Month: July 2017


This Is How Ashley Furniture Is Advancing Manufacturing

ashley furniture logoAs the owner of Ashley Furniture licensee Factory Direct Enterprises, Eugene Chrinian guides the operations of 13 Ashley Furniture Homestore locations throughout New Jersey and Metropolitan New York. In this capacity, Eugene Chrinian champions Ashley Furniture’s mission of providing customers with the best possible value, while at the same time remaining on the forefront of developments in furniture design, logistics, and manufacturing.

In recent months, Ashley Furniture has launched initiatives that, in addition to increasing its own manufacturing capabilities, have also bolstered the training resources available to manufacturers across several industries. These are a few of the many ways that Ashley Furniture has positioned itself as a leader in the highly competitive world of furniture manufacturing:

Partnership with Western Technical College

western technical college logoA new partnership between Ashley Furniture and Western Technical College will help prepare the next generation of skilled workers to use state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies. Based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Western Technical College offers more than 100 programs designed to impart modern career skills to workers in a variety of competitive industries. The school boasts extensive industry relationships and high job-placement rates, striving above all else to prepare students for successful careers. Thanks to the generosity and leadership of Ashley Furniture, Western Technical College students will now be able to develop their expertise in the state-of-the-art tools that are streamlining manufacturing across a number of sectors.

Ashley Furniture donated six Yaskawa robots and three simulated training machines to Western Technical’s new Integrated Technology Center in downtown La Crosse. In addition, Ashley donated a portable training robot to the school’s Independence, Wisconsin, campus to facilitate advanced instruction in rural environments.

To ensure that the school’s instructors are well equipped to incorporate Yaskawa’s robotic technology into their lesson plans, Ashley Furniture also provided a generous grant to fund certification courses for faculty members. Made possible by the Ron and Joyce Wanek Foundation, a philanthropic organization headed in part by Ashley Furniture’s chairman and founder, the grant will allow faculty members to update their knowledge in time for the fall 2017 semester.

The addition of Yaskawa robots and training simulators will add new depth to Western Technical College’s Electromechanical Technology Program, thereby allowing the school to expand its professional certification offerings and provide local businesses with new professional development opportunities. Combining general education, theoretical instruction, and hands-on technical training, the Electromechanical Technology Program provides a pathway for students to earn an associate of applied science and subsequently seek employment in the manufacturing sector.

Over the course of the program, students gain experience with programmable logic controls, digital and analog systems, and circuit operations, as well as computer-controlled machinery, automated systems, and numerous other prominent manufacturing technologies. With its newly expanded electromechanical technology curriculum, Western Technical College will be the only technical school in its region capable of providing certification in all levels of robotic technology.

Award-Winning Leadership

Ashley Furniture’s generous donation to Western Technical College demonstrates not only its commitment to innovation and efficiency, but also its dedication to professional development. With a mission to provide its employees with the necessary support and opportunities to shine, Ashley has succeeded at developing a thriving and inclusive workforce over the past several decades.

The Manufacturing Institute recently recognized one of Ashley Furniture’s key manufacturing leaders. In a reception held in Washington, D.C., on April 20, Ashley Furniture manager Wanda Cartrette received the Women in Manufacturing STEP Ahead Award. Each year, the award acknowledges women who have exhibited excellent leadership within the science, technology, engineering, and production sectors of manufacturing.

The award program is just one aspect of The Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Ahead initiative, which aims to attract and support exceptional female workers in the manufacturing sector. Wanda Cartrette certainly embodies these values; after launching her manufacturing career as an assembly-line worker at Ashley Furniture in 1991, Ms. Cartrette leveraged a knack for process improvement and innovation to rise through the ranks. She now serves as the Lean Six Sigma Manager for Ashley Furniture’s upholstery operations in Wisconsin and the Corporate Idea Network Manager for every Ashley facility in America.

Responding to Trends

The leadership of experienced, dedicated individuals such as Wanda Cartrette and Eugene Chrinian allows Ashley Furniture to deftly respond to emerging market trends. One trend that is currently having a significant impact on manufacturing and supply chain needs across various sectors is e-commerce.

The Home furnishings sector is one of the fastest-growing segments of the e-commerce market, and online furniture sales growth has begun to outpace sales at brick and mortar retailers. To prepare to meet the demands of the thriving online retail sector, Ashley Furniture Industries recently broke ground on an historic expansion at its headquarters in Arcadia, Wisconsin.

Marking the largest renovation completed at the company’s Arcadia manufacturing facilities in over 45 years, the company will add 500,000 square feet of additional space, including an E-Commerce Fulfillment and Distribution Center, in order to improve its speed to market. Slated for completion by February 2018, the new center will serve as a valuable addition to Ashley’s manufacturing pipeline, allowing the company to store a greater amount of finished products for shipment across the globe.


How to Create the Best Online Shopping Experience

In recent years, e-commerce has accounted for a rapidly-growing percentage of furniture sales. While sales at brick and mortar stores rose 13.8 percent between 2009 and 2015, online sales increased by an astonishing 168 percent.

Even so, the online furniture sector makes up little more than 5 percent of total e-commerce sales, and Furniture Today recently found that 70 percent of furniture companies have not yet launched meaningful e-commerce efforts. A plethora of growth opportunities await furniture retailers that make the most of e-commerce sales.

Here are a few ways that companies can optimize their websites:

  1. Present a Value Proposition

A value proposition conveys to consumers exactly what a company is selling, how the product will serve them, and why shoppers should choose it over competing alternatives. It is especially important for furniture retailers to promote their products with a clear, strong value proposition in the world of e-commerce, where shoppers need only hit the back button on their web browsers to explore other options.

online shopping

Businesses create online value propositions with the words and images they choose to include on their websites. Ideally, a customer visiting an online furniture retailer would encounter bold, concise statements and images that offer a clear idea of the style, price point, and variety of products that the company sells.

Retailers also offer value propositions through the individual descriptions of products listed on their websites. In writing these descriptions, furniture professionals should strive to include only the most relevant information, carefully considering the kinds of details that customers are actually seeking before making a purchase.

  1. Make the Most of Images

Product pictures play an integral role in most online shopping experiences. Consumers generally prefer to see what they’re buying, and this is especially true when they are purchasing items to furnish their homes. Therefore, it is important for furniture retailers to consider more than the mere inclusion of images on their websites. Rather, they must think carefully about the size, location, and quality of the pictures that they present.

A case study conducted by Visual Website Optimizer demonstrated that brands can improve their conversion rates by increasing the size of the images on their e-commerce platforms. In a separate experiment, a retailer increased search bar conversions by 100 percent by adding drop-down images to the search function. This demonstrates that, by envisioning how images fit into the overall online customer journey, furniture retailers can use product images to create a stronger value proposition and increase the likelihood of online sales.

Furniture retailers should also ensure that their product images are of a high enough quality to accurately convey the colors, textures, and other unique features of their pieces. Additionally, providing pictures of furniture in use or as a part of a larger room ensemble can serve to provide a more robust value proposition and spark the imaginations of potential customers.

  1. Create a Personalized User Experience

In the era of e-commerce, consumers are accustomed to quick, convenient, and customized service. By meeting and even exceeding customers’ expectations for a personalized and innovative online shopping experience, furniture retailers can keep up with the competition and encourage shoppers to return to their websites time and time again.

Automated website features that save lists of viewed products, offer personalized suggestions, and otherwise fine-tune the shopping experience for each individual consumer can greatly enhance retail websites. Furniture companies may also consider personalizing their online retail experiences based on geography.

Companies with multiple locations can include features to automatically display the contact information of the stores nearest to website visitors. Options that allow shoppers check the product inventory at local stores can add further value to the omni-channel shopping experience

  1. Take Advantage of Data Analytics

E-commerce provides robust information on customers and their shopping habits. This allows companies to create products and promotional strategies that better meet consumers’ needs and preferences. It is important for furniture companies to closely track website traffic and conversion data, including the amount of time shoppers are spending on specific pages, which links are attracting the most attention, and the website features most and least likely to convert clicks to sales.

online business

Businesses should consistently strive to improve their online experiences, frequently testing how design enhancements impact website conversion and investigating customers’ buying habits. They may then leverage these insights to improve customer engagement and encourage further sales through more intuitive marketing efforts.

For example, a furniture company’s sales data might indicate that shoppers who purchase beds are extremely likely to buy other items for their bedrooms. Rather than squandering a promotional opportunity by continuing to advertise beds to these consumers, the company might choose to adjust its targeted advertising strategies to display promotions for dressers, lamps, night stands, and other bedroom décor.

  1. Adopt a Consistent Design Strategy

Being aware of a few simple design principles can help furniture business leaders create a more aesthetically-pleasing and engaging e-commerce platform. The presence of a clear visual hierarchy – a color palette used to differentiate different website elements – will make it far easier for customers to navigate the website while drawing their attention to its most important aspects. A visual hierarchy should include colors for the website background, base text, and accent text. In this way, companies can use color accents to draw attention to calls to action and hyperlinks.

When developing an e-commerce platform, furniture leaders should also remember Fitt’s law, which states that larger items are more likely to catch the eye and attract clicks. Companies should ensure that the most vital information on their websites contrasts with the rest of the page in both size and color. At the same time, they should tone down the appearance of words and images that are irrelevant to consumers or do not help to generate sales.


7 Elements of An Effective Furniture Sales Strategy

A sales team can make or break a furniture company’s retail performance. Since a brand’s sales representatives often serve as the customers’ primary point of contact with a company, the experience that they provide can have a lasting impact on consumer opinion.

How can business leaders in the furniture industry help their sales teams to drive growth and create a positive customer experience? For starters, they can ensure that their retail sales strategies include the following important elements:

  1. Focus on a Broader Mission

Centering a sales strategy around a company mission or a set of organizational values is one of the best ways to ensure a consistently positive customer experience. In order to effectively promote their products, furniture sales teams must have a goal beyond simply closing a sale. They must operate with an awareness of the value proposition that they are presenting to customers. They are not simply selling furniture. Rather, they are helping to fulfill their customers’ need to create a satisfying living environment. Furniture retailers and manufacturers are in the business of helping shoppers to transform their houses and apartments into attractive spaces. By keeping this in mind, sales representatives can offer a more effective style of customer service, striving to partner with customers in their efforts to find the perfect home furnishings.

  1. Offer Extensive Product Knowledge

While uninformed employees can be a significant liability to a company’s in-store sales, a sales strategy based on comprehensive and up-to-date product knowledge can help to enhance the customer experience. This is especially true in the age of e-commerce, at a time when customers are well-equipped to conduct their own research online and can even fact-check sales pitches in real-time using their mobile phones. When sales professionals have the knowledge to position themselves as experts on the products that they are selling, they give customers a reason to venture out for the brick-and-mortar shopping experience and to choose their store over the competition.

  1. Use a Customer-Focused Approach

In an effort to provide customer solutions rather than to simply sell products, an effective furniture sales strategy should consider consumer trends and individual needs. For this reason, sales representatives should adopt a customer-focused sales strategy that emphasizes learning everything one can about each customer. The sales team should listen closely to customers’ needs and ask questions to discover what room they are shopping for, how they will use their new pieces, and what the general look of the room is now. By zeroing in on customers’ specific product needs and design preferences, sales professionals can move closer to finding a unique solution to each customer’s situation.

  1. Possess Discipline

In order to become successful, the members of a sales team must have the discipline required to work toward their goals, provide consistent customer service, and continuously strive to improve their own performance. To create this type of atmosphere, companies must begin at the top, selecting and training sales managers with the capacity to provide respectful, yet direct leadership.

At times, sales managers may struggle to inspire high-performing teams because they are overly concerned with being well-liked. While it is important for managers to be receptive to their team members’ opinions, they must also have the courage to make difficult decisions with authority. Likewise, while leaders should always treat their employees with kindness and support, they must also be capable of providing honest, clear criticism when necessary.

  1. Develop a Structured Plan

Even the most highly motivated individuals can fail to perform when they lack a clear plan of action. This point goes hand in hand with the need for discipline within a sales department. In order to operate to their fullest potential, a company’s sales team should have a clear framework to guide its activities. In general, sales managers should promote a strategy for customer interaction that touches on all of the basic points of a sale, which include greeting customers, discussing their needs, presenting potential product options, and navigating barriers to the sale. In this way, companies can ensure that each customer interaction is meaningful and efficient.

  1. Create An Assessment Strategy

Sales managers should also have a set framework for measuring their teams’ performance. Without a strategy to assess their operations, leaders have no basis to identify areas in need of improvement. Sales managers who stay abreast of their teams’ strengths and weaknesses will be equipped to spur positive change and inspire new levels of success.

  1. Build Trust with Customers

A company’s sales representatives must instill confidence in potential customers, both in regards to their products and the company as a whole. Sales professionals can help to paint their organizations as honest and dependable by serving as a resource for product information and striving to be straightforward in all customer interactions. Members of a sales team should never sacrifice honesty for optimism. While stretching the truth about a particular store policy or product feature might help to close a sale in the short-term, it is unlikely to garner lasting customer loyalty. By establishing trust, sales professionals can position themselves as dependable advisors throughout the home furnishing process and inspire customers to return for their future furniture needs.

Las Vegas

A Preview of the Las Vegas Market’s Latest First Look Trends

lasvegasmarketlogoTwice a year, thousands of people gather for the Las Vegas Market, one of the home furnishing industry’s preeminent trade shows. Most recently, the Winter 2017 Las Vegas Market drew industry professionals from all 50 states and approximately 80 countries to the World Market Center, where top manufacturers, retailers, and designers displayed their wares across approximately 170,000 square feet of showroom space.

Now, event organizers are preparing for the next iteration of the fastest-growing home furnishings market in the nation. From July 30 to August 3, attendees will explore over 4,000 resources presenting the latest trends in furniture, gifts, and home décor sectors. Prior to each event, the Las Vegas Market will offer a preview of the visual themes and motifs that attendees can expect to see on the showroom floor. Recently released ahead of the Summer 2017 Las Vegas Market, the market’s latest First Look trends include the following:


  • Modern Tradition

Las Vegas Market’s introductory First Look Trends for Summer 2017 recognizes the meaning behind thoughtfully furnished spaces in the home. Focused on customs that bring families together to eat, share, talk, and simply enjoy one another’s company, this First Look motif includes products suitable for gatherings and celebrations of all kinds. Modern Tradition spans furniture for the dining room and family room that primarily reflects the clean lines, neutral palettes, unique textures, and overall minimalist approach of modern and transitional aesthetics. At the same time, the theme will also include a number of seasonal and holiday decorations and accessories for occasions including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.

  • iGen

Each year, one of the market’s First Look themes highlights emerging trends in bedroom furnishings and décor. For the bedroom vignette for summer 2017, market organizers will zero in on the fastest-growing segment of furniture shoppers: millennials. Also extending to members of Generation Z, iGen will be the first bedroom motif to include styles for tweens.

The pieces included in iGen reflect prevailing ideas about what makes today’s adolescents and young adults truly unique. The motif takes into consideration the compassion, innovative spirit, responsible nature, and inquisitiveness of today’s upcoming generations to present a selection of practical and functional pieces ideal for modern lifestyles. These will include unisex and multifunctional bedroom furniture, as well as lighting, rugs, wall art, and more. Trends in this motif will also highlight the ever-increasing role of technology in modern life, presenting furniture with solutions for storing and managing technology.

Furniture industry professionals stand to gain a strategic advantage by paying close mind to the iGen motif. Millennials already comprise the largest generational segment of furniture buyers. They accounted for 37 percent of all home furnishings sales in 2014 and have continued to increase their buying power in recent years.

  • Water Signs

For this summer’s outdoor category motif, the Las Vegas Market will transport viewers to a world of sandy beaches and gentle lapping waves. The theme will encompass a number of casual lounge furnishings and outdoor accessories in summery white and blue tones.

In addition to seating sets, fire pits, and other major outdoor pieces, this motif will showcase supplies for the perfect day at the beach, including portable umbrellas, beachwear, and all-weather picnic sets. This category represents another opportunity for furniture firms to cater to the younger generations. Millennials are currently the fastest-growing segment of outdoor furniture buyers, and they are increasingly on the lookout for affordable, versatile pieces to add to their outdoor oases.

  • Handmade

This design motif will likely offer something for all Las Vegas Market guests. Highlighting the incredible skills of top artisans from around the world, Handmade will showcase a selection of handmade goods from various geographies and sectors, ranging from furnishings to gifts and decorations.

Diving Deeper

Now in its 13th iteration, Las Vegas Market’s First Look style guide not only previews the prevailing aesthetic trends in home furnishings and decor, but it also showcases a wide range of practical applications for each design theme. Prior to each market, organizers invite exhibitors to submit products that align with each First Look trend. Drawing on these submissions, the market creates elaborate product vignettes on the Grand Plaza of the World Market Center, providing thoughtfully composed merchandise displays to stoke the creativity of attendees from every sector.

Las Vegas Market will also provide a more detailed look at its First Look trends via the First Look Guide, a publication filled to the brim with new products and design ideas. Additionally, attendees have the opportunity to delve into the latest style forecasts in-person at the First Look seminar. Held the morning of July 31, the seminar will feature First Look curator and experienced magazine editor Julie Smith Vincenti leading an exploration of the trends that are taking the home furnishings sector by storm.