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Speakers captivate record crowd at Furniture/Today Leadership Conference

Record attendance at annual event for industry leaders

NAPLES, Fla. — The past five years or so have been nothing short of disruptive and challenging to the furniture industry, Nido Qubein told a packed room at Furniture/Today's Leadership Conference here. (See video below.)

 Nido Qubein, High Point University’s president, captivated the crowd with his remarks at the Furniture/Today Leadership Conference.Nido Qubein, High Point University’s president, captivated the crowd with his remarks at the Furniture/Today Leadership Conference. Follow conference on Twitter at #ftleadershipcon.

But the dynamic president of High Point University also imparted some wisdom to this room full of leaders, advice he received from his mother years ago: "When you become a leader, you lose the right to ever be discouraged."

Qubein said a leader inspires, educates and propels forward those who follow, and then proceeded to do just that in his opening remarks at the 2013 conference, themed Mastering the Game.

More than 450 people (a record) are attending the program, which runs through this morning at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort here, and by the time Qubein finished his address, they were all on their feet applauding. His presentation, a mix of humor, advice and storytelling, transported attendees through Qubein's poor immigrant start, his rise in the business world and then his jump to High Point University, which has been setting records in enrollment, financial gifts, campus expansion and other areas during the eight years that he has led the institution.

Qubein's take on how leaders rise to challenges, how they work to create visions and develop strategies to get the most out of their followers, and how they keep the word "discouragement" out of their vocabulary was much needed medicine for attendees here, given a program that also tackled challenging issues, including the wave of Proposition 65 litigation in California that has been hitting the industry this year.

Amy Lally, a partner in the Sidley Austin law firm in Los Angeles, walked attendees through the Prop 65 law, how it works, who holds the greatest burden of proof (the defendant, not the party bringing the toxic chemical lawsuits) and common pitfalls to avoid.

Attendees also got to hear from leading e-commerce players the industry executing four distinct models, including the pure-play;, the youthful, fashion forward online business owned by Nordstrom; Unlimited Furniture Group's brick-and-click model; and Blueport Commerce and its subsidiary, providing e-commerce platforms to existing brick-and-mortar retailers.

In a discussion on "Mastering the Transition," a next generation of leaders offered up their thoughts on what it's going to take to attract the Millennial generation - not just to buy furniture, but to come to work for furniture companies. That panel featured Becca Sudbeck of Nebraska Furniture Mart, Mark Mueller of Mueller Furniture, Jessica Tubman of Circle Furniture, Will Daughtrey of Badcock Home Furniture & more and Seth Goldberg or Raymour & Flanigan.

Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner offered his take on the economic outlook for the industry and the nation as a whole, and Peter Tourtellot, of turnaround consulting firm Anderson Bauman Tourtellot Vos, shared his report highlighting the challenges and opportunities facing the industry, including what he considered an urgent need for suppliers to work on branding themselves effectively.

Tourtellot said the industry is much stronger today than it was four years ago as many companies are seeing increased sales and profits. The landscape is changed as well with rising costs overseas shifting some manufacturing back to the U.S. and Mexico.

Still, he added, the industry faces challenges including smaller homes and apartments that will force a change in some of its product development moving forward. In addition, he said, the industry will need to focus more of its attention on customer service issues including sharpening lead times. He also said there's a continued need to build brand awareness.

"Those that understand branding and its importance will benefit greatly," he said. "Building a brand is not going to happen overnight. You need to be prepared to invest dollars to build your brand over time so that at the end of five or six years you have something people recognize."

Watch for more videos from the conference posted on this website, and complete coverage of the event in the Dec. 16-22 issue of Furniture/Today.

*For other videos from the Leadership Conference, click here.

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