction of new product lines, the acquisition of a new domestic facility in Alabama, and achieved exponential sales growth. Spilman, who represents the fifth generation of his family with Bassett Industries, has played an essential role in restoring the Lane Venture brand reputation and path to profitability, including a 40% year- over-year sales increase. He helped increase domestic manufacturing capacity through the strategic acquisition of a domestic manufacturing facility and assured growth was accomplished using environmentally sustainable means. In 2021 Lane Venture recycled 48 tons of materials, while the Alabama facility repurposed over 21,000 pounds of aluminum.

Embedded in his community, Spilman is a youth leader at his church and a trustee for the Linville Foundation, which raises funds to encourage and support students in their pursuit of higher education. He is also involved in several other local charitable organizations.

ABBY STIEGLITZ, AGE 36
Lead Merchandiser, Klopfenstein HomeRooms Furniture

As the lead merchandiser and designer at Klopfenstein HomeRooms Furniture, Abby Stieglitz is responsible for five highvolume stores. She has contributed greatly to the company’s success, ensuring that all visual merchandising across each store’s showroom is styled as planned. With focused creativity, Stieglitz manages design layouts of merchandising displays, while understanding the company’s customer segments and how product and shopping preferences in each store varies by customer type. Wearing many hats, she relies on organization and efficiency to oversee purchasing as well as for hiring the merchandise and design staff. Positive, creative and enthusiastic, she thinks quickly on her feet and adapts easily to change. Stieglitz has volunteered her time to orchestrate the design, funding and set-up of all the furnishings for a new and state-ofthe-art Rescue Mission, an 80+ bed facility in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. As a mentor of her church’s youth group and nursery, she loves to help those in need while feeling blessed by the talents and energy she has been given.

ALBERT G. TAHAN, 33
VP Merchandising, Joe Tahan’s Furniture and Mattresses

As the vice president of merchandising, Al Tahan has managed overall strategy and execution of product assortment, marketing, pricing and in-store placement for Joe Tahan’s Furniture and Mattresses. Alongside his twin brother Joe, Al is involved in all aspects of the business including customer service, advertising, buying, warehousing, e-commerce and more. As a third-generation leader, he has risen through the ranks from warehouse work to sales to executive management. Overseeing a fourth new store and new distribution center, Tahan works tirelessly to improve the company for all its associates.

Tahan actively supports the United Way and campaigns for breast cancer awareness in his local community by raising funds instore and through local fundraisers. A fitness enthusiast, Al has created and held body competitions. He is a selfless leader, working in both the community and business to lead the way for future growth.

JOSEPH H. TAHAN, 33
VP Customer Service, Joe Tahan’s Furniture and Mattresses

Joe Tahan and his twin brother Al have grown up in the family business. Rising through the ranks from warehouse work to sales to executive management, Joe has worked from the bottom up. As vice president of customer service, he has helped develop the company’s customer service strategy and manages the overall performance of employees and processes to achieve the highest level of customer satisfaction. In addition to customer service, Joe is involved in merchandising, advertising, buying, warehousing and e-commerce. He is a major contributor to the company’s growth, overseeing a fourth store and a new distribution center. Tahan supports several charitable organizations and volunteers his time to help others. He has created breast cancer awareness campaigns, raising funds in-store and within the local community. As a strong believer in health and fitness, he helps to lead body building competitions.

SAM VLESSING, 30
Founder and CEO, CommerceBear

Sam Vlessing is a fourth-generation furniture industry veteran. Building his first sofa at the age of 13, he spent years working for the family’s business before founding CommerceBear. As the chief executive officer, Vlessing is responsible for business strategy, direction, and overall performance of the company. This includes corporate and board governance, capitalization of the organization, shareholder/stakeholder relations and leadership team alignment. He is also responsible for ultimate attainment of revenue and sales targets as well as company-wide objectives and key results. Over time, Vlessing has led the business in a new direction pivoting from selling direct to working with furniture manufactures to help them sell their products online through retailers such as Wayfair, Amazon, Overstock, etc. Through his perseverance and tenacity, CommerceBear is successfully positioned as a leader in the furniture technology space.

An active member of the Toronto community, Vlessing is an advisory board member at Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers (CEMM). The CEMM supplied emergency medical equipment to the Government of Ontario, City of Toronto, University Health Network, and many more municipalities across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

LAUREN WARD, 34
Creative Director, Massoud Furniture

In the creative world it is hard to find someone that is both a right and left-brain thinker, but Lauren Ward is exactly that. She is analytical and methodical as well as creative and artistic, which has served her and Massoud Furniture very well. Ward started with the company in 2017 and immediately gained the confidence of her team members as well as customers and prospective accounts. Since then, Massoud has grown by 60% with new product introductions doubling in placement as compared to the previous five-year period. Her talent, organizational abilities, collaborative mindset and fresh approach assures that all creative elements are properly aligned with the company’s vision and brand standards, which contributes to the success of the sales and merchandising departments. Ward is a member of Preservation Dallas, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of historic buildings and neighborhoods in Dallas, a volunteer at East Lake Pet Orphanage and takes the lead on visual merchandising for furniture and decor at Second Chance Treasures, the vintage resale shop that benefits homeless pets.

FALYN WEINERT, 38
Director of Merchandising, Matter Brothers Furniture

Falyn Weinert’s primary responsibility is to develop and oversee Matter Brothers Furniture merchandising strategy including product selection and showroom display. Tapping into her retail background in apparel and home furnishings, she has elevated the store’s product assortment and stocking position through data-driven decisions resulting in better overall performance for the retailer that will help scale the business for future growth. Using innovative product lineups to create lifestyle vignettes that inspire consumers, Weinert and her team are creating a cohesive and immersive shopping experience that has inspired consumers to shift from purchasing individual pieces to entire rooms including core pieces, textiles and accessories. With a fresh perspective, she has also helped improve the workplace culture instilling a team mentality that has resonated across the company. A mother of two boys, Weinert serves as decor chair for an annual gala at her local Catholic school that helps offset tuition fees making private education more affordable for families. She also volunteers as a den leader with the local Cub Scout Troop.

ERIN WEIR, 39
Co-founder and Vice President, Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting

Erin Weir is referred to as the “glue” that keeps Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting together. She manages the leadership team to assure company goals are met while meeting the needs of clients. An innovative leader, Weir has used her love for and knowledge of interior design and her analytical and creative skills to help established interior designers achieve their goals and grow their businesses. She is committed to success and in doing so finds success. Weir has helped clients achieve 10 times their revenue and net profit. She has cocreated professional design business seminars, organized major events, managed partnerships and directed marketing, PR and social media initiatives. She is an inspiring leader who leads by positive example. In her spare time, Weir serves as a classroom volunteer at her local elementary school, where she created and co-chaired a Blue Jeans & Bow Ties Auction. She enjoys helping those less fortunate, especially during the holidays by participating in a Thanksgiving Box Collection and community Thanksgiving dinner. Weir also volunteers her time to help raise funds for the Colorado Professional Firefighters Association.

SUSIE WURSTER, 34
Vice President, Elements International

Susie Wurster has been an integral part of Elements International’s rapid growth. She is responsible for all marketing efforts for Elements, Style-Line and Elements Sleep, and manages the print and digital catalogs, marketing collateral, image assets, and product content. She is also responsible for the maintenance, visual design and set-up for Elements 45,000-square-foot High Point showroom. In fact, one of her biggest achievements has been the acquisition of the company’s Main Street showroom. She was engaged in all aspects of the transaction from the building inspections and remodeling to price negotiations and closing. Without Wurster, the deal would not have happened. She is a remarkable young leader who has performed at a very high level.

For many years Wurster has led Elements’ Adopt a Family program, which helps provide less fortunate families with food, necessities, gifts and holiday cheer around Christmas. She takes on this task with compassion and a genuine desire to help others. Wurster also serves as a trustee for the Mesquite Chamber of Commerce and supports a variety of charities and ministries.

In 2017, Steven Allegrezza was 32 years-old and working in merchandising and new business development for Magnussen Home. Since then he has excelled to a new position with an industry association and is once again brought before you as a repeat honoree.

STEVEN ALLEGREZZA, 37 Managing Director, International Home Furnishings Representatives Association

As the managing director of the International Home Furnishings Representatives Association (IHFRA) Steve Allegrezza oversees both the physical and virtual office and oversees the development of digital strategy through events, podcasts and member training. Under his leadership, IHFRA overcame the obstacles related to the pandemic by revamping the website and drawing members in through the implementation of key webinars. During Allegrezza’s tenure, the company has seen a 20% growth in membership. He represents IHFRA by serving on High Point Market’s First Tuesday board. Originally from a computer and e-commerce background with roles at Apple, Magnussen and Manwah, he uses his critical thinking skills as a calm yet effective problem solver.

Allegrezza is an active member of his church and local community. He donates his time teaching Sunday School classes and working with group of challenged eighth graders. He also shares his love of hockey by coaching a youth hockey team.

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