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From Home Furnishing Business

Cover Story: Cheers to Five Years Matching Passion with Purpose

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

Company: BedMart
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
Position: President

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

Company: Ekornes
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

Company: Crypton
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’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

Company: Sunbrella
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

Company: Amazon
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,, 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

Company: Ergomotion
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

Company: Natuzzi
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

Company: Malouf
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

Company: Abbyson
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
Position: CEO

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
Position: President

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

Company: Reverie
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

Company: Malouf
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.

Statistically Speaking: Housing Industry Struggles to Keep Up with Consumer Work/Lifestyle Demands

Fewer homes are being built per household than at almost any time in U.S. history and home construction per household, a decade after the recession bust, remains the lowest level in 60 years of record-keeping.  Adding fuel to the flame, the housing industry is not able to provide the work/lifestyle preferences of ballooning Millennial households nor affordable housing to first-time home buyers.

Table A shows the key economic indicators since 2010 when the recovery from the recession began in full swing. Since that time, the furniture industry has been consistent, averaging around 4.7 percent growth.  And while the growth in housing starts appears stronger on paper compared to the lackluster growth in new household formations, the actual numbers are about the same, 6.2 million units each over the last five years, not enough to keep up with demand (Figure 1).  Building shows signs of picking up based on first quarter starts this year (up 9.3 percent), but economists say this will do little to ease the crisis in many cities.

The most critical result of the lack of new housing starts is falling housing inventories which in turn drive up prices (Table B).  The number of rentals and homes for sale has been falling consistently since coming out of the recession when inventories were high. During the four-year period 2010 to 2014, rental inventories fell at an annual rate (CAGR) of 7.5 percent and housing for-sale inventories declined 10.2 percent. During the following three years, 2014 to 2017, rentals and housing inventories fell again but at a smaller annual rate of 0.4 percent and 4.8 percent respectively.  This year, based on an annualized first quarter, rental inventories are down another 3.4 percent and houses for sale have declined 7.2 percent.

As shown in Table C, home prices have increased dramatically since the bottom of the recession in 2009 – jumping 46.1 percent from 2009 to 2018. With a current median home price of $328,000 (2018 April YTD), prices are 34.1 percent above the pre-recession peak of $244,950 in 2007. Since 2010, home price increases are averaging 5 percent a year (CAGR).  Paired with ballooning home prices, stricter lending polices are keeping many first-time buyers out of the market.

As inventory stays low, prices will continue to go up due to many builders turning away from starter and mid-priced home and choosing to build high-end homes with better profit margins.

Numerous factors have converged to create the housing shortage, one of which is the lack of construction labor. Due to a combination of many workers leaving the industry during the recession, fewer people attending trade schools and a decline in immigrants and undocumented workers, builders struggle to find workers. The amount of construction workers in residential construction fell 44.8 percent from 2006 to 2011, losing almost half of the total workers (Table D). The industry has slowly gained employees back since 2011, increasing by 39.6 percent in seven years, but is still 23 percent shy of the one million construction workers in 2006.

Along with the labor shortages, high land costs in desirable living areas are impacting the ability to build affordable housing.  Younger people are unwilling to deal with long commutes and choosing to live close to work. They also seek the lifestyle of more urban living and access to services it provides. Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between affordable/available places to build and where people want to live.

A study by the Cato Institute last October points to what the report considers the main contributor to the housing problem. The report says, “Local zoning and land-use regulations have increased substantially over the decades. These constraints on land development within cities and suburbs aim to achieve various safety, environmental, and aesthetic goals. But the regulations have also tended to reduce the supply of housing, including multifamily and low-income housing. With reduced supply, many U.S. cities suffer from housing affordability problems.”

Many economists also point to the abuse of government land-use regulations and building permit delays to keep away new building in desirable cities. High regulatory costs, delays, and opposition from neighboring homeowners make it difficult for new multi-family housing to be built in many urban areas.

The “not in my backyard” or NIMBY sentiment prevalent in urban areas used to be a problem faced solely by big cities, but the rising rents, displacement and unwillingness to restructure is spreading to middle-size cities.

According to the Cato study, the best solution to the housing shortage and the affordability problem is an easing of regulatory zoning and building constraints by local governments. But homeowners say this poses an undue tax burden as existing residents who must then belly up for the increased costs for traffic solutions, infrastructure expansions, more schools, etc. Therefore the U.S. continues to segment geographically according to income.

The improving economy with rising wages and low unemployment should be impacting the furniture industry more positively than sales are reflecting. But the housing shortage and rising rent and home prices could be the thing holding the industry back from the high growth many have long been predicting.

Coach's Corner: “Leaving a Legacy of Leadership in Your Company”

Since then it has been announced that the Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathon Scott, are being inducted as honorary members of the class of 2018. There is no question that over the past few years they have grown to become two of the most visible leaders in the home furnishings industry because of their amazing talents and wonderful personalities. We made it clear last month that being well liked is not as critical for a leader as being respected. However, if your business is centered on entertaining people while providing answers and educating individuals about creating the home of their dreams, then I think being well liked is just as important as being respected for Jonathan and Drew.

My plan had been to follow up on that article with some ideas about what a successful leader must do in their business, in order to leave a legacy of leadership that will help the next generation of owners/management continue the company’s success after they depart. The recognition of the Scott Brothers as future leaders in our industry gave me an idea to help drive home this month’s message. You see, being an avid fan of their shows, I realize that a key reason for their success is the way they perform every week as the leaders of the various individual projects they tackle. Indeed, it is their ability to create a plan and execute it that provides the happy endings we all want to see. This is what leaders do and all we need to do is watch a few of their shows to help us understand how they apply many of the points I want to make about being a leader in your business.

With that in mind, below is my list of some important things a leader must do to be successful in their business and leave a legacy of leadership for future generations to follow.

Establish Guiding Values and Principles

It is fundamental to continued success and building a high-performance team that all members of the organization share the same values.  A strong belief system of principles that reflect these values should be in place to serve as the basis for the work done by all employees. Everyone knows what is expected, and employee behavior can be measured against the stated beliefs. Every decision made in a project or plan must be constantly compared to and measured against these principles. Without this basic belief structure, the organization will struggle to find consistency of effort and often find individuals working at odds against each other within the company. Think about what would happen if Drew went looking for homes that didn’t have what the client wanted or that Jonathon could not renovate within budget. They both value what the client tells them and their guiding principles are aimed at providing the client with the end result they desire. As a result, everyone is focused on the same outcome or ultimate goal.

Set the Vision and Create the Plan

Setting a vision is basically establishing where the company needs to be in the future. It is determined by understanding the opportunities available and matching them to the organization’s ability to move forward. Creating the plan involves setting goals that are tied to a timeline that puts the company at its targeted result in the most efficient and effective manner. First, leadership must know where they are, then they must determine where it is feasible for them to go, given the resources and timeframe with which they are working. Last, goals for completion of each step in the plan—that are time sensitive— need to be established. It is like using a map. Find where you are on it, then mark the destination you want to go to and determine the best route for you to take, given the time, vehicle, fuel, etc. you have. Each city or stop along the way would be a goal. Drew and Jonathon do this for every project by interviewing the clients and creating a vision of what they want. Drew shows them examples of existing houses they can’t afford that fit the vision and then Jonathon provides a digital image of what could be done to one they could buy, that would fulfill their dream. Without the vision being set at the beginning and with no solid plan in place to create it for the client, their subsequent efforts would have little chance of success.

Instill Discipline and Execute Plan

The next step is to execute the plan, however unless leadership has instilled the discipline to follow a plan within the organization, chances of success are greatly reduced. The desired result of having a disciplined team, is that people do what you want them to do. As General Schwarzkopf said, leaders get people to do things “willingly” that they would not normally do “willingly”. A major reason this happens is that strong leaders radiate confidence and a positive energy. People naturally want to follow them and do whatever they did because they believe in them and trust their direction. Leaders are also proactive and listen to the input they receive from others, no matter what level they are on in the organization. There is no better way to get buy-in from people than to listen and react thoughtfully and honestly to what they say. The goal is to get people to do things because they want to, not because they have to. Next time you watch Property Brothers, take note of the energy they exude and the positive way they deal with a problem, issue or negative situation they encounter. Their team is always onboard, and you will also see that having a great sense of humor serves any leader well!

Build Confidence

One of the results of being a positive person and strong leader is that you will build confidence in the people you work with, both above and below you. There is no quicker way to reduce productivity or lessen the chance for a project or company to succeed than to allow negativity to permeate the organization. This is one of the hardest tests for a leader because it requires great dedication and self-discipline to make sure it never creeps into their outlook or their actions. It also mandates that people who spread negativity must be stopped and the quicker the better. Communication and including everyone in the planning process is another way to build confidence in a team’s efforts. There is nothing worse than the infamous “mushroom treatment”, which keeps people in the dark. It breeds negativity and discontent. Keep people informed, even when things are not going the way you want, and you will have a much better chance of keeping them on board for the whole journey. Obviously, building confidence in the plan and the process is key to Drew and Jonathan’s success in each of their projects. While I am sure there are problems and issues we don’t see in the final cut, I am equally sure that they communicate with the clients, the team and each other to keep things moving in the right direction.

Pass on a Passion for the Business

This is probably the toughest thing to do, but it is extremely critical for the success of the next generation of leaders within any business. Many of our businesses started as family operations and were driven by the zest for the business that the founders had. Often when the next generation of management takes over, whether they are related to the founders or not, some of that passion for the business is lost. It is quite possible that this is a key reason why more than half of family businesses fail in the second generation and many more fall by the wayside as subsequent transitions fail. It sure helps to love what you do in any situation. However, given the growing competition furniture stores have faced over the last two decades and the fact that their share of customers is dwindling, it is getting tough for some to carry on without a deep passion for the business. Therefore, I believe strongly that any leader worth their salt in our industry must dedicate themselves to radiating and nurturing in their staff, a deep, lasting passion for creating beautiful homes where our customers truly want to live and enjoy life. The same passion and energy we see every week from the Property Brothers.

By leaving a legacy of positive experiences, goals achieved, and customers thrilled, we can develop our next generation of leaders. Cheers to the Forty Under 40 Class of 2018 and our future industry leaders - may you live long and prosper.

Beam me up, Scott Brothers!

What Sells: The Room of Youth

In generations past, parents might have been reluctant to spend a lot of money for something their children would outgrow in a few years; manufacturers have taken notice, and are designing and producing youth furniture that’s versatile and sophisticated, and can grow with a child into adulthood or be used later on in a guest room.

“Consumers are shopping for pieces, not complete room sets. With social media, DIY shows, and Pinterest, customers have more confidence in mixing and matching pieces and styles,” says Scott Sullens, vice president of sales and marketing, Legacy Classic Furniture.

“Because of this trend, we focus on every piece we make. Can this piece stand alone? Will a customer buy just this bed? From our customers and retail salespeople, we hear consumers asking for more queen beds in the youth bedroom,” he adds. “If a customer has the room, they prefer to buy a queen bed because they are looking down the road for the room to be used as a guest room. The adult case pieces may not fit, but if the queen fits, they are buying it.”

Looking beyond age and gender

One key to success is being gender-neutral, says Barbara Rogers, director of marketing, Bivona & Company.

“Our bestselling collection by far is the Dolce Kids + Teens/Dolce Babi Lucca collection, which was the first set to introduce the farmhouse chic look to youth and baby. The youth furniture is available in Weathered Grey and Seashell White, and we just introduced Weathered Brown for Baby. What is unique about this set is that it is suitable for either gender,” she says. “Most youth furniture is either boy- or girl-specific; by designing a set that is gender neutral, it provides longevity.”

Crystal Nguyen, vice president of merchandising at Coaster Fine Furniture, has seen different finishes, such as grey and metallic, becoming popular. Looking ahead, she sees “earth-tone colors, and outdoor and nature-inspired” palettes. Designs targeting teens have also grown in popularity, she adds.

Safety and function, notes Neil MacKenzie, director of marketing at Universal, are also important components of today’s youth furniture.

“We believe [consumers] are looking for something that’s safe and functional and neutral, meaning it’s not overly gender-specific, so it can be used a number of ways for a longer period of time,” he says.

“From a product standpoint for Smartstuff, we are continuing to focus on safety and function,” MacKenzie adds. “Our recent introductions are a commitment to function with looks that can be more appealing to a wider audience. We believe this provides more flexibility for the parents and the child, as the product can transition between ages seamlessly with the benefit of accessories and soft goods.”

‘A bridge to the next generation’

How—and where—people shop for youth furniture is changing as well.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing youth departments shrink, as there is a misconception about people not shopping for youth furniture. People are and will shop where they can see it, and if they can’t find it, they will go online,” says Sullens. “Retailers supporting a good youth assortment are doing well in the category and they recognize the importance of bringing that customer in the store.”

“We are always working to improve our website experience and we’ve expanded our efforts in social media to better connect the consumer to our website, where they can find a local retail partner to see, feel, and touch the product firsthand. We also have invested in marketing kits for retail partners to leverage our assets at the local level as part of their own social/digital plans,” says MacKenzie.

“It is an interesting thought to think that a customer in their 30s could be walking into a traditional furniture store for the first time in their adult life,” says Sullens. “Think about it … they may have had hand-me-downs, gone to Ikea, bought RTA, shopped online, etc. They don’t go to a furniture store until their child needs a ‘grown-up’ bed. This category is a bridge to acquiring their next generation of shoppers.”

Standing out

Consumers are looking to stay on-trend with their home furnishings, and that extends to the youth category. And the youth themselves are helping to make those decisions.

“Youth furniture has changed in that children are very involved in helping make purchase decisions. They are connected and do research online as well as watch the home shows with their parents, and therefore want to be on-trend with the latest styles in furniture,” says Rogers.

“We have noticed that a great deal of youth furniture is a sea of sameness. It is entry-level stuff that doesn’t have a lot of style or it is very expensive and trendy,” she adds. “We offer the consumer style and quality at a moderate price, which is good value.”

Customers are becoming more sophisticated, and buying youth furniture is no exception, says Sullens. “That means on-trend styles, better finishes, functionality, and unique hardware,” he says. “The challenge is that the customers want all these features at a price. Youth as a category is challenging. We have positioned ourselves well with a good-better-best strategy within the category.”

Value is always in style with the consumer, and one way to provide added value is offering storage space.

“Storage options are vital for today’s living,” says Rogers. “We offer many different storage options in [the Dolce Kids + Teens/Dolce Babi Lucca] collection as well as utilitarian items like a simple desk and chair and a hutch that can be used as a hutch or a bookcase.”

At Universal, says MacKenzie, “we see continued focus on solving the needs of safety and function in a package that addresses space challenges, and provides flexibility and options for the consumer to have a style that works for their child and home.”

Another factor for success in the youth category? Quick delivery. “Being able to offer 15-plus youth collections that mix with our entire adult line is just one of our points of differentiation,” says Sullens. “Having a domestic warehouse is another.”

Ingredients for bestsellers

Clean lines, versatility, longevity, and value seem to be the watchwords for bestsellers in the youth category.

“Serendipity’s gray-white finish and its clean lines give it breadth and longevity, because you can’t assign a gender to this collection, or an age,” says MacKenzie. “It gives both the retailer and consumer the power to create multiple styles using soft goods and accessories.”

Coaster’s bestsellers, says Nguyen, offer “affordable value, versatility, and durability,” adding that consumers are looking for value-added amenities such as USB charging ports and storage, as well as “designs that are more mature.”

Style, function, and value are what Sullens sees in Legacy Classic’s bestseller. “We are not the lowest cost provider of youth furniture in the industry, we know that,” he says. “That being said, one of our bestsellers is Chelsea by Rachael Ray, a sophisticated moderately priced collection. What makes this group? It’s modern, has clean lines, and a beautiful custom knob hardware finished in soft gold. Our bestsellers consist of all the key factors mentioned above—they have great style, great finishes, can ship quickly, and represent a strong value to the customer.”

“We believe Lucca is popular because it is on-trend without being trendy, which gives it longevity and it’s well-made furniture at a good value,” says Rogers. “We offer the collection in the top finishes and provide features such as soft-close drawer glides, five-piece wooden drawer boxes with dovetailed joints and corner blocks, as well as dust covers. Offering variety in on-trend styles is important to being successful, as well as a good value.”

Looking at the data

Data from Impact Consulting, parent company of Home Furnishings Business, shows that the majority of youth furniture was purchased when the child was 13 years or older, said 33.33% of respondents. Tying at 20.83% were age groups 3-5 years and 6-9 years. Ages 10-13 saw 16.67%, and under 3 years was 8.33%.

When asked “What specific youth furniture pieces did you buy?”, 29.17% said a full/queen headboard; a bunk/loft bed and a dresser both received 25%; a nightstand, 12.5%; a twin headboard and a desk with computer accommodation, 8.33% each; and a theme bed/headboard, 4.17%. The largest response, 33.33% was for “other” furniture.

The majority of respondents, when asked, “Which of the following statements best reflects your thinking at the time of purchase regarding an alternative future use for this furniture?”, said it was purchased for use during childhood only—37.5%. Responding that it was purchased with the idea the child could use it in their first apartment or at school was 29.17%, while 25% said the furniture was purchased in hopes of using it in a spare bedroom one day. Just 8.33% responded that it would have “other” use.

Take 5: Randy Ariail

As principal partner with Ariail & Associates, a retained executive search firm specializing in the procurement of senior management in the furnishings industry, he has a unique perspective on how management—and the criteria for it—has changed through the years. He recently shared his insights with Home Furnishings Business.

Home Furnishings Business: You have witnessed the transition from family to investment bankers to offshore owners and now to more investment bankers. The criteria for management changed as we moved through each transition; did we meet the challenge?

Randy Ariail: When I came into the business in the early ‘70s, there were a number of strong family-held companies: Thomasville, Broyhill, Henredon, Drexel Heritage, Lane, Berkline, Stratford, and Schnadig, just to name a few. Many of these companies became attractive targets for large non-furniture entities such as Armstrong, General Mills, Beatrice Foods, and later, Kohler and Masco. 

In some cases, families continued to manage the companies but in other cases the purchasing companies brought in new management with mixed results. Armstrong brought in the best and brightest young managers from their Resilient flooring division with excellent results. Other companies had mixed results or were simply unsuccessful in transitioning non-furniture executives to the industry. 

In most cases failure had very little to do with personal competency; rather, a lack of understanding of the relationship nature of the business. Secondly, they saw family owned companies making decent profits, and they assumed that they could bring in their Ivy League MBAs, financial experts, and process-oriented people to teach what they assumed to be rather unsophisticated managers how to make some real money. As we all know, that was not the case. However, there was a positive effect regarding the development of management. Many of the large corporations and family owned companies during the ‘70s had very defined management development programs. They would hire college graduates mainly from the N.C. State FM&M program, as well as graduates from schools such as Virginia Tech, UNC, Mississippi State, etc. and put them in structured management development programs geared toward manufacturing or sales/marketing. Thomasville, Broyhill, and Simmons Bedding were the top of the heap in this regard. Simmons developed a number of fine managers who moved from the bedding business into furniture companies.

HFB: As the large corporations, i.e. Armstrong, Masco, etc., acquired companies, corporate training programs were required to develop future talent. What has emerged to fill the vacuum?

Ariail: Unfortunately, in the early ‘80s many companies discontinued their management development programs and concentrated on beating each other’s brains out on price. This not only led to a deficit of talent but an aging demographic in terms of senior management that we still suffer from today.

In the ‘90s and up until the 2000s, due to a shortage of senior management, I actually saw a number of CEOs that failed numerous times still be able to get another assignment as a CEO.  This was a low point. The industry was incestuous to a fault and as well all know incestuousness breeds idiocy. 

While we still suffer from the aging demographic, I am seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. Progressive companies such as Four Hands, Mitchell Gold, Markor, Ashley, and even more traditional held companies such as Bernhardt and Hooker [Furniture] are bringing in young, fresh talent from the outside as well as developing managers to embrace the new paradigms of the business. Many of these companies have progressive CEOs that embrace both the traditional and digital marketplace. (I consider anyone under 55 years old young in this industry.)

It is interesting to note that we are seeing a much different phenomena occurring today as opposed to the ‘70s and ‘80s. The offshore companies who are doing roll-ups in the industry, Samson and Markor in particular, are choosing to attract senior managers with industry talent rather than bringing in executives from outside the industry. As a general rule, they are buying well-managed companies and leaving management in place. This is also true of many of the venture capital firms currently investing in the industry. They are doing their homework and not repeating past mistakes.

HFB: Have we lost the product maven and merchant lore that our industry put on a pedestal?

Ariail: I see another notable change regarding the formative experience of CEOs and senior management in the industry. For a number of years, CEOs normally came from the manufacturing, finance, or the sales side of the business. We are now seeing successful CEOs and senior management come from the merchandising and product development arena. Most of these are talented individuals who are capable of thinking out of both hemispheres of their brain.  They are creative but they have the finite and people skills to run and motivate an organization.  While the digital marketplace has taken some importance away from creative product, the furniture industry is still a creative business. Additionally, what many large corporate entities did not understand is despite the e-commerce phenomena, it is still and always will be a relationship-driven business. Senior managers, whether from inside or outside the industry, that fail to understand this will enjoy limited success at best. 

While there is still somewhat of an aging demographic and a deficit of talent in the industry, I am very optimistic for the future regarding senior management talent. Women, who in the past have been relegated to creative positions, are starting to emerge as CEOs and senior management in the industry. I am also seeing a new breed of mid-management talent being developed by progressive, forward-thinking companies. Another talent pool that is being tapped is marketing and merchandising executives from the retail sector of the industry. I have seen a number of retail executives transition very successfully to the manufacturing/import side of the business. 

HFB: A more analytical approach to managing is a necessity. Do we have management teams with the expertise?

Ariail: While I am optimistic and see light at the end of the tunnel, make no mistake, there is a war for talent. As part of fighting this battle on a daily basis, I can testify to the fact that companies need to be flexible in terms of compensation, benefits, and lifestyle considerations in order to attract top talent. It is our job to market the opportunity to individuals that are gainfully and successfully employed. Within reason, we need that flexibility to attract top talent.

I have been asked on occasion by other search firms as to why I deal exclusively with furniture manufacturers/importers. Simply put, while there are people with different degrees of competency, there are very few bad people in the industry.

HFB: Local universities were active in the industry: N.C. State (manufacturing), High Point University (management program), UNC–Chapel Hill (executive MBA). Why did they lose interest?

Ariail: In terms of schools and colleges educating younger people for the furniture industry, we have lost technical schools such as N.C. State, Kansas State, and others due to the offshoring effect.  However, schools such as Appalachian State and Catawba Valley Technical College have taken up some of the slack regarding technical education, while High Point University has created innovative programs for furniture marketing and management.  We still gave great design schools such as Kendall, Parson’s, and the Savannah School for Art and Design credit for educating our creative people. 

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