Home Furnishings Business: In regard to the Thomasville Stores, the goal was to sell more furniture. However, what was the strategy that you believed would be a win for both manufacturers and retailers?
- In late ’70s, there was an industry need to strengthen the relationship between larger manufacturers and retailers. Manufacturing was dominated by great companies such as Broyhill, Lexington, Bassett, Henredon, Drexel-Heritage, and Thomasville, serving a highly fragmented retail base of 15,000 retail companies with over 40,000 retail outlets.
Manufacturing companies were run by experienced, talented leaders, who focused on product development and manufacturing. Their world revolved around new products, designed in secrecy and introduced at restricted showrooms. Product success was defined by store placements, sales results, and group longevity.
Dealers wanted manufacturer agreements to product exclusivity in their market
Larger retailers had some product development and design influence, but at the end of the day, manufacturers drove the train up to the marketplace.
Our strategy was to create, introduce, and maintain Thomasville tools and systems, which created synergies between our company and selected retailers.
To begin, we had to have an in-store stage for each retail partner, and so Thomasville Galleries and ultimately Thomasville Stores were developed.
This idea of driving a business through integrated supplier and retailer teamwork was new and different. We had to have product design discipline, so we took standard good-better-best product categorization and styles and organized the spaces with the best groups for each box.
Early on, we confirmed that we had to have a Thomasville Upholstery to make marketing sense to our retail partners and attract and sell consumers. So we began with the acquisition of an excellent, mid-market upholstery company in Statesville (N.C.) in 1984, adding three more upholstery companies over the next five years.
In both wood and upholstery, each group went through a development process that included strong marketplace input through our talented Sales Representative Advisory Groups and very important summer retailer meetings. This input from the marketplace was essential, while also serving to strengthen our teamwork.
To attack manufacturing costs, we introduced a quality management program, which evolved into our highly effective process improvement program. Costs were dramatically reduced, manufacturing cycles shortened, and high-quality products became even better.
Here again, teamwork was the driver, as employees were trained in team culture and measurement, and work cells took over plant management. In fact, as our business grew, we were able to increase capacity and reduce costs through fewer mistakes and greater efficiencies, while not investing in new plants. And our retailer partners were happy to have even better product quality and faster delivery.
Early on, it became evident that our factories and warehouses were saddled with obsolete inventories, as discontinued product groups left a trail of parts and finished goods. We had product groups that had been dropped months, even years, earlier, tying up space and cash. Here was a wonderful example of our Thomasville-retailer partnership, as our retailers jumped at the chance to sell huge amounts of discontinued Thomasville goods at significant discounts. And we could now put into inventory what was selling rather than what was not selling and take the second logistical step by starting our inventory management program.
The inventory management program was among our most significant Thomasville partnership assets. In the true spirit of Thomasville-retailer teamwork, we were eventually able to become the retailer’s warehouse with data-driven forecasting leading to a shipping average of over 95 percent of 1,400 SKUs in no more than 10 days (most shipments were within 48 hours). The retailer’s inventory investment in Thomasville became primarily, if not solely, in floor samples.
When we began our retailer partnership program, the Thomasville brand was in fourth position nationally in brand awareness among furniture manufacturers. We believed that we had to take our brand to number one in support of our retailer partnership. This would be a great way to pool the Thomasville brand advertising dollars, so we budgeted the cost around three investment sources and uses. Thomasville with a national advertising budget, Thomasville retailers with their 5-8 percent allocated advertising budgets, and retailers with Thomasville Gallery and Store signage budgets.
With this as the plan, we built advertising around this team action. Thomasville created and implemented the national program around upper-end home furnishings magazines network advertising. The theme was, “Thomasville, So Nice to Come Home To”, expressing fashion and warmth. All ads were shot in beautiful, luxury homes, loaded with customer aspiration.
Our retail partners were fantastic in their advertising support of the Thomasville brand. As we grew, their budgeted advertising dollars increased to remarkable levels. To fuel this, we provided co-op ad dollars and a steady flow of high-end advertising materials for local usage. And we re-did our Thomasville logo to give our Store and Gallery signage a new, eye-catching look.
It took seven years of steady advertising pressure, but we did reach a tie for the number one brand with another full line manufacturer. And the number one brand awareness and home expert image drove quality retail traffic and sales success. This was a great competitive advantage for our retail partners.
Thomasville Galleries and Store merchandising was built around in-store room displays, showing good-better-best wood and upholstery groups in beautifully accessorized displays. Again, we always displayed our five style categories with other groups shown in each style segment through highly attractive room photography. Our Gallery and Store traffic and display layouts, piece selections, and accessories were designed by our exceptional Gallery and Store designers.
The most important part of any retail operation is the sales associate—the warm store greeting of customers and knowing when and how to approach them, coupled with a strong, firsthand knowledge of Thomasville manufacturing commitments to quality.
To support our retail sales associates, we developed and ran 10 sales training classes, averaging 20-25 sales associates, in one-and-a-half-day periods. The results were exceptional, not only with the learning and results, but also the opportunity to directly strengthen the bond between Thomasville and retailer.
HFB: Why did the expansion of the concept to other FBI companies not succeed? Was it more than just execution?
Starr: The other FBI companies were loaded with talent and had an excellent knowledge of the home furnishings industry, but with Thomasville committed to galleries and stores, the other companies elected to stay with their traditional manufacturing focus.
HFB: In the past 20 years, the power balance has shifted to retailers. What would the industry look like today if that had not occurred?
Starr: It’s a natural conclusion that some type(s) of nexus between manufacturer, retailer, and consumer would have been created. In fact, back in the 2001 dot.com bust, several start-ups attempted to create a more efficient home furnishings sale, where the consumer shopped, chose, and ordered from an e-commerce site. None of these survived, primarily to 31percent-33 percent returns. Wayfair is taking another shot at this, and certainly has the investment funding to prove or disprove the concept. Time will tell.
Market proximity is quite an advantage for American manufacturers, and we’re seeing this working with motion upholstery in Mississippi! Imagine manufacturers building cost structures comparable to Asian manufacturing-freight costs in wood furniture.
HFB: What are some ways manufacturers have innovated since the 1980s, such as manufacturer-direct stores?
Starr: Not sure if there’s much, if any, serious manufacturer-retailer activity in innovation. Ethan Allen is surviving, but Farooq seems to be fighting a headwind.
Many of us have always been told to follow our dreams, but the truth is that’s not always the most practical path. Don’t misunderstand—following your dreams is a good thing, but sometimes pursuing those dreams just doesn’t pay the bills.
In his commencement speech to Stanford’s graduating class in 2005, Steve Jobs offered the following advice to the graduates: “You’ve got to find what you love … The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” In other words, figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that coincides with that passion.
However, sometimes we bounce between following our dreams and ignoring our passion, says Morten T. Hansen from the School of Information, University of California at Berkeley. In a study of 5,000 employees and managers, Hansen found that some people not only pursue passion in navigating their careers, but they also connect that passion with a clear sense of purpose on the job. He says, “While passion is ‘do what you love’ purpose is ‘do what contributes.’” And those who match passion with purpose, he says, perform better than their peers.
The honorees of this year’s Home Furnishings Business Class of 2018 Forty Under 40 personify this concept. There is plenty of passion and purpose in the inductees profiled on the following pages. For example, take a look at our honorary inductees, Drew and Jonathan Scott. From a very young age they had their eye on becoming entertainers, but they never expected it to happen with a tool belt and a real estate license. The Scott Living furniture collection was born because fans had been relentlessly asking them when they would create a line of furniture that incorporated their standard for quality and affordability.
Ultimately, they took the home furnishings industry by storm with multiple licensed collections, including an indoor furniture program with Coaster of America that started with 300 SKUs and grew to more than 650 SKUs in just one year.
“We’re passionate about engaging customers and delivering a meaningful assortment of product,” Drew said.
“We have our hands in every aspect of the creation process because it’s our passion. The purpose is to create new stuff that people haven’t seen,” Jonathan said.
For the Scott brothers, their fans’ passion became their purpose.
The profiles you will read on the following pages recognize those who have made outstanding contributions in the industry through passion and purpose. This recognition signals a bright future for them and will set the stage for great leadership into the future. While our honorees come from different segments of the industry, all of them possess the same qualities: They are passionate, successful individuals who do not let anything stand between them and their vision. They’re not afraid to break the mold if it means moving their brands, teams and companies forward. They deliver on business goals and meeting the needs of customers, not only in the brick-and-mortar world but online as well.
Once again, we bring together and celebrate those who are at the top of their game. They stand out from the crowd and we applaud them for their accomplishments, their business acumen, their passion and their determination during a time of such change in the industry.
Cheers to five years of Forty Under 40, and the road ahead!
Elana Stone Anderson, 31
Position: Vice President of Marketing
Elana is responsible for overseeing all marketing activities for BedMart Mattress Superstores, including action-oriented advertising targeted to increase door swings and brand awareness within Oregon, Southwest Washington and Hawaii. In addition to her marketing role, she also serves as BedMart’s furniture buyer, helping launch the company’s first furniture-only location. Elana embodies the tenacity and spirit of a young entrepreneur. She works tirelessly to ensure BedMart’s success and challenges herself and the company to have a strong presence in the marketplace, while pushing BedMart’s philanthropic goals and achievements higher and higher.
Elana was a finalist in the Oregon State University Austin Family Business Program. She was also recognized in the mattress industry as a Top 40 Under 40 and won the 31st Annual Spirit of Portland Mayor’s Award. She also served as an ambassador board member for Albertina Kerr Centers, a leading provider of services to children, adults and families with emotional or mental health challenges.
Nick Bates, 31
Company: Spring Air
Nick became president of Spring Air in January 2017 and is one of the youngest presidents in the bedding business. He is responsible for providing strategic leadership to establish long-range goals, strategy and policies. He plans, develops, organizes and implements the company’s fiscal performance. Nick brings a unique consumer perspective to his post and is making an effort to shift the company’s appeal to millennials. He has refocused Spring Air so that licensees work via committee to improve the organization’s profitability. He also created an environment in which all stakeholders are empowered to share their ideas/opinions directly to his office. Under Nick’s leadership, Spring Air has re-engaged with the bedding industry.
Within six months of taking the reins, Nick partnered with Love Your Melon to help combat pediatric cancer by helping fund research and awareness. He is also a committed sponsor of the Pan-Mass Challenge, the annual cyclist ride to raise money for cancer research.
Christopher Casey, 35
Position: Finance Manager
Chris Casey manages credit, customer service, logistics and distribution for all U.S. domestic upholstery manufacturing operations for Ekornes in Somerset, N.J. and Morganton, N.C. He has proven his leadership skills in various areas and was instrumental in getting Ekornes’ N.C. factory operational, bringing over 40 jobs to western N.C. He is described as an outstanding young man with imagination, energy and enthusiasm and is expected to become an even bigger contributor to the future of Ekornes and the industry. He reports directly to the president, Peter Bjerragaard.
Chris has an MBA in Accounting and Finance and is the NAFTA-certified lead for Ekornes, He also handle FTZ certification for their N.J. location. When he’s not focused on work, Chris is a committed husband, and father of three small girls that keep him quite busy.
Holly Clark, 34
Company: The Biltmore Company
Position: Manager of Marketing, Biltmore Licensed Consumer Products
As a licensing marketer, Holly Clark is committed to helping Biltmore licensees reach success and optimize their investment. She is a highly effective problem-solver and a sought-after source for innovative ideas. Holly is a vital source of strategic thinking and brings positive energy to the Biltmore team. She exhibits great integrity, passion and dedication and has helped launch and sustain licensed collections by industry leaders across product categories. She leads the digital tactical strategy for the brand to create a strong, cohesive presence in web, email and social. Taking on a role outside her job duties, Holly also serves as a leader in training and educational activities for all new hires within the 2,300-plus work force.
A supporter of the efforts to end human trafficking, Holly volunteers in her community. She is also a life coach who mentors those in need to help reach their personal goals and potential. As a missions coordinator for Lake Hills Church women’s group, Holly assists in organizing efforts to aid individuals and organizations in need in Western North Carolina. She is also a commercial actress and public speaker.
Jacob Cross, 34
Company: Selden’s Designer Home Furnishings
Position: General Manager
With his relentless work ethic and strong commitment for continuous improvement, Jacob Cross’ success in the furniture industry is secure. At Selden’s he oversees the daily operations of the company with energy and versatility while keeping sales managers and department heads on track. An active participant in all high-level strategy and performance initiatives, Jacob possesses the aptitude to take the retailer to the next level. He leads by example and cares about the success of the team members.
As a family member of the company Jacob is involved with various philanthropic and charitable organizations, including the Northwest Furniture Bank and the Bellevue Lifespring organization. He also participates in a relay team, “BeatNB” to raise money for neuroblastoma.
When not on the job or helping in the community, Jacob keeps busy with his wife Lauren and their three small children enjoying outdoor activities.
Nick Daniels, 29
Company: Furniture Fair
Position: Store Manager
When Nick Daniels was asked to open a store in Dayton, Ohio, he knew it was a big responsibility because it was the company’s first venture outside their home market of Cincinnati. He did such a good job, he’s been asked to do it again, this time in Louisville, Ky. As manager of the Dayton store, he oversees sales, merchandise placement and general building maintenance. Sales and sales management is his passion. As part of a small family business, he is also tasked with working with the social media response team. Committed to the industry, Nick looks forward to leading the company’s success into the future.
Recently Nick competed in his first full marathon, the Flying Pig in Cincinnati. While training was a challenge—due to tearing both his ACLs in high school—he completed the marathon in about four and one-half hours. During training he helped raise money for the Brent Howell Scholarship Fund, which supports addiction treatment. He also works with the Furniture Fair team to help provide donations for the Leukemia Lymphoma society. Nick was a NEXT Gen Leadership Conference speaker in 2015 and served as an advisory council and panel member in 2017.
Diana Daniels, 35
Company: Furniture Fair
Position: Director of Learning and Leadership Development
Diana accepted her first retail management position at 28 and relocated 500 miles away from her family to begin her leadership career. Since then she joined Furniture Fair as design coordinator to develop and lead the company’s complimentary design services program and to host “Train the Trainer” sessions. Today she serves as the one who is responsible for training and developing the store management and interior design team. Her primary focus is on improving employee engagement and productivity
As a creative thinker, she is committed to improving company operations and culture, and always goes above and beyond the call of duty. Honest, trustworthy and dedicated, Diana’s future is bright.
Diana worked very closely with the core values board at Furniture Fair to execute a fundraiser to support addiction recovery.
Haley Darsey, 21
Company: Darsey’s Furniture
Position: Sales and Social Marketing Director
Since she was old enough to walk, Haley Darsey has worked at the family business. She wrote her first La-Z-Boy special order, all by herself, when she was 11 years old. At 21, she is a beacon for the family business. As a senior marketing major at Sam Houston State University, Haley still works 30-50 hours per week at the store. She is the fifth generation to work in the family business and will hopefully one day own and operate.
Haley studied abroad (international business) and is part of Furniture First’s Next Gen group. She is a leader at the Kalin Center, an organization that is dedicated to helping abused children. She and her sister participated in a “Styles for Smiles” event to support a close friend who endured abuse. Haley is the secretary of an endowment board at the Crockett Public Library and helps feed the homeless while at college.
Amanda Daubert, 37
Company: Furniture First
Position: Director of Services
Furniture First’s retail membership relies on Amanda Daubert to provide information on partnerships and service providers with regard to consumer financing, furniture/mattress protection plans, POS systems and more. She is also responsible for bringing new retailers into the buying group. Additionally, Amanda oversees two Furniture First performance groups and a program called “Tools 2B First”, that helps retailers perform better as business owners. She has been dedicated to the industry and the buying group and consistently takes on more responsibilities within the organization. She has a passion for understanding members’ needs and strives to help their business succeed. Her efforts have resulted in a strong partnership with TD Retail, which resulted in obtaining the best rates possible for the retailers. Amanda led the charge to exceed several goals.
Amanda started and is continually growing the organizations NextGen group. She was a recipient of a WithIt Education Scholarship in April 2017.
Amanda is very involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In addition to her career duties, she is going to school to pursue her MBA. Amanda is a wife and mother to three daughters.
Lauren Estep, 35
Company: American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame Foundation
Position: Executive Vice President
If it happens at the Hall of Fame, Lauren is involved. She is the machine that keeps the wheels turning. A powerful but quiet leader, Lauren is well-respected by the board of directors. When Lauren speaks, everyone listens. Lauren touches all aspects of the organization and is the force behind every press release, media contact and social media project. She orchestrates the preservation projects, including more than 60 oral interviews and the publication of more than 50 books on industry leaders. She played an integral role in the development of a new selection process, a new interactive Wall of Fame, a new website and facilitated the writing of a timeline history of the industry. The Hall of Fame would not run smoothly without her dynamic leadership, organizational management skills and her terrific attention to detail. Lauren directs the staff like a polished general and keeps everyone running on the same track.
With two young children, Lauren still manages to be involved in fundraising efforts at their school. She supports her local Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society and participates in City of Hope’s Future Hope for young leaders program. Lauren also volunteers for Vacation Bible School in her community.
Elise Gabrielson, 33
Position: Marketing Manager
In 2015 Elise Gabrielson was hired by Crypton to handle the brand management of a consumer-facing advanced performance home fabric technology. She surveyed the competitive landscape, vetted strategies and tactics, and coordinated with their outside agencies and inside staffers in marketing, outreach and sales to create programs and materials for the brand. Using platform strategies and influencer marketing, Elise developed content creation programs speaking to all audiences of Crypton Home, including a microsite, a blog, video content and more. In just under three years, she managed to help place Crypton among the top most-recognized home fabric technology brands. Her unbridled tenacity and commitment have resulted in significant benchmarks for the brand. An enthusiastic team player, Elise fosters a feel-good vibe wherever she goes.
Elise volunteers with Pooch Pop Up, a company that provides comfort dogs for patients in hospitals. She is also a member of WithIt and participates in a Young Textile Professionals group. Passionate about her hometown of Detroit, Elise donates her time and energy to Gleaners Food Bank and Greening of Detroit. She also worked with the City of Taylor, Mich., to develop, design and project manage a city park.
Jon Gadbois, 36
Company: Boston, Inc. (Furniture & ApplianceMart and Ashley HomeStore
Position: Vice President of Marketing
At Boston, Inc, Jon oversees all aspects of marketing two unique brands: Furniture & ApplianceMart and Ashley HomeStore. Jon and his team of two are responsible for everything from media buying to graphic design, copy writing to reputation management, media planning to digital strategy and everything in between. In the industry for 18 years, Jon started on the sales floor and worked his way up. He is a true leader with a proven record of delivering results through marketing campaigns. Gadbois consistently hits his goals related to driving in-store traffic. He has successfully navigated changes while improving marketing strategies to squeeze every last ounce of value from each dollar spent on marketing.
Gadbois served as board president for the Portage County United Way in 2017 and currently serves as past president, sitting on both the board of directors and the executive leadership team. He is the sitting Poet Laureate of Stevens Point, Wis., where he exposes youth to the diverse world of poetry and how it can serve as an outlet for them to express themselves creatively at an early age.
Mehdi Gold, 39
Company: Coaster Company of America
Position: Director of E-commerce
Mehdi arrived in the U.S. when he was 20 years old and didn’t speak any English. Since then, he earned his MBA and landed the job of director of E-commerce for one of the largest furniture importers in the country. He is responsible for over 100 drop-ship accounts, including top 100 U.S. retailers with over $90 million in direct-to-consumer e-commerce business. He is also in charge of leading the site strategy and building product roadmaps. Prior to joining Coaster, Mehdi was a vice president at Bank of America and a vice president at JP Morgan Chase, managing the highest-performing branches in southern California
Mehdi volunteers his time to feed the homeless at a local church and donates money for children with special needs in Iran. Mehdi and his wife are planning to adopt a child from Iran who lost her parents in the recent deadly earthquake in April.
Kristin Hawkins, 37
Company: Steinreich Communications
Position: Vice President
Kristin may very well be one of the leading PR strategists in the industry. Her strategic communications skills and knowledge of the home furnishings industry combined with strong business acumen serve her clients well. Her leadership role in the strategic and creative positioning of client projects includes new product launches, marketing campaigns, corporate communications and strategic events. A longtime member of the furniture industry, Kristin previously held a marketing position with Broyhill Furniture, where she transitioned into a newly developed position managing the organization’s new product development stage-gate process. She held a similar position with HSM.
Kristin has served as a department chair for corporate fundraising initiatives in support of JDRF (type 1 diabetes research) and the March of Dimes. She is also a dedicated mother who is very involved with her daughter’s pre-school activities.
Karl Heinritz, 26
Position: Merchandising Operations
In charge of the merchandising operations team, Karl Heinritz has a vast array of responsibilities. At the core of what he does is to make sure FurnitureDealer.net’s content catalog is utilizing the most sophisticated information and processes to ensure that the content is the finest in the industry. Karl is an ambitious, tech-savvy problem-solving machine and is credited with improving the company’s internal system for accuracy of pricing, improving the company’s relationship with manufacturers, and developing sustainable processes for business growth. Karl is a visionary and an exceptional young professional with a strong work ethic. He is “wise beyond his years” and brings his A-game to work every day.
Karl consistently volunteers at industry events, and is a leader that helps organize non-profit events.
Michael Herschel IV, 27
Company: Furniture Marketing Group (FMG)
Position: Marketing Coordinator
Michael Herschel has been with FMG for almost four years.
His primary duties are to budget and implement monthly consumer mattress promotions of behalf of participating members. In that time, he has helped increase sales of FMG-endorsed mattress suppliers through their dealer network via a series of campaigns that include digital marketing, video content, in-store signage and gift with purchase. Michael’s excellent communication skills and outstanding work ethic have helped members understand and utilize the vast number of product and service offerings available to the memberships’ major furniture and bedding suppliers, including many top 100 furniture stores.
Michael is an honors graduate of UNC–Wilmington, and will begin an MBA program in the fall of 2018. During his spare time, he coaches various different age groups of AAU basketball.
Harrison Hood, 29
Position: National Sales Manager
Harrison is responsible for all Sunbrella sales to the indoor furniture industry both domestically and internationally and has six direct reports. He works side-by-side with each rep to provide all the tools and resources needed. He also works with their customers to provide products as well as a level of service that is unmatched in the performance fabric arena. Leveraging the Sunbrella brand is also a key focus for Harrison. Because of Sunbrella’s terrific brand presence at the retail furniture level, Harrison also manages direct retail relationships with the top local, regional and national retail furniture chains. He has demonstrated key leadership qualities that have taken him from sales associate at age 23 to national sales manager at age 28. As a result of his efforts, Sunbrella has tripled their indoor business from 2014-2018.
Harrison is an Eagle Scout and an integral part of troop 205 in Lexington, N.C. His grandfather started the troop in the 1950s and his father was the scoutmaster for over 25 years. He donates many hours volunteering at homeless shelters in his community and is an active member in a young professionals group at the First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro.
Daniel Howe, 25
Position: Vendor Manager, Category Management
Daniel’s accomplishments in the e-commerce mattress and furniture space are prime drivers of the growth of the furniture business at Amazon. He is always thinking about ways to create a better experience for the customer, including how to improve browse experience, returns, reviews, selection, and more. Daniel is directly responsible for managing the P&L of mattress and furniture categories that represent $600MM+ $600 million-plus in annual revenue and oversees the growth, marketing and merchandising strategy for hundreds of vendors to create a best-in-class experience for the customer. He leads all category pricing initiatives, and has led free cash flow projects, including direct imports and deals. His work in direct imports helped to improve sourcing efficiency, which led to greater savings.
As the co-founder of Women in Pets, Home Furnishings, Toys, Fabric.com, Daniel helps to promote diversity in the Hardlines organization at Amazon. He obtained buy-in from leadership stakeholders to drive the project and planned cross-category events to develop resources around hiring of underrepresented groups. He is also involved in community food projects and is a sustainability ambassador and works to educate the community about the importance of reducing waste.
Stillman Johnson, 26
Company: Vintage Furniture
Position: COO/CPO & National Sales Manager
Stillman began his career in his family’s retail store as warehouse help and slowly worked his way up through the delivery department to eventually become part of the sales team. After a few years, he took the reins as GM and broke records with overall annual sales. Drive and self-motivation are what propels him to push himself and his team to dream bigger and do more. At just 26 years old, he oversees all daily business activity including facilitating logistics for shipments, maintains inventory levels within the warehouse program, assists in product development for case goods and bedding, and hires and trains the national sales team. He is truly a force to be reckoned with.
Stillman offers charitable donations through his community to assist during natural disasters and offers monthly donations to his local Do Good Foundation, helping those in need all over the world. He has also funded/sponsored the Shreveport Mudbug Hockey team, encouraging them to make their comeback. He was state ranked in Team Roping Rodeo while he was in high school.
Ryan King, 35
Position: Account Manager, Bedding Channel Eastern U.S.
Adept at providing leading solutions, floor mapping and retail-level sales training for Ergomotion’s clients in the Eastern time zone, he achieved his current position within the first year of his employment at Ergomotion. Ryan is truly a dedicated salesperson in the field and is sure to be a great asset to the industry for years to come. He is the first “official” sales trainer at Ergomotion.
Ryan served in the U.S. Air Force for four years, including in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 and 2006. In 2012, he graduated summa cum laude from Coastal Carolina University. He is a volunteer at the Helping Hands Community Kitchen in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Lydia Lutchenkov, 34
Position: Natuzzi Editions Brand and Merchandising Manager–North America
Lydia is an energetic and enthusiastic leader who comes from outside the industry. But that didn’t stop her from transitioning from a sales rep to brand manager in under three years. Her entrepreneurial confidence and tenacity to embrace risk and change launched her into a successful first year in sales followed by an opportunity from the CEO to onboard with the leadership team and move to Italy for a full company immersion and leadership development program. She is now the central point of collaboration for product marketing and e-commerce. Lydia undertook the tremendous task of designing the product mix for the April 2018 High Point Market, and also partners with the Italian merchandising and product development team to identify trends, ideas and interpretations of business opportunities that help set Natuzzi apart.
Lydia won the CACI Encore Achiever Award in 2010 for exemplary customer service. She completed the Natuzzi Leadership Development program in 2017. She volunteers for the VCU Massey Cancer Research Center for event planning and fundraising and is also a Richmond SPCA running buddies volunteer. She continually seeks to maintain philanthropic giving and volunteering. Lydia is bilingual in English and Russian.
Julia Marks, 40
Company: Picture Source Somerset
Position: Chief Visionary Officer
As the chief visionary officer, Julia helped propel the 40-year-old firm into one that dazzles designers, specialty retailers and commercial clients. She has discovered ways to accomplish so much through her organizational skills, creative intelligence and her determination to succeed. Julia helps set the creative course each year by providing insight into trends. She oversees the operational management and the admin and production staffs on both coasts. She is self-driven, highly competent and eager to accept tasks and completes them with a high degree of excellence. Under her guidance, the company produces a comprehensive inbox education series for retailers and a cross-platform social media and blog program. Julia’s leadership has led to a high level of productivity, improved morale and a team-focused philosophy.
Julia joined the Hospitality Industry Network Board in 2003 and the International Board of Director of Conferences in 2006. In 2015 she was honored with the WithIt’s Future Leader Award. Julia has worked with NEWH to give over $5 million in scholarships to 2,164 students. She participated in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, walking over 60 miles, raising a total of $7,500 for research.
Molly Mays, 26
Company: Rizzy Home
Position: Textile Manager
At 26 years old, Molly oversees the growth and development of the Rizzy Home textiles division. She assists sales reps by providing tools and programs while assisting with textile development and proprietary products for specific customers. Molly is extremely talented and works very hard. She is kind, dedicated, has a heart of gold and always shines. At such a young age she has achieved many successes, such as being a two-time winner of the AmericasMart Visual Display Awards, recognizing her excellence in visual presentation, use of space, product placement and overall composition.
With a seat on the board of directors for ART, Molly is also on their membership and conference committees. She is also on the advisory board for High Point University’s design school, where she graduated cum laude. In addition to volunteering for homeless veterans causes, Molly also initiated a mentoring and internship program with the HPU design school to help students become more involved within the industry.
Shawn McKnight, 40
Company: STORIS, Inc.
Position: Director of Product Database Design
In his 20-year career, and with his remarkable blend of character traits, Shawn McKnight has grown from his first role as a support technician through four other managerial roles before being promoted to his current position as director of product database design. Shawn is the leader of the NextGen taskforce, which spearheads the modernization of STORIS’ software solution. He is one of the youngest members of the leadership team, a role he earned thanks to his forward-thinking and ability to execute on delivering functional software to retailers in the industry. Shawn’s main responsibility is to make the foundational decisions for STORIS software’s upcoming web browser user interface, which will be a critical product release. With his impressive abilities, Shawn is one of the groundbreaking developers for future software solutions and has reinvented how STORIS developers personally engage with clients.
Shawn has passed on his love of knowledge as a key mentor to future developers at STORIS. He is an avid supporter of the Book Barn, which supports farms that supply natural produce for St. Claire’s hospital and assisted living residency.
Nate Obray, 36
Position: Software Development Manager
At Malouf, Nate oversees a team of nine software and web developers for all of Malouf’s internal software. He directs the team’s efforts integrating software to offer quicker, more efficient and more accurate orders and shipping transactions. He leads continuous improvement initiatives, and manages web development. Nate has a big-picture, long-term view of the company and its goals and understands the importance of hard work to provide an unmatched advantage to operate at top efficiency. He took on the task of developing an inventory management system that automates orders while eliminating errors, lowering costs and vastly improving the capacity for shipping items in a day. This was a huge accomplishment for Nate and his team.
Nate donates his time to the Malouf Foundation by building custom systems that are used in fundraising efforts, which are also lent to non-profit partners to save them the cost of paying for fundraising software. He also donates time to Operation Underground Railroad, a Malouf Foundation partner that rescues and provides aftercare for survivors of child sex trafficking. When Nate is not working or volunteering, he is involved in supporting downtown development in Logan, Utah.
Yavar Rafieha, 36
Position: President & CEO
Recognized as an award-winning professional with a track record of success in business management, operations, merchandising and brand development, Yavar is a leader with broad, diverse experience in organizational growth, product design, manufacturing, e-commerce, change management, logistics and distribution. As a visionary, he foresaw the retail economic downturn and developed (and manages) an award-winning drop-ship program—one of the fastest growing in the U.S. He also implemented technology upgrades, keeping the company competitive within the e-commerce sector. Driven by passion and perseverance, Yavar embodies the essence of Abbyson with his unbridled dedication and commitment to always setting the bar high.
Yavar has many specialties, including international communications, motivational speaking, succession planning and performance coaching, and international business and culture. He is a Five-Star Accreditation Business Chamber Board member. Yavar is also very active in the greater Los Angeles community through his support of numerous charitable organizations.
Michael Revah, 35
Company: ZUO Canada
ZUO Canada’s CEO Michael Revah has accomplished in eight years what few U.S. brands have been able to do with crossover business success including distribution throughout all Canadian territories. The company’s success and growth is a direct result of Michael’s ability to drive sales, develop product and oversee distribution while establishing ZUO as a lifestyle brand for Canadian retailers, online stores, designers and other trade professionals. Through his youthful approach and abilities in sales Michael has expanded brand recognition and led the company’s Canadian growth and success—as they celebrate their tenth anniversary in Oct. 2018.
Outside the business, Michael is a world-renowned professional DJ and music producer.
Sascha Roth, 37
Company: Urban Country
Position: Owner/General Manager
As the owner and general manager of Urban Country, Sascha oversees all of the day-to-day operations, including managing the financials, HR duties, business development, marketing and branding. She successfully project-managed a build-out of a brand-new store location and the move from the existing location, and negotiated a 10-year lease for the space that will help ensure future success. Sascha continually works to improve operations and jumps in where needed to keep things running smoothly. Despite challenges, Sascha leads the charge to evolve with the changing times and is proud to have increased sales every year.
Sascha and her team have hosted a number of charitable events in the store, including a silent auction that benefited The Power of Pink. She serves as committee chair for the fundraising group and helped to raise $10,650 at the event. She also supports the Warrior Canine Foundation and the Race for Hope, which raises almost $2 million every year for brain tumor research, in honor of her father.
Alexander Rubin, 28
Company: Bernie & Phyl’s Furniture
Position: Web Coordinator and Merchandise Buyer
Alex stepped right out of the classroom and into the boardroom, so to speak. He has sparked new energy and innovation into the family owned business. His fresh approach and ideas are resonating within the company and employees are embracing his ideas with appreciation that a new generation is making its mark. Alex’s main responsibility is managing all aspects of the e-commerce business, including maintaining product on the website. He attends trade shows with the buying team and participates in store visits discussing selling strategy with salespeople and store management. He attends Performance Group meetings and the Young Leadership Conference to learn, grow and connect with other young leaders in the industry.
As part of the Jewish Big Brother program, Alex regularly spends time with his "little". He is also on the board of the Boston Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Each year, Alex walks with his family in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk to raise money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Randi Schachter, 39
Company: BILTRITE Furniture Leather/Mattresses
Position: Store Manager/Sales Manager
Randi is not afraid to take charge! She may be small, but she has a big personality and is proud to be a leader in a male-dominated industry. As a fourth generation family member and at the ripe young age of 5, Randi would accompany her father to the family’s store on Saturdays to dust, greet customers and learn about the family business. Today, she does a little of everything, including focusing on managing the sales team, store displays and marketing initiatives. “Randi K”, as she is often referred to, has become somewhat of a local celebrity as the on-air and online spokesperson for the store and she still finds time to sell and handle in-store interior design tasks. She shows incredible dedication in her efforts to keep the independent store vibrant, successful and profitable.
Randi is very active in multiple networking groups including Furniture First, and their Next Gen group, as well as non-profits like The Grand Avenue Club and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She is a strong supporter and leader for the Young Jewish Adults of Milwaukee organization.
Eric Sinclair, 39
Company: Montgomery’s Furniture
As the leader of this fifth-generation family owned business, Eric oversees all operations for the three Montgomery’s stores in South Dakota. From operations to marketing, merchandising to human resources, and everything in between, Eric consistently drives the business forward. He is never afraid to step outside the box and try new things in order to improve. He demonstrates a fierce passion for furniture, family and community. Following his parents’ family rule to “ … get a college degree and work for someone else before you have a job in the family business,” he became a sales rep for Rowe Furniture, where he landed the Rep of the Year award.
Eric is in his fifth year of serving on the board for Furniture First and was instrumental in leading the group through personnel changes, growing vendor relationships and establishing a peer review group. He also aided the South Dakota Retailers association in their work to even the playing field with regard to online retailers and sales tax exemption while continuing to run his family’s business. Each year, he and the store donate thousands of dollars to local charities. Eric also sat on several local community boards of directors to help better serve the community.
Emily Stalvey, 30
Company: MicroD, LLC
Position: Digital Marketing Specialist
As a digital marketing specialist, Emily makes sure retailers and manufacturers are increasing their sales and profits. She helps to build online and digital strategies and is adept at analyzing customer data to help them make smart business decisions. She lends her expertise on SEO, SEM, email, social, content marketing, and conversation rate optimization. A true leader and mentor, Emily has a passion for the industry and possesses a rare combination of successful qualities. She was one of the pioneers in the company who worked toward offering digital marketing services and helped build and execute the program. She has developed lead nurturing campaigns and implemented a marketing automation tool. She successfully works in the B2B and B2C arenas.
Emily facilitated MicroD’s involvement in a Toys for Our Troops volunteer and collection effort. She also works with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and led the collection and publication of a local philanthropic guide to the arts in Charlotte, N.C. Emily is also a WithIt member.
Abbey Steger, 24
Company: Steger’s Furniture and Mattress
Position: Assistant Upholstery Buyer/Website and Social Media Manager
A driving force at Steger’s, Abbey is responsible for all aspects of website management, including updating product, pricing and design. She also handles all social media, including planning and executing posts, promoting page engagement and responding to inquiries. A recent software conversion would not have been possible without Abbey. She works with buyers and manufacturer's reps in the selection of merchandise and assists the visual display staff with placement of merchandise. Abbey monitors rate of sale and manages a mark down/clearance program.
Abbey recently completed the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce Leadership Academy. She also works with the Pekin Community High School dance team choreographing and helping to teach the team their state competition routine. Abbey recently joined the Tazewell County St. Jude Golf Committee to help organize an annual charity golf outing.
Paige Tamada, 33
Company: Lamps Plus
Position: Leadership Development Manager
Paige has been with Lamps Plus for only one year and has solidified their manager-in-training program and talent management strategy. She works collaboratively to design, develop and deliver leadership and employee development programs and to support talent management processes and programs. She evaluates the learning and development needs of the organization and implements solutions that are aligned with strategic objectives, mission, vision and values. Page conducts follow-ups to determine applicability and effectiveness of programs and provides consultative services to management on specialized leadership programs using Adult Theory Learning Methodology.
Paige has been the recipient of several Make MAGIC awards. She was an Amsterdam Merit Scholar in 2008-2009.
Lisa Tan, 39
Position: Chief Marketing Officer
Instrumental in building Reverie’s brand vision and strategy, Lisa leads the company’s marketing team, developing plans that are driven by extensive digital testing and insights. She built a marketing team with deep experience in creative, account management, digital and social media.
Lisa is passionate about helping people live better lives through better sleep and wants to change how the mattress industry thinks about selling and servicing the end-customer. She spearheaded the launch of the Reverie Sleep Coach program. She is an example of how women can be successful in the male-dominated mattress industry. She developed the Sleep Advisory Board, a group of scientists and doctors active in the field of sleep science who advises the company on product development and helped develop sleep health strategies for the Sleep Coach Program.
Lisa is a member of the board of Sweet Dreamzzz and the Princeton Alumni Association of Michigan. She is also active in supporting women’s rights and environmental issues.
Justin Vandagriff, 31
Company: R&A Marketing
Position: Vice President of Client Services
As vice president of client services for just over a year, Justin is adept at strategic planning, media and market research, promotional strategy, budgeting and digital marketing, working to advise clients at retail furniture stores to help them achieve success. He directs the work and service provided by all account managers at the company. He has been a critical part of the success and growth of R&A Marketing and rose to his position of leadership after four years with the company. He has shown great passion for his work. Justin takes responsibility in all he does as if he were an owner. He’s the kind of team leader every business owner wishes they had on their own staff.
To further increase his knowledge of the industry, Justin attends furniture markets, tradeshows and conferences every year.
Morgan VanValkenburg, 31
Position: Order Fulfillment Manager
Morgan oversees the fulfillment of all orders that ship out of Malouf’s distribution facilities whether they come by phone, email or online. She manages a team of 17, ensuring they have the training, support and communication skills needed to provide exceptional service to clients. Her top priority is timely fulfillment of all orders. In addition, she manages relationships with shipping carriers and travels to warehouse locations to maintain strong relationships with warehouse leads. She ensures payments are collected and accounts are up-to-date. Her team processes between 2,500 and 3,000 orders each day.
As a respected leader, Morgan holds high standards for herself and her team. She is an excellent mentor and has created a women’s support and development group within the company. Through the Malouf Foundations, Morgan takes great pleasure and pride in processing orders to ship products to homes where they are most needed. She also spearheads delivering comfort kits to cancer patients as part of an initiative for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She helps coach a high school tennis team, works with children in a local Head Start program and teaches a class of four-year-olds at her church. Perhaps the most fun part of her job is party planning the many company events Malouf holds.
Taylor Ward, 30
Company: LC Direct
Position: Vice President of Sales
After leaving college, Taylor Ward worked in furniture retail for a few months before transitioning to independent sales. He partnered with his brother on a new domestic bedroom line, K.I.T.H. Furniture. The line quickly grew and attracted other lines such as Hughes Furniture and Bernards. After one year he was approached by the owner of Hughes and offered the position of national sales manager. At Hughes, he raised the company’s overall sales by over 25% within two years. After three years he was offered the position of vice president of sales for LC Direct. Taylor’s main responsibility is to oversee all sales and manage the sales force, working with retailers to maximize sales and distribution. He has created sales tools for internal and external uses to improve sales for his customers and the end-consumer.
Taylor donates his time and money to a Denton, N.C., charity called Project Santa, which was founded by his grandfather. He is described as “an incredible human being” and has great compassion for everyone he comes in contact with. His love for what he does is evident in all of his endeavors.
Daniel Wieczorek, 35
Company: Amber Engine
Position: Leader, Business Development & Marketing
Dan has spent over 10 years devoting his skills to broad-based sales in the home furnishings sector and has a proven track record. He opened up the possibility of offering services within one retail store to another, with a “store within a store” model for Best Buy and Gardner White—a first of its kind endeavor. Dan was an integral part of signing on one of Amber Engines first clients to the platform. He helps clients share data easily and helps reduce pain points. In his first year in a VAR sales role, he was asked to take on a bridge role as vice president of marketing and exceeded expectations. Dan gives 150% to everything he does and is well-respected by the home furnishings community.
Dan is very involved with causes near to his heart, including the autism gala at the Las Vegas Market. For years, he has donated to the Fur Ball and Humane Society of Livingston County in Michigan. He plays in charitable golf tournaments for Gardner White and participates in community days for organizations such as Forgotten Harvest and Fous:Hope. Food for Hope
Joshua Yauger, 37
Company: Furniture Fair
Position: Systems Administrator
The main responsibility for Joshua Yauger is to plan, coordinate, and direct all computer-related activities for 10 retail stores. He analyzes goals and implements computer systems and applications to meet those goals. Josh was instrumental in implementing a fiber network with voice over IP phone system throughout the company to include wifi, which led to a new platform for mobile point of sale software. Josh also manages the renovations at all 10 stores. His prior experience in civil engineering provides an advantage for Furniture Fair in that regard. His thoughtful analysis of how the company can improve their locations and optimize performance while reducing overhead surpasses expectations. He plans to enroll in accounting courses to eventually migrate into the accounting department.
Josh has been a youth baseball coach for five years. He is also a project manager on various initiatives at his church and is on the Educational Review Board for his kids’ school.