• Bill McLoughlin

DomiNation 2017 fuels growth with motivation, education

TAMPA, Fla. — Not content to rest on its industry-leading $4 billion plus in furniture sales, Ashley Furniture Inds. invited nearly 2,000 associates, marketing specialists, dealers and HomeStores to its recent DomiNation 2017 conference here aimed at energizing what the company termed its 14th rebirth.

In the face of changing technology, market conditions and demographics, Ashley is in the midst of remaking itself into what company president and CEO Todd Wanek calls, “a technology company.” The latest “reinvention,” a concept that dates back to 1982 when the company faced the existential decision to develop manufacturing capabilities in China, is part of Ashley’s constant search for improvement, according to Wanek.

“We are a growth-focused company, and the biggest resource we want to grow is our people,” Todd Wanek said. “We are becoming a technology company. In the last five years, we’ve invested more than $300 million in technology and the people to handle it.”

That growth task today is complicated by a number of factors, not the least of which is access to a trained labor force.

Opening the three-day event, Chairman Ron Wanek told attendees the company was going through the largest year of construction in its history with more than 2.5 million square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space under construction. However, like a number of U.S. manufacturers, Ashley is being challenged to find workers with the technical manufacturing skills necessary, a challenge the elder Wanek sees as directly related to shortcomings in the educational system.

“Technical skills education is in big trouble today,” Ron Wanek told attendees.

Despite these challenges Ashley sees itself as a “Day 1” company, still in the stage of vigorous growth and expansion, focused on ongoing improvement, innovation and optimistic about its future. “This year we will eclipse $5 billion in total sales,” Todd Wanek told the audience. “We believe home furnishings will be one of the fastest growing segments of the economy and presents us with an unbelievable growth opportunity.”

He noted that Ashley’s HomeStore business is growing at a 10% clip and is on pace to be a $4.2 billion retailer this year. Internationally, the company recently opened its 100th HomeStore in China and expects to have 200 HomeStores globally by yearend. And despite its growing emphasis on technology, Wanek reaffirmed the company’s focus on building a best-in-class store operation.

“We believe there is a huge future in brick and mortar,” Todd Wanek said. “We believe stores are a huge competitive advantage.”

The opportunity, he explained, is to seamless blend consumers’ digital and in-store experiences, using technology to simplify and enhance the shopping process. To that end, the company is currently testing new partnerships and beginning implementation of virtual and augmented reality solutions that will enable shoppers to more quickly, easily and frequently, outfit their homes.

First, change behavior

Communicating all this to a company with more than 32,000 employees worldwide is a challenge, and the DomiNation 2017 conference was designed to serve as both motivation and education, enhancing communication within and across Ashley’s myriad divisions.

Headlining the event was business and life coach Tony Robbins, who combined high-energy music with detailed business and psychology education aimed at arming attendees with tools to control of their personal and professional lives.

Robbins’ three-day program was interspersed with other high-level speakers including marketing specialist Jay Abraham, futurist Peter Diamandis and professional sports and business coach Tim Grover. Throughout the conference, Robbins combined his signature no-nonsense, high-energy speaking style with a series of group exercises aimed at breaking down internal silos, fostering stronger communication and helping attendees build new work and behavior patterns.

“If you want new results you need new behaviors.” Robbins told the audience. “That can only come from a new emotional state.”

To achieve a significant change, according to Robbins, requires a change in physiology — meaning how you use your body, how you breathe and how you move — and a change in focus, which he believes shapes what you feel.

“The most important ability in life is the ability to master your emotional state,” Robbins said. “The quality of your life is the quality of the emotions you live with every day.”

Robbins also led attendees through a value chain exercise, which he described as a system for constantly creating value for the client. The interactive exercise had each attendee diagram a business process or “value chain,” citing an example where some process or business effort had broken down.

The process was intended to highlight the necessary interactions, communications and myriad individual responsibilities that must all work in concert for a company to deliver successfully to a client. It also highlighted the places where such processes can break down. “The value chain is a relay race,” Robbins said. “If any one of us fails to pass or receive, the system breaks down.”

One of the most critical steps in this process, and something Robbins stressed repeatedly, was the importance of all people involved in the value chain to “clarify and verify.” He instructed that those receiving information or a hand-off make sure they are clear on all relevant variables and required outcomes and that those passing along information or tasks make certain that information or task has been received and successfully completed.

“Everyone is the keeper of the flame … all the time,” Robbins stressed.

Rethinking the future

Abraham took that sentiment even one step further in his presentation, sharing his concept of “Preeminence.”

“Think of anyone and everyone that you trust implicitly, who commands your respect, who you know cares about your best interest even above their own,” Abraham said. “Think about what they have done historically to create that sense of trust.”

It is that goal, that sense of trust that should underpin companies’ and individuals’ behavior with clients, something that Abraham described as becoming “the most trusted advisor” in a relationship.

“The key is mastering true empathy,” Abraham said. “That says, ‘I am committed to acknowledging and respecting how you see life.”

He drew a sharp distinction between being a “trusted advisor” and giving advice, the former aimed at enhancing the lives of everyone with whom one comes into contact and the latter focused on steering someone toward a desired, most-often profitable, outcome.

Abraham also challenged attendees to think in these terms about the product they sell focusing more on the life experiences that take place in, on and around the item. “There’s a lot more to this than buying a piece of furniture, to just being an appendage in your living room,” Abraham said. “You have to take people on a journey.”

Taking people into the near future was the focus of Peter Diamandis, who skyped in to the event from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He described a future where wearable technology will change not only what we wear but how we communicate, where automated vehicles and “uberization” could eliminate car ownership, and where artificial intelligence will create as yet unforeseen changes in shopping and lifestyle behaviors.

“AI is changing everything,” Diamandis said. “In 10 years you will have an AI shell [not unlike Jarvis in the Iron Man movie] that will become your partner in everything you do. Your advertising is not going to be to a person but to that person’s AI.”

Diamandis also predicted:

  • We’re heading toward a world where everything is being imaged (recorded) all the time.
  • There’s about to be a drone explosion that will see an average of 10 million over every city.
  • In the next seven years, Internet connectivity will add another five billion new users.
  • By 2025 car ownership will be dead, parking lots will be irrelevant.
  • By 2030 there will be more than 100 trillion sensors in use, and every piece of furniture will have sensors built into it.

While not a predictor of the future, sports and business coach Tim Grover came to the event with a successful past history of getting the most out of high performers with clients included Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, among others.

He identified the characteristics of those who are most successful as those who deliver optimal results over and over and over again, who don’t wait for opportunity but create their own.

“I don’t want the individuals that tell you they think outside the box,” said Grover. “I want the individuals who don’t see the box. There is no box.”

Bill McLoughlinBill McLoughlin | Chief Content Officer

I’m Bill McLoughlin, Chief Content Officer at Furniture Today. In the 25 plus years I’ve covered retail the thing I’ve enjoyed most is the people; hearing their stories, learning about their companies and sharing insights on the business. Through this blog I hope to continue that dialogue. Sometimes you may agree with me, sometimes not. But it’s my hope you will find a fresh perspective and perhaps an idea or two that helps improve your business. I welcome your comments and look forward to a long and productive dialogue.

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