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After recession, new playing field emerges

Heath E. Combs Staff writerHeath E. Combs Staff writer
If it was easy, everyone could do it. That's quote from an importer earlier this year, and he's right.
     The recession trashed the furniture business. The industry bears the scars. The recession continues slowly being paved over with a new business climate. Better economic signs appear to be beating the bad more often these days.
     Clearer glimpses emerge each month of the playing field the industry will compete on these next few years. The biggest retailers are getting bigger - there's an appetite to explore new channels, new cities and a new consumer. Hopefully we're all getting comfortable with the changing demographics of America.
     It's not just the financially troubled who are being acquired. Veteran names like Furniture.com are getting new life. This consumer is armed with mobile, tablet and social technology.
     Who knows how much the recession has obscured the buying power and buying habits of coming of age groups underemployed during that time? Who would have guessed 10 years ago we'd have social media consultants? Or that white glove delivery service models would be battling it out nationally? That merlot finishes would quietly retreat into the background? Or that we'd be setting televisions on a 95-inch console?
     In conversation, the industry discusses where there's room for expansion. They ask: where and how are customers underserved; how will new competition in new markets fare?
     Congratulations if you've survived this far. The best suppliers and retailers were nimble. Most had to make decisions they didn't want to make - but had to. Or they stretched out of their comfort zone and were creative.
     Good people lost their jobs - and there are still a lot out there looking for employment. The economy is slowly chugging back to life. Other recoveries have been quicker. This one's more like a rusty old steam engine, creaking slowly back into motion.
     Our economy - much like the furniture industry does several times a year - reinvents itself each time we throw off the shackles of an old recession. Hopefully the weaknesses that created it are cured.
     Going back to that original sentence - everyone can't do it and they didn't. There are many moving pieces to being a furniture supplier or retailer or a company that services them.
     You need someone who understands the online business or someone who can promote effectively online. It takes talented people to guide containers and run warehouses around the world.
     A lot of suppliers say business still isn't exactly great. But just by still being around to say that, they've already proven a lot. It's going to be interesting to see what our industry looks like in another 10 years. Our collective skin is definitely much thicker.

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