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  • Clint Engel

Association leaders discuss how to lure consumers

HIGH POINT - Leaders of home furnishings associations and other industry representatives met for a second time here during the High Point Market to discuss ways to boost consumer spending on furniture and accessories and help retailers better connect with consumers.
     Still in early stages of development, the "Home Furnishings Competitiveness Initiative" has, for now, adopted the former Home Furnishing Council banner to further its mission.
     But exactly what that mission will be and how it plays out was up for debate during the one-hour session in the International Home Furnishings Center.
     The meeting was attended by 18 people, including representatives of the National Home Furnishings Assn., Western Home Furnishings Assn., Home Furnishings Independents Assn., Accessories Resource Team, International Market Centers and the International Home Furnishings Representatives Assn.
     Eric Blackledge, of Corvallis, Ore.-based Blackledge Furniture, who organized the first meeting this summer and has led the effort to pull the industry together, presented the results of a brief online survey of the invited representatives and asked for insight on what should be done.
     Most of those answering the survey graded the industry fair to poor on how it competes with other industries for the consumer's dollar. Also, 60% said there is a need for a consumer information program to increase interest and knowledge of home furnishings.
     Some 84% also said retailer educational materials - on marketing, merchandising, operations and sales training - would be useful or very useful.
     Some attendees questioned the limited reach of the initial survey, and Blackledge recommended the various retailer associations go back to their memberships to get broader input on what kind of industry-wide effort can be most effective. He also encouraged the associations to steer the initiative going forward.
     The industry has tried repeatedly to so something similar through the former Home Furnishings Council and through the HomeFurnishings.com consumer Web portal, but results have never lived up to expectations.
     Blackledge said the thinking this time is to reverse the process. Instead of driving consumers to an industry portal, that portal could serve as a home for videos and other content that retailers and suppliers can use on their own websites - which consumers are more likely to visit first.
     The group plans another meeting for the next Las Vegas Market.

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