Furniture Today Leadership Conference – A Call to Action

December 5, 2018

The 22nd annual Furniture Today Leadership Conference took place last week in Orlando. It was the largest ever Leadership Conference and takes place at a key inflection point for the furniture industry. So no surprise that beyond catching up with old friends and building new relationships, the business of furniture was on everyone’s mind.

Bill McLoughlin, Chief Content Officer at Furniture Today, set the tone early during his welcome remarks with three observations. First, retail is not one size fits all and there are lots of ways to achieve success. Second, people are our biggest challenge, our biggest expense, and our biggest opportunity. Third, change is a state of being and not unique to the current times or environment.

This was my favorite Leadership Conference yet. Loads of great conversations. A wonderful venue. And powerful content across many topics. If only we had warmer weather!

We Are in the Technology Business and Just Happen to Sell Furniture

One session in particular had the crowd buzzing for the entire event.

The Leadership Session featured a panel of illustrious furniture CEOs including Clarence Smith (Haverty’s), Irv Blumkin (Nebraska Furniture Mart), Brian Woods (Jerome’s Furniture), and Keith Koenig (City Furniture) discussing leadership in a changing retail universe. This powerful session covered lots of ground where four competitors talked candidly with each other about their business strategy, growth plans, key challenges, and more.

One CEO talked about the website as their flagship store. Another CEO acknowledged that they had not done enough to date with their online business and shared that it would be a big investment area in 2019. Another CEO stated that consumers start their shopping process online so that the brand’s website is more important than ever. Everyone agreed that their website’s value extends well beyond driving online sales. Several CEOs talked about how they are leveraging tablets for store associates and key improvements in the works for the customer experience.

The conversation continued. It became more and more clear that these retailers are making huge investments in their technology and that the bar gets higher every year. Consumer buying dynamics continue to evolve and the furniture industry has been late to this new Digital-centric world and slow to build true Omnichannel capabilities. The reality is that everyone is playing catch-up. And that technology investments made today would be critical in determining tomorrow’s survivors and winners.

And then one of the CEOs said the following and the room’s collective jaw dropped.

“We are in the Technology business and just happen to sell Furniture.”

As if to further emphasize the point, they went on to say “if you don’t have that mindset, you won’t be able to compete going forward.” Powerful words.

Who’s Ready for Holistic Retail?

The furniture industry is at an inflection point. Amazon and Wayfair continue to rapidly grow their online furniture businesses and steal share from traditional retailers. Consumer buying dynamics favor researching products online. And the lines between the online channel and the store no longer exist.

Bill McLoughlin coined the phrase “Holistic retail” earlier this year as being the next level for furniture retailers. It’s a mindset which builds upon an Omnichannel foundation to include driving customer education, entertainment, and experiences throughout the buying process. But how many furniture retailers can truly claim to be Omnichannel businesses today? And now the bar has been elevated to Holistic retail. In order to compete and survive, we all need different models. The strategies and tactics that got us this far won’t be the only ones that drive future success.

Read it Again: We Are in the Technology Business and Just Happen to Sell Furniture

December is a time of year when we look to map out our 2019 plans. As you do your annual planning, embrace the mindset around Holistic retail. As you envision a bright future for your business, consider Keith Koenig’s observation that we are all in the technology business. How does this observation and new reality change how you’ll approach your planning process? What will you do differently in the planning process to combat the new reality that we all face? Is your website your flagship store? Do you enable customers to seamlessly engage with your brand across channels and across devices?

The answers to these and other questions that you will likely ask as part of your planning process do not have easy answers. The tactics needed to implement Holistic retail will be transformational (and not incremental), requiring technology investments and partnerships and a new approach.

Leadership in 2019

Major General Vincent Boles, who gave this year’s keynote presentation, shared an observation that people often hold back from making hard decisions and putting the right strategy into action. The Major General then issued a challenge. Leadership is all about doing the stuff that needs to get done.

In 2019, the stuff that needs to get done is making the right call on the technology investments that will drive your future success.


Blueport Commerce is the leading cloud e-commerce platform for furniture. Brick and mortar retailers use our cloud platform to build amazing omnichannel websites, offer better shopping experiences, and drive sales online and in their stores. To learn more visit www.blueport.com or connect with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or through our resource center.