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AHFA members updated on what's working in marketing

RALEIGH, N.C. - Attendees at the American Home Furnishings Alliance's annual marketing meeting here, dubbed "Think Fast, Move Faster," were treated to insights from industry veterans and outside voices on matters such as marketing and merchandising, celebrity licensing, the use of social media and more.
     Among the presenters at the June 24-26 meeting, which drew about 40 AHFA members and guests, were Jena Hall, Ed Tashjian, Kent Panther, Renee Loper, Dawn Brinson, Rick Babick and Janine Michalek.
     Babick and Michalek of Design Research presented "Beyond the Great Room," a report based on their American Living Survey. The national survey of about 730 households asked questions concerning furniture purchases, including styles and colors of the furniture for the home's main living space.
       Their findings highlighted the ever-increasing influence of the Millennial or Generation Y generation (for the survey, it encompassed ages 22 to 29) as it relates to growing purchasing power, style of furniture and décor, and how the room is used.
     "Generation Y is the one buying now, so we should be paying attention to them," Michalek said. "Even if they are living at home, they're influencing the way their parents buy as well."
     A social media case study on the HGTV Home launch at Houston's Gallery Furniture was presented by Bassett Furniture's Loper and Brinson of The Media Matters.
     The duo took a look at how the retailer used a variety of social media platforms - along with traditional avenues - to hype the arrival of HGTV Home products. They said Gallery Furniture owner Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale saw the ability of social media as a way to reach beyond customary means.
     "For a man who came up in a fairly traditional marketing, furniture selling environment, he was very interested in social media," Brinson said. "He's interested in how social media fits in as a tactic. He is not hesitant to have his staff participate in this."
     For five days prior to the product unveiling, Gallery's Facebook site teased photos with questions such as, "Does anybody know what this is?" or "Guess what's bigger than Texas?" to create a buzz in the community. Later, a social media scavenger hunt was held, with HGTV Home signs posted in various locations around Houston. The first person to locate the sign and bring it into the store each day received a $250 gift certificate.
     "One of the great things they do is constantly leverage what they have," Loper said. "On their website, they do a constant feed of their social media channels and they always have a contest going on. From a bringing it all together standpoint, they do a great job of promoting."
     Jena Hall of Jena Hall Designs presented three case studies in looking at the "Marriage of Marketing and Merchandising."
     The first business transitioned from a regional leader in office furniture to a full line producer of fashion-driven furniture. Among its innovations were full-extension drawer glides, cell phone and iPad charging stations in the furniture, night lights in nightstands and appliance outlets in buffets.
     "These features gave them competitive conversations beyond style and price point," Hall said.
     The second company, a specialist in high-end reproduction accent furniture, had to reinvent itself because its high-end retailer base dried up. "This company had to reinvent themselves because the cheese got moved and their eye wasn't on it," Hall said.
     The decision was made to focus more on decorators and to turn attention to specialty trades such as bed and bath retailers, hotels and restaurants.
     The third company, an American-based importer, was facing the prospect of closure because the owner was looking to get out of the industry.
     "He was going to become a Buddhist monk and close the business," Hall said. "One of the daughters had been educated in the U.S. and studied classical piano in Vienna. She didn't want to take over the family business. There was a change of heart by the daughter. She said, ‘I think there's room to improve Chinese furniture production and do a better job. If you let me do this, this and this, I'll take over the business.'"
     The daughter's decisions included appealing to younger buyers and a commitment to higher standards of quality, fashion, styling and sustainability.
     Panther's presentation focused on the growing number of websites and apps that can track advertising return on investment and broke it down into groupings such as paid media (ads), owned media (company websites, etc.), earned media (articles and PR) and shared media (social media platforms).
     Tashjian's presentation focused on celebrity licensing, specifically what to look for and what to watch out for. He presented a 10-point licensing checklist and another list of the five biggest problems in licensing.
     Toward the end of the presentation, he invited attendees to brainstorm ideas on how they would handle the crisis involving celebrity chef Paula Deen, who has a furniture line through Universal Furniture and recently lost partnerships with Food Network, Walmart and Smithfield Foods due to the revelation that she had used racially insensitive language.
     "Unlike sausages, which have a short shelf life, furniture inventory is real, tangible stuff that's worth a lot of money," Tashjian said. "What are you going to do when your retailers say, ‘If you run away, come take this merchandise, take it away from me and compensate me for my lost sales.'"
     Attendees agreed that Universal is handling the situation correctly in issuing a letter to dealers stating the company is the taking a wait and see approach so the facts can play out.

Jena Hall, left, Jena Hall Designs, and Jackie Hirschhaut, AHFA.
Jena Hall, left, Jena Hall
Amy Hudwalker, left, Tuuci; Ellen BassettAmy Hudwalker, left, Tuuci; Ellen Bassett, Vaughan-Bassett Furniture; Janine Michalek and Richard Babick, Design Research LLC

Terri James, left, American Drew/Lea/Hammary; Lindsey
Gibbs, Geographics, High Point; Carol Shearer, Uttermost.

Terri James, left, American Drew
Regenia Payne, left, Taylor King
Regenia Payne, left, Taylor King Furniture, and Laura Holland, Hickory Chair.

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