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FMG's 2014 Symposium eyes connecting to consumers

WolskeWolske
Las Vegas - Furniture Marketing Group drew a record crowd to its 2014 Symposium here, one heavily focused on connecting with consumers through better store design and smarter marketing and by employing a critical digital strategy.
     The High Point-based buying group, which counts many Top 100 companies among its members, kicked off the event at Caesars Palace with a Jan. 23 keynote address by Jon Wolske, culture evangelist for online shoe giant Zappos.com, which is based in Las Vegas.
     It followed the next day with a series of fireside panel discussions (fireplace provided by Twin-Star International), with topics ranging from building image through advertising to store design, digital marketing innovation and logistics.
     The event drew some 250 people including 65% of the group's membership base, a record turnout, said Mike Herschel, FMG executive director.
     During the advertising panel, Dirk Stallman, marketing director of Waukesha, Wis.-based Steinhafels, urged attendees to build their video presence, especially online, calling video "our fut
Gary SteinhafelGary Steinhafel, left, Steinhafels, Waukesha, Wis.; Oscar Miskelly, Miskelly Furniture, Jackson, Miss.; and Alex Macias, Del Sol Furniture, Phoenix.
ure."
     Steinhafels has invested to make sure it rides the video wave. The Top 100 company built a studio complete with a green screen and hired an Emmy award-winning producer to lead production of spots that run both online and on television. It produces more than 250 spots a year.
     "Even though we've been in the market for 80 years, you can't rest. You have to keep telling people ... why they should shop you," Stallman said.
     During the panel on digital marketing, Andrea Bergeson, a blogger for Salt Lake City-based R.C. Willey, talked to attendees via an Internet video call from her Utah home, where she does all her writing. Her Room to Talk blog on R.C. Willey's website was never designed to sell furniture, she said.
     "The whole purpose was to create relationships with customers and provide a unique place online they could go to find useful information," she said. The thinking is that would lead to increased brand loyalty and more customers shopping the business.
     Bergeson's blog covers a variety of topics, including design tips and trends, but also non-furniture topics such as "holiday fun" ideas and recipes.
     She recommended that bloggers "get personal" and include a first name and photo because "people love to think they're connecting with an actual person."
Larry AlterwitzLarry Alterwitz, left, Walker Furniture, Las Vegas; Barb Tronstein and Steve Tronstein, Gardner-White Furniture, Auburn Hills, Mich.

     She added that "content is king" and that readers are coming primarily for valuable content and help.
In the keynote address, Zappos' Wolske gave attendees a feel for how the company grew from a small drop-ship business to the shoe-selling powerhouse it is today with an emphasis on a workplace culture that puts employees first and, as a result, has created a reputation for great customer service.
     The online retailer, now owned by Amazon.com, spent a year developing a list of core values "we could hire and fire on," he said.
     At the top of that list is "delivering ‘wow' through service." Call center employees understand their job is to listen and help, not sell, said Wolske. There are no sales quotas. The average call takes four to five minutes, but the record was over 10 hours.
    Zappos' core values also encourage employees to embrace and drive change, to be adventurous and open-minded, to build a positive team and family spirit, to be humble and "create fun with a little weirdness." There is no dress code, and workers often come dressed in costume. Wolske said the Zappos knows employees are going to work hard, but it also wants to make sure they're not working too hard.
     When companies focus on the lives of employees, he said, there's less burnout and less need to hire replacements, saving companies money.

Larry KlabenLarry Klaben, left, Morris Furniture, Dayton, Ohio; Eric Foucrier, Rachlin Classics; Dru Jeppe and Julian Jeppe, Reed’s Furniture, Agoura Hills, Calif.; Mike Papadakis, Powell; Jim Ziozis, Powell and Linon Home Décor Products, and Mike Cohen, Coaster.

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