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  • Cindy W. Hodnett

WithIt honors best, brightest with WOW Awards

Five recognized at Las Vegas Market event

AT THE MARKET — The top floor of World Market Center Building B was filled with some of the industry's best and brightest talent on Sunday night when members and supporters of WithIt, a women's leadership development network for the home and furnishings industry, gathered for the 2014 WOW awards.

The ceremony is held each year to recognize leaders who have made a significant impact on their companies and the industry.

 WOW Award winners honored by WithIt at market Karrie Forbes, left, Mattress Firm, Leadership Award; Susan Gravely, Vietri, Legacy Award; Leah Kirkland, MicroD, Future Leader Award; Russell Bienenstock, Furniture World, Education Award; and Mary Knackstedt, Knackstedt Inc., Mentoring Award.WOW Award winners honored by WithIt at market Karrie Forbes, left, Mattress Firm, Leadership Award; Susan Gravely, Vietri, Legacy Award; Leah Kirkland, MicroD, Future Leader Award; Russell Bienenstock, Furniture World, Education Award; and Mary Knackstedt, Knackstedt Inc., Mentoring Award.
 Mary Knackstedt, left, Knackstedt Inc.; Sharon Davis, ART-Accessories Resource Team; Jenny Heinzen York, Home Accents Today.Mary Knackstedt, left, Knackstedt Inc.; Sharon Davis, ART-Accessories Resource Team; Jenny Heinzen York, Home Accents Today.
 Betty Lyn Eller, left, Walters Design; Jena Hall, Jena Hall Designs; Rita Ho-Bezzola, Somerton Dwelling.Betty Lyn Eller, left, Walters Design; Jena Hall, Jena Hall Designs; Rita Ho-Bezzola, Somerton Dwelling.
 Violette Forman, left, Havertys, Atlanta; Legacy Award honoree Susan Gravely, Vietri; Sara Lyke, WithIt.Violette Forman, left, Havertys, Atlanta; Legacy Award honoree Susan Gravely, Vietri; Sara Lyke, WithIt.

"I can't think of a better way to cap off the first day of market," said Bob Maricich, CEO of International Market Centers, which owns and operates the World Market Center. "This is a celebration of the success, and we're here to acknowledge the difference that each of the nominees makes in our industry."

Jena Hall followed Maricich with a tribute to Margaret "Peggy" Traub, a co-founder of WithIt, who died earlier this month.

Betty Lyn Eller opened the awards presentation.

"I want to congratulate the 12 finalists in the room tonight," Eller said. "Each nominee was selected by an industry of their peers, and it's not about who's standing at the end, but standing collectively."

The Mentoring award is given to an executive or organization that has supported advocacy, development or promotion of women in their company. For 2014, Mary Knackstedt of Knackstedt Inc. received the award.

"As an industry, our strength is in working together, everyone from the person working on the bench making the furniture to the communications people to the distribution people and designers - all of the players that really make this the great industry that it is," Knackstedt said. "And we have an opportunity to really make it even greater in the future if we all work together."

The Education award is given to an executive or company that has developed programs to educate associates, retailers or consumers about home furnishings. Russell Bienenstock of Furniture World magazine received the award.

"I would like to invite all of you here tonight to come see the Furniture Library when you visit High Point, a wonderful, one-of-a-kind resource for the industry offering more than 5,000 volumes on furniture design," Bienenstock said. "Whether you own a library on a big scale, or you are writing articles that go out to the industry in general, or whether you are just helping somebody - a retailer or a furniture designer or a wannabe furniture designer who has called our office, there is an opportunity to be helpful, and that is what education is all about."

The Future Leaders award is given to a woman under 40 who has demonstrated achievement and the potential to become an industry leader. Leah Kirkland of MicroD is the 2014 recipient.

"I remember sitting at WOW awards in the past and thinking how incredible each of the women who were honored was, and how I was blessed to be a part of it," Kirkland said. "I am very lucky to have a great team that makes me look good, and I appreciated the support of my team, my mentors, the leadership of my organization, and of course, this group which I feel has helped me grow into the woman that I am."

Leadership award nominees are women who have demonstrated successful leadership in a company, in WithIt and in the home and furnishings industry. Karrie Forbes of Mattress Firm is the 2014 recipient.

"I have had so many great mentors across all the different organizations - our vendors, our agencies, people here at market - who have helped us grow, helped me grow and helped this whole industry," Forbes said. "I think there is so much upside and opportunity as we continue to really take this industry to a new level. Specifically in the mattress world, we want people to have improved lives by understanding that better sleep can really make a big difference and to really connect with consumers in a different way."

 Bob Maricich, International Market Centers, and Julia Rosien, Restonic.Bob Maricich, International Market Centers, and Julia Rosien, Restonic.

The final award of the evening - the Legacy award - was presented to Susan Gravely, founder and CEO of lifestyle brand Vietri. Gravely founded Vietri following a family vacation in Italy in 1983.

"One of the greatest aspects of what I have been able to do in my life has been to meet people from all over the world," Gravely said. "When we were growing up in eastern North Carolina, we had a globe. My father would point to Rocky Mount, N.C., and then draw a line to China, or Zimbabwe, or France or Italy, and would say, ‘Look how small the world is! You are only a plane ticket or phone call away, so go explore!'

"My father had a heart attack at 60, and my mother, sister and I were celebrating him on a trip to the Amalfi Coast when we ate off these wonderful plates that were mixed and matched. Thirty-one years later, I will say to all of you that we worked hard together to build the business and I am very proud that tabletop is being celebrated as part of the home furnishings industry."

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