Month: April 2017

charity marathon

This Is How Ashley Furniture Is Supporting the Arts

Ashley Furniture has made a habit of giving back to the communities in which it operates. From supporting local disaster-relief initiatives to ensuring that all children can enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep, the company has drawn on the support and generosity of its employees to make a variety of positive changes in the world.

One of Ashley Furniture’s largest charitable endeavors is Ashley for the Arts. A multiday extravaganza of fun, creativity, and generosity, Ashley for the Arts has quickly become one of the largest charity events in the state of Wisconsin, bringing together tens of thousands of people from across the Midwest for several worthwhile causes.

What is it?

ashley for the arts logoAshley Furniture established Ashley for the Arts to unlock the powerful potential of the creative community to enrich the wider world. Since 2009, the annual music and arts festival has welcomed as many as 30,000 people to Soldiers Walk Memorial Park in Arcadia, Wisconsin—a small town of just under 3,000 people—for a weekend of art, music, and family fun.

Soldiers Walk Memorial Park, the biggest memorial park outside of the nation’s capital, encompasses 54 sprawling acres of open green spaces and winding pathways. Made possible in large part by the generosity of Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., founder Ron Wanek, it is also the site of the Avenue of Heroes, which features statues honoring America’s veterans and prominent historical figures.

The park’s beautiful and expansive grounds are the perfect setting for all that Ashley for the Arts has to offer. For three days, attendees of all ages flock to the park to view performances by local and nationally renowned artists, peruse arts and crafts, enjoy food and drinks, and take part in fun outdoor activities. Soldiers Walk Memorial Park boasts four performance venues, the largest of which is capable of accommodating over 20,000 people. The park’s Millennium Amphitheater and Pavilion house smaller performances, while two Air Parks feature a number of unique attractions, including inflatable bounce houses and a hot-air balloon launch. There is also a car show and a youth obstacle course, as well as a Saturday-night fireworks display.

Ashley for the Arts is firmly rooted in the principles of family and community; the festival features creative works by students from numerous regional school districts, and events benefiting a variety of charitable causes dot its schedule. Moreover, the festival is extremely affordable. Tickets for the entire three-day event, including access to all performances and activities, are just $10.

Giving Back

Ashley for the Arts is much more than a celebration of art and creativity; it is also a platform through with communities can come together to support one another. In fact, it has grown to become one of the largest charity events in the state, raising over $300,000 each year to benefit more than 25 nonprofit organizations, such as Ashley for the Arts’ partner schools, children’s charities, and community-based organizations. The event also benefits medical-sector nonprofits, including research organizations and groups providing financial assistance to fund treatment for patients with serious diseases.

street marathonOne of the prominent charity events that takes place during Ashley for the Arts is the Pursuit of a Cure 5K and Miracle Mile Run-Walk. Open to runners in several age divisions for a small fee, the event allows participants to donate 100 percent of their registration costs to the charitable organization of their choice. In 2016, this event raised more than $18,000 for groups like the American Cancer Society, the Arcadia Ambulance Service, and the Rita Tranberg Memorial.

Ashley for the Arts also seeks to support charitable endeavors on the individual level. Through an annual humanitarian award program, the event organizers recognize local heroes from a number of Wisconsin school districts, whose dedication and generosity have made their neighborhoods more enriching places to live, learn, work, and play. Individuals receive this special honor during sporting events at their schools, which also receive monetary awards. Ashley for the Arts’ humanitarian award winners’ represent the diverse ways in which individuals can serve their communities. The honorees of 2016, for example, established community centers and athletic facilities, launched pet therapy programs at their local humane societies, and introduced a generation of students to the joy of reading at the school library, and more.

Looking Ahead

In recent years, Ashley for the Arts has enjoyed unprecedented growth. The event has consistently seen attendance increase by 50 percent each year since its inception, and it broke new ground in 2016, welcoming 8,000 more attendees than the previous year to reach a total attendance of over 35,000 people. Moreover, this record attendance occurred despite a particularly rainy Friday. Featuring such noteworthy artists as Chicago, American Authors, and Kellie Pickler, the 2016 event raised more than $300,000 for dozens of charitable causes.

Ashley for the Arts 2016 featured a vast array of unique attractions, including traditional Mexican dancers, a scavenger hunt, a wheel of death, and more. Soon, visitors will find out what surprises the 2017 festival will hold. Slated for Thursday through Saturday, August 10-12, Ashley for the Arts 2017 will welcome multiplatinum, Grammy-nominated singer songwriter Gavin DeGraw; Grammy-nominated rockers NEEDTOBREATHE; musical legend Three Dog Night; country stars Montgomery Gentry and Neal McCoy, and alternative newcomers Echosmith. With an impressive schedule of performing artists, numerous creative vendors and exhibitors, and a plethora of fun, family activities, it is poised to be another incredible event.

outdoor furniture

The Most Recent Trends in the Outdoor Furniture Sector

Outdoor furniture has evolved over the years, transforming from oft-forgotten lawn accessories—stored in sheds or garages and hosed off when a barbecue beckons—to an integral part of home décor. Fire pit seating arrangements, outdoor dining sets, and plush lounge chairs are increasing in popularity, reflecting consumers’ growing desire for outdoor furniture that blends elegance and simplicity to create a relaxing outdoor oasis.

Ashley HomeStore’s new Outdoor line offers these and many more accessories for the patio and backyard. Shop the collection at ashleyfurniturehomestore.com/en/outdoor.

How the Market Has Changed

backyard furnitureIn the 1980s, the outdoor furniture industry experienced a significant change as major home furnishings manufacturers began selling fully-welded sets of aluminum lawn seating to mass retailers. Consumer interest shifted away from the more expensive outdoor sets sold by smaller domestic companies to more affordable, mass-produced products. In response, domestic retailers largely dropped their outdoor collections. At the same time, the shift toward mass production and a consolidating pool of suppliers reduced the diversity of styles available. However, this has begun to change.

Many industry experts credit the stress of modern lifestyles with fueling consumers’ rising interest in creating tranquil outdoor escapes. The outdoor furniture market is expected to surge by 19.5 percent by 2020 as shoppers search for unique, practical, and on-trend outdoor pieces. This increase will drive a growth rate of 5.3 percent for furniture retailers.

However, the revitalization of the outdoor furniture market still faces challenges. Furniture retailers must now compete with e-commerce, making it more vital than ever for companies to create an engaging and worthwhile in-store shopping experience.

Who’s Buying?

In its 2015 Consumer Buying Trends Survey, Casual Living reported that the most significant increase in outdoor furniture buying activity is concentrated in the western, southeastern, and northeastern regions of the United States. Somewhat surprisingly, this increase isn’t limited to rural and suburban communities. Even metropolitan areas have experienced an increased demand for smaller outdoor furnishings.

Millennials make up the fastest-growing segment of outdoor furniture consumers. In 2014, millennial households accounted for 37 percent of purchases. Baby boomers followed close behind with 34 percent of sales, while generation X-ers accounted for 23 percent. Industry experts expect millennials’ buying power to continue in this sector, as Americans aged 19-35 years old begin to build careers, families, and homes.

The rise in outdoor furniture purchases across multiple generational demographics reflects Americans’ increasing willingness to spend their discretionary income. Industry observers have also noted that it demonstrates the relative accessibility of outdoor products. While not every family has the need for a high-end formal dining room set, consumers across all income levels enjoy relaxing outside and hosting outdoor gatherings.

The Industry Responds

Although millennials are the fastest-growing subset of outdoor furniture buyers, some companies have found that interest in high-end luxury outdoor collections is nearly nonexistent among shoppers younger than 50 years old. While millennials are increasingly seeking out quality products, the decades-long prominence of mass-produced outdoor furniture has led consumers to expect more moderate prices. Furniture retailers are thus motivated to offer on-trend outdoor sets at a price point that is accessible to first-time purchasers.

outdoor furnitureAdditionally, millennials tend to be more educated regarding their potential purchases, relying on the Internet to conduct extensive research before making a selection. This trend is beginning to influence the buying habits of other age demographics, making it crucial for companies to develop a strong web presence with detailed, accurate product information and ample customer reviews.

To compete with the vast selection of online retailers, furniture stores must also establish engaging, clearly-designated product showcases with a diverse array of eye-catching vignettes. As retailers strive to take advantage of the surge in outdoor furniture sales, it is increasingly important for them to establish themselves as a destination for outdoor furniture, as many consumers have grown accustomed to visiting home improvement big box stores for their patio furniture needs. Television advertising and perks such as home delivery, financing, and department-wide sales are all methods used by furniture retailers to re-establish themselves as players in the outdoor market.

The Latest Trends

Consumers shopping for outdoor furniture are on the hunt for the perfect balance of comfort, style, and functionality. They hope to find pieces that are attractive and stylish, yet durable and easy to maintain, in order to create a relaxing and social atmosphere. Especially popular among millennials are outdoor fire features and chat sets that invite visitors to unwind and spend quality time outside. In addition to being a cozy and aesthetically pleasing accessory, fire pits also extend the amount of time that people can enjoy their outdoor furniture, extending the season for backyard entertaining. For similar reasons, practical outdoor lighting is a popular way for consumers to make the most of their outdoor furniture investment.

Visual trends in the outdoor furniture sector tend to mirror the indoor trends of the previous year. Currently, urban and modern contemporary collections are attracting attention, offering elegant styles that are sleek, linear, and versatile. Popular designs include both natural and synthetic woven materials—which offer both durability and a natural, organic look—as well as mixed combinations of welded metal, natural stone, finished metallic, and worn wood.

Although neutral brown, gray, and navy tones permeate the current outdoor landscape, bohemian colors including deep red and orange are also on trend, as are the classic tropical blues and greens of traditional garden landscapes. While major outdoor pieces such as chairs and tables remain elegantly neutral in shape and hue, shoppers are adding bursts of color with rugs, pillows, and umbrellas in vibrant tones and geometric designs.

Overall, trends in the outdoor sector mark a shift away from the uninspired aluminum and plastic products of yore. Now, outdoor furniture bears more of a resemblance to interior pieces. With the rise of outdoor furniture that is contemporary, practical, and beautiful, the backyard has truly become an extension of the modern living space.

furniture

3 Ways That Technology Is Impacting the Furniture Industry

As technology continues to become a larger part of our daily lives, the spaces in which we eat, sleep, work, and play will need to accommodate more digital tools and offer a greater degree of connectivity. Several furniture companies are already harnessing emerging technologies in order to meet this challenge, working to create attractive, comfortable, and functional pieces that blend seamlessly into modern lifestyles. At the same time, technology is poised to have a significant impact on the way that home furnishings companies market and sell their products. Following are three technologies with exciting applications for furniture retailers and designers.

  1. Mobile Technology

smartphoneThe increasingly mobile nature of technology is beginning to have a noticeable impact on furniture design. Gone are the days when we only surfed the Internet at our desks or watched movies on the living room TV. Now, it is common to browse the web, stream media, and work on tech-reliant projects from virtually any room in our house. Since our technology is now untethered from the furniture that supports it, furniture designers have more reason to consider how each piece accommodates technology use, implementing features such as charging ports, cable management systems, and adjustable mechanisms.

The impact of mobile technology on furniture is perhaps most evident in the office furniture sector. Employees are becoming less tied to their individual workstations and even to their offices, and office layouts are beginning to reflect this shift with a move toward open floorplans and versatile, collaborative workspaces.

Mobile technology is also creating new opportunities in furniture marketing and retail. Its applications are vast. An app developed by innovative minds at the tech firm Grokstyle will soon allow consumers to explore details about furniture items and home accessories—including where to buy them—simply by taking a picture with their mobile phones.

Browsing a showroom has long been an integral aspect of the traditional furniture-buying experience, and companies are beginning to leverage mobile technology to bring this practice into the 21st century. A number of virtual showroom apps allow customers to browse furniture retailers’ products conveniently from their mobile devices, communicating with the cloud to provide a constantly updated selection of home furnishings. The apps not only transform the customer experience, but they can also help furniture sales representatives to operate more effectively and efficiently. In the case of the family-owned company Bernhardt Furniture, replacing its cumbersome paper-based ordering process with a virtual showroom provided the firm’s employees with more time to focus on client interactions by eliminating the need to print, compile, and flip through binders filled with product information. For Bernhardt, adopting a mobile virtual showroom yielded an incredible 196 percent return on investment, presenting an average yearly benefit of over $789,000.

  1. Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is poised to have an even greater impact on the way that people shop for furniture. While the ability to browse home furnishings online and via mobile apps has added a new level of convenience to the furniture-buying process, shoppers can only learn about their prospective purchases through website text and 2D images. Emerging technologies could soon enable shoppers to peruse furniture at practically any time and from any location while still granting them the full visual experience of a showroom setting. In fact, augmented and virtual reality tools will soon surpass the showroom experience, allowing consumers to actually explore how a new product will fit into their homes. Although this technology is still in the early stages of development, it could very well allow shoppers to upload images of their homes and decorate them with virtual objects, testing out different styles, colors, and orientations before they make a purchase.

As this technology becomes more advanced, it could allow furniture companies to play a more significant role in the overall interior design process. As noted by Wayfair Next Director Mike Festa in a recent interview with High Point Market, the advent of true virtual reality, which would allow users to manipulate virtual images with their voices or hands—could inspire a “new interest in do-it-yourself design” supported by furniture retailers’ VR tools.

  1. Internet of Things

Aptly named, the Internet of Things refers (IoT) to the increasingly vast network of interconnected objects linked to computer systems—and each other—by embedded sensors. The term often appears in discussions of smart homes, which allow inhabitants to monitor and program features such as security, lighting, and air conditioning from a smartphone app.

internet of things

Although IoT technologies are far from fully developed, they are beginning to enter the furniture sector, introducing beds, desks, chairs, and even kitchen surfaces to the ever-growing Internet of Things. A recent partnership by SK Telecom and Hyundai introduced Smart Furniture, a line of dressers, cabinets, refrigerators, and other large furnishings with embedded touch screens that seamlessly integrate technology into customers’ daily lives. Users can look up the day’s news and weather while getting dressed, search for recipes while standing in the kitchen, or even make phone calls from the tech-enabled furnishings.

Other applications for IoT technology in the furniture sector include bedding. Sleep Number’s take on the smart bed uses biometric sensors to track numerous metrics that include heart rate, breathing rate, and restfulness. In addition, it can link with other applications (such as a calendar or fitness tracker) and can automatically adjust the mattress for maximum comfort. Elsewhere in the house, Lift-Bit’s smart sofa is equipped with mechanized modular pieces that can shift to offer adaptive seating arrangements. Tentative plans unveiled by IKEA at Milan Design Week hint at a future in which a kitchen table can choose to automatically warm your plate using a combination of smart cameras and embedded induction rings. When it comes to the future intersection of furniture and technology, the possibilities for enhanced convenience and functionality are seemingly endless.

furniture

“What’s It Made of?” Initiative Aims to Promote Sustainability

Businesses and consumers alike are placing an increasing emphasis on the sustainability of product manufacturing and design. As we develop a fuller understanding of how business practices impact the environment and how this can in turn affect human health, the compounds that comprise consumer products are becoming a matter of heightened concern.

Recently, a group of organizations dedicated to business sustainability launched an initiative to support and centralize health and safety efforts in the home furnishings industry. The comprehensive project was designed to raise awareness of common harmful substances present in many home furnishing products, promote the need for businesses to adopt transparent disclosure models regarding product production, and spur the development of solutions to current sustainability challenges in the sector. In these ways, the “What’s it made of?” initiative will seek to improve the safety of chemical compounds throughout the furniture supply chain.

A New Movement

SFClogoIn a March 2017 press release, the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC) announced that it planned to partner with a number of leading sustainability advocacy organizations to create a wealth of new resources for furnishings companies and consumers. “What’s it made of?” is a joint initiative of SFC, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), GCI General Contractors, the Center for Environmental Health, and the New School’s Parsons School of Design Healthy Materials Lab, among others. As its name suggests, the initiative encourages buyers to research the materials present in their purchases, while at the same time encouraging the industry to provide easy access to this information, with the aim of eliminating harmful chemicals in the home furnishings supply chain. The initiative supports furniture manufacturers in their ongoing efforts to create quality products safely and efficiently, focusing on innovative new ways to integrate health and safety into the furnishing design and manufacturing processes.

The “What’s it made of?” initiative officially launched with a Sustainability Essentials webinar on March 16, 2017. Led by the Sustainable Furnishings Council and panelists from a number of its partner organizations, the webinar served as an introduction to the “What’s it made of?” initiative and the harmful substances with which it is most concerned. The free event offered participating companies foundational information on how they can improve the safety of their supply chains, as well as an introduction to SFC’s revolutionary GREENleaders sustainability training course.

Although the Sustainability Essentials webinar marked the official launch of “What’s it made of?”, the initiative first took root months earlier at the Sustainable Furnishings Council’s 10th Anniversary Celebration in October 2016. At the event, ASBC CEO David Levine stressed the idea that it is now more feasible than ever for businesses to balance financial success with social and environmental responsibility. He then took the opportunity to introduce the impending initiative, noting that corporate transparency regarding materials and operational practices is one of the most crucial factors driving industry sustainability.

Taking the Pledge

living roomThe cornerstone of the “What’s it made of?” initiative is the Pledge to ASK. Presented alongside an online tool that can help companies ensure that their suppliers are fully disclosing chemical ingredient information, the Pledge to ASK serves to formalize signees’ “commit[ment] to reducing the use of chemicals that pose harm to human health and the environment.”

David Levine introduced the Pledge to ASK alongside the “What’s it made of?” initiative at the Sustainable Furnishings Council’s anniversary celebration. Demonstrating widespread industry support for the issue, more than 300 guests signed the pledge before leaving the event. To learn more and sign the pledge, visit https://sustainablefurnishings.org.

Chemical Dangers

SFC research suggests that the home furnishings industry recognizes the importance of safety and sustainability initiatives. In addition to the 82 percent of furnishings companies that support requirements for chemical ingredient transparency throughout the supply chain, 88 percent of furniture customers are concerned that the materials in their homes could be detrimental to their health.

Some of the materials at the root of these fears include volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, which companies frequently use to dissolve other chemicals found in adhesives, paint, and coatings. Often found in furniture comprised of composite wood, formaldehyde is one of the many harmful chemical compounds understood to be a carcinogen. This group also includes dioxins, a potent byproduct of polyvinyl chloride production often tied to the manufacturing of outdoor furniture, imitation leather, and inflatable mattresses.

Although they are intended to increase the safety of furniture products, flame retardant chemicals can actually cause harmful neurologic, reproductive, and immune system issues when inhaled into the body through the air and dust. Other potentially harmful substances used in the production of home furnishings include fluorinated stain treatments for use in carpeting and upholstery, as well as antimicrobials, which have been dropped as a regular ingredient in soaps due to concerns over bacterial resistance.

Going forward, the “What’s it made of?” initiative will facilitate training sessions and seminars on these and many other safety concerns inherent in the furniture production process. This, along with consumer outreach initiatives, will represent a significant and concentrated effort to improve the well-being of millions worldwide.