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Jerry Cohen Law and the Business of Furniture blog.

Market Recap: New Business Approaches for an Upbeat but Uncertain Climate

November 4, 2013

Now that I've had time to digest what I saw at Market, I wanted to share some thoughts about the state of the industry and the outlook people have. I've been going to Market for 20 years, but I went into this one with greater anticipation because of the Furniture Brands International bankruptcy filing just six weeks ago. Here are the main things I saw:

A tale of two cities. I saw some businesses doing extremely well and growing large, while others were treading water. Many industries have this, but in our industry it is pronounced. Part of this is to be expected: we live in an uncertain world, not only in the wake of the FBI bankruptcy but also rattled by the government shutdown and debt ceiling uncertainties. But after talking with colleagues in the industry, what became clear is that the divide is between those companies that are plugged in and moving ahead-with technology, the right people and product, and creative business alliances --and those that are not. Competition is more intense than ever before and businesses need to keep up. After seeing this up close, the lesson I draw from Market is that the best business plan is proactively designed for the state of flux we have today, rather than waiting until the uncertainty ends.

New relationships and alliances. When you take a closer look at the alliances I mention above, it's striking. I noticed a number of FBI customers that, in the wake of FBI's bankruptcy filing, are realigning their product mixes by forging new relationships. I've observed before that the ripple effect of the bankruptcy affects every kind of business along the supply chain, from designers all the way to retailers. So it's not surprising that in a changed market, businesses are finding value in relationships where they had not before.

A new spotlight on licensing. What was also striking was the floor space reflecting licensing agreements that allow companies to extend their brands. I noticed an increase in floor space devoted to licensors, or companies that allow other companies to sell products under their name. These agreements are everywhere. Baker furniture is selling products under the name of designer Jacques Garcia, tapping into a whole new market. And as Furniture Today reported, Jackson Furniture has recently signed an exclusive agreement to sell stationary and motion upholstery under the name of Duck Dynasty, the popular reality TV show.

And finally, the great leaders of WithIt. If you don't know about WithIt, the furniture industry organization promoting the advancement and recognition of women, you should. I'm biased, as I'm on its Board of Governors, but once again I left inspired by what WithIt members are saying and doing about the challenges and opportunities ahead. To my WithIt colleagues and friends, thank you again for showing us all why relationships are so important to achievement.

This isn't everything I saw at Market. But these are some of the main reasons why this year's event was one of the most interesting I've seen in 20 years. As for ongoing business issues, I'll have more to say about licensing in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I'm interested in hearing from you about how you're thinking differently about business relationships and creative approaches to navigate the months and years ahead. Comment below or email me your thoughts at jcohen@ctswlaw.com.

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