Logistics

bed

5 Things to Expect at the Upcoming High Point Market

High Point MarketTwice each year, the High Point Market sends a surge of excitement throughout the home furnishings industry. The biannual home furnishings and décor expo is a staple on the calendars of leading retailers, designers, and manufacturers, who are all gearing up for the next fall market, scheduled for October 14 to 18, 2017.

Previous High Point Markets have featured an extensive selection of new product introductions, professional development opportunities, engaging style presentations, and more. The upcoming event will be no exception—read on to find out what’s in store for guests at the 2017 Fall High Point Market.

  1. An Expansive International Event

High Point Market is the largest home furnishings trade show in the world, welcoming over 75,000 attendees to its showrooms twice per year. The event brings visitors from more than 100 countries to High Point, North Carolina, and at each market, approximately 10 percent of those in attendance travel from outside the United States.

Located about 70 miles north of Charlotte, High Point’s downtown district transforms to accommodate an unrivaled selection of home furnishings showrooms. Spanning 180 buildings, the High Point Market’s exhibitors fill 11.5 million square feet of showroom space. Each market features over 2,000 exhibitors, presenting opportunities for guests to see tens of thousands of new products.

  1. Numerous New Products

couch

Each High Point Market presents an opportunity for furniture retailers and designers to unveil their newest creations to an extremely broad audience. For the 2017 fall show, the High Point Market Authority will team up with several experts in home furnishings design for the latest iteration of its New Product Premiere program. Developed to help market attendees navigate the myriad of new products and style trends that will be on display during the show, the New Product Premiere program will feature exciting new content shared across the High Point Market’s social media profiles. Following an initial Twitter Chat on August 30, market organizers and Style Spotters will fill the weeks leading up to the fall market with exclusive product previews shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The market will also feature a number of special events making the launch of new collections by leading home furnishings companies. For example, day one of the event will include an elegant cocktail party hosted by High Point Market Title Sponsor Lexington Home Brands. Here, the high-end retailer will debut its latest indoor, outdoor, and lifestyle products, including its new lifestyle collection by designer Barclay Butera.

  1. A Sneak Peek at Emerging Trends

As market attendees view newly released products from the most influential designers in the home furnishings industry, they will likely notice several colors, shapes, patterns, and materials that seem to dominate each showroom floor. The High Point Market Authority has organized multiple programs to guide attendees as they explore the latest trends influencing home furnishings.

For several years, the High Point Market Style Spotters have enhanced the market experience by providing expert insights on the looks and pieces that dominate each event. Comprised of several pairs of leading designers from trendy brands including Ishka Designs and Parker Kennedy Living, the Style Spotters are responsible for the events and presentations that pinpoint each market’s prevailing style trends. For the fall 2017 show, this group of home décor experts will host Style Spotters Live, a panel discussion showcasing the top products and trends from the showroom floor. Following this event, each team of Style Spotters will lead market attendees on an exclusive tour of their favorite showrooms.

Market attendees will also have a chance to glimpse the style trends of the future with a program hosted in partnership with Fashion Snoops. Over the course of the market, the trend forecasting agency will facilitate pop-up booths, a digital trend report, and a buyer’s guide to help guests navigate trends. This unique program will begin a day before the official market launch with a presentation entitled, “Culture to Product, A Forward Look into Spring 2018 Market Trends.”

  1. Insightful Speaking Engagements

living room

At High Point Market, furniture industry professionals will find no shortage of opportunities to learn from some of most influential entrepreneurial and creative minds in the business. This fall’s keynote series will feature a presentation from Paula Wallace, the founding president of the Savannah College of Art and Design, who will explore the many ways in which design can enhance and transform communities. In addition, guests will hear a keynote address from Drew and Jonathan Scott, the widely recognizable stars of HGTV’s Property Brothers. Also the founders of Scott Living, Drew and Jonathan will offer insight into the value that meticulousness can offer your business in a presentation titled, “Big Picture, Small Details: Why We Sweat The Small Stuff.”

Besides the keynote series, attendees can also broaden their horizons during multiple educational sessions within the Design Viewpoints Series. Designed to provide quality professional development opportunities for designers, these engagements allow attendees to earn CEU credits while exploring topics such as global business, luxury product development, and design in the digital age.

  1. Unique Opportunities for the Hospitality Industry

The fall 2017 market will feature a unique concentration of product displays and professional resources for the hospitality industry. Professionals seeking the latest furnishing trends to enhance their hospitality businesses will find showrooms created by more than 75 leading hospitality suppliers. They’ll also have the opportunity to take guided showroom tours with brands such as Baskerville and Global Design Americas. On October 15 and 16, the High Point Market Authority will host a number of special engagements for the hospitality industry, including presentations from leading designers, including Christopher Guy, and a panel discussion on the foundations of hospitality.
 

 

 

 

 

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cybersecurity

7 Important Tips to Protect against Cybersecurity Risks

As a growing number of consumers choose to do their shopping from the convenience of their smartphones and home computers, a number of industries are increasing their digital presence. The home furnishings sector is no exception; in recent years, e-commerce has comprised a dramatically increasing portion of furniture sales. From 2009 to 2015, furniture businesses saw a 168 percent increase in online sales, with e-commerce activity making up 15 percent of all furniture industry sales in 2015. During the same period, brick-and-mortar business increased by just 13.8 percent.

While the rapidly expanding world of e-commerce is providing new growth and marketing opportunities for furniture business leaders, it is also presenting a number of new risks. When interacting with customers in the digital realm, companies must contend with a myriad of threats to the efficiency and overall stability of their operations. The threat of malicious activity perpetrated by cybercriminals should be chief among the concerns of both newly digital and established e-commerce companies. When paired with a lack of due diligence regarding cybersecurity, a successful cyberattack results not only in financial losses, but also significant damage to a brand’s image and consumer confidence.

These are a few tips that retail leaders should be aware of as they navigate the increasingly digital business landscape:

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  1. The rate of cybercrime is climbing.

It is important for leaders in the furniture industry, as well as professionals throughout every sector, to understand current trends in cybercrime. As more industries choose to interact with customers via a broader array of digital touchpoints, they provide new motivation for criminals to attempt to compromise their online operations. Even as cybersecurity measures become more advanced, instances of cybercrime in the retail sector are increasing in their scope, frequency, and severity. In 2015, over 500 cases of cybercrime impacted the retail sector, causing 164 instances of large-scale data loss. In 2016, the BDO Retail RiskFactor Report identified data breaches and similar cyber threats as the most pressing challenges currently facing the retail sector, noting that each retailer studied experienced an average of eight cyberattacks per year. More recently, the WannaCry ransomware attack demonstrated the potentially devastating impact of a well-orchestrated global cyberattack, bringing down major companies and public utilities around the world while highlighting the importance of concentrated cybersecurity efforts.

  1. Ransomware is an increasingly prevalent digital threat.

As cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin become a more commonplace method of carrying out secure, anonymous digital transactions, cybercriminals are seizing the opportunity to extort these untraceable funds from unsuspecting victims. Many tech experts cite Bitcoin as a driving force behind the prevalence of ransomware attacks, in which criminals compromise a firm or individual’s data and hold it hostage for ransom. The attackers threaten to leak or destroy their victims’ data unless they receive a lofty amount of Bitcoin, forcing individuals to pay up or risk losing highly sensitive information. Ransomware attacks frequently infect networks via successful phishing attempts, and for this reason, they can be difficult to detect. Oftentimes, a company or individual does not realize that they are the target of an attack until they are locked out of their systems. To prevent instances such as these, preemptive cybersecurity measures are absolutely necessary.

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  1. A diligent backup strategy is your best defense.

In the digital business landscape, data is a key component of business success. A company’s informational resources not only drive its day-to-day operations but provide the tools and insights to spur long-term innovation. Naturally, this valuable asset is most often the target of a cybercriminal’s schemes.

Organizations that take measures to copy, save, and protect their data lessen their risk of suffering operational interruptions or financial losses in the case of a cyberattack. A professional backup service can be the most effective solution to a company’s data redundancy needs, as these firms are equipped to provide off-site, consistently monitored storage services. The automated processes facilitated by a dedicated backup firm can remove some of the threats associated with alternative storage methods, such as cloud storage or onsite backups. While a firm may find it convenient to back up their data using onsite external storage, such methods run the risk of damage or theft and may violate cybersecurity standards governing the management of sensitive data. In addition, a company’s own external backups will rarely be sufficient to restore the entirety of their data should a breach occur.

  1. Consider all potential vulnerabilities.

Even if a furniture retailer does not currently operate an e-commerce platform, it likely uses a number of digital tools to serve customers and operate efficiently. Business leaders must consider every digital access point when assessing their operations for potential vulnerabilities, ensuring that each digital touchpoint is adequately defended by anti-virus and anti-malware applications. For example, point of sale (POS) systems have recently become popular targets for cyberattacks, as they are integral to a firm’s operations and contain a great deal of sensitive contact information and financial data. Moreover, a successful attack on a POS system can grant a hacker access to additional devices throughout an organization’s digital network.

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  1. Education is key.

While employees are the driving force behind a business’ success, they can easily become an organization’s greatest liability if not properly educated on cybersecurity threats. In addition to ensuring that only necessary and qualified individuals have access to a firm’s most sensitive data, business leaders should also ensure that their employees are aware of the most common forms of cybercrime and proper strategies to avoid them. They should know how to identify potential phishing attacks and understand the importance of safety filters on e-mail platforms and web browsers. Additionally, businesses should encourage both employees and customers alike to create strong passwords, which can provide an extra line of defense against cybercrime.

furniture

4 of the Most Significant Trends in Furniture Manufacturing

Technology impacts every industry in a variety of ways: from presenting new possibilities for sales and marketing to enabling companies to reduce their impact on the environment, digital innovation is changing the way people work, create new products, and live their lives. For furniture companies, technology has become a crucial consideration in not only advertising, selling, and delivering products to consumers, but also in creating new items efficiently.

While the $25 billion US furniture industry continues to expand, driven by a surging housing sector, it still has room to grow. According to IBISWorld, increasing foreign imports prevent it from reaching its full potential, and for many firms, technology presents an exciting new growth opportunity:

  1. Virtual Prototyping

The advent of advanced 3D imaging tools and, more recently, virtual reality has unlocked a new world of possibilities for furniture prototyping. Rather than expending the time and resources to create physical models of their products, furniture designers can now create digital representations of them. This promises to add a great deal of speed and flexibility to the overall product development process. In addition to improving speed to market, virtual prototypes also allow designers more freedom to correct mistakes, test new ideas, and customize items to meet consumer preferences.

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The potential for greater personalization is one of the most significant benefits of virtual prototyping. In addition to enabling furniture companies to more easily create products to unique customer specifications, virtual modeling also provides high-quality media for use in 360° models and interior design tools. Beyond enhancing the interactivity of a furniture company’s e-commerce platform, virtual prototyping can present new marketing opportunities while cutting costs on traditional advertising photography.

  1. Smarter Production

Advanced cutting machinery is one of the most significant innovations to recently impact furniture manufacturing. Capable of processing a variety of materials from woods to plastics and composites, computer-controlled cutting machines known as CNC routers allow furniture manufacturers to create products with greater precision, speed, and quality. On a basic level, these technologies work by processing CAD designs into g-code, which provides directions for the automated manufacture of physical products. In this way, computer-controlled machinery has enabled manufacturers to save valuable time and money and can have a positive impact on both a company’s customer service and bottom line.

  1. Sustainability

A number of furniture companies have recently made sustainability a core component of their business strategy. Sustainable manufacturing is important to these companies not only because of its cost-saving benefits, but for ethical reasons as well. It’s also increasingly important as consumers shop with a growing amount of social consciousness.

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Furniture manufacturers can increase their sustainability in a variety of ways. By assessing the life cycles of their products, they can minimize the environmental impact of each stage in their supply chain. Organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council work to help companies establish safe, sustainable lumber supply chains.

Additionally, the Sustainable Furnishings Council has issued several guidelines on sustainable furniture production. These promote the use of formaldehyde-free materials composed of recycled and/or recyclable content whenever possible. The organization advises upholstered furniture companies to use organic fabrics such as soy-polyurethane blends or latex rubber, as well as batting and packaging materials containing materials such as down or organic cotton rather than petroleum-based substances.

At the same time, the responsible manufacturing standards established by the International Organization for Standardization guideline ISO 14001 provide further sustainable best practices for energy use, waste management, handling hazardous materials, and resource consumption in the manufacturing sector.

Furniture companies are also considering sustainability in their overall design philosophies. By creating furniture that is highly durable and intended for long-term use, they can limit the need for replacement and reduce the amount of resources consumed by the industry over time.

  1. Technology Investment

Recently, the Centre for Industrial Studies (CSIL) conducted a survey of the top Asian, European, and North American upholstered furniture manufacturers. Designed to explore the most pressing challenges and leading solutions in the industry, the study revealed prevailing opinions about emerging manufacturing technology in the furniture sector, as well as how companies plan to harness these new tools.

The final report shows that 47 percent of manufacturing leaders hope to increase their company’s use of technology, while 70 percent report having a medium or high likelihood of increasing investments in manufacturing technology in the coming years.

However, 28 percent of manufacturers said they had only a minor propensity for making technology investments. Around 11 percent who do not use advanced digital solutions said they planned to implement them in the near future, while 12 percent reported that they had no plans to adopt advanced or automated manufacturing solutions.

There is no doubt that there are benefits to advanced technology for furniture manufacturers, but many barriers can stand in the way of implementation. In addition to concerns over initial installation costs and training resources, some firms struggle to convince their employees to get on board with advanced or automated technologies. It is possible that, in the future, it will be necessary to change this perspective to avoid being left behind. As technology continues to become the standard in furniture manufacturing, many of these companies may begin to innovate not only to increase their efficiency and competitiveness, but also to attract a new generation of tech-empowered workers.

ecommerce

3 of the Best Ways to Create a Sustainable E-Commerce Strategy

Technology and sustainability are currently two of the most significant factors driving furniture industry trends. Now more than ever, consumers desire a retail experience that is convenient, intuitive, and as close to instantaneous as possible.

At the same time, however, they seek the assurance that the companies they support are having a positive impact on the world. In fact, a recent Nielsen study involving participants from 60 countries found that 55 percent of consumers would be willing to pay a higher price for a product or service from a company with a commitment to environmental stewardship.

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The world of e-commerce is growing rapidly. At $97.3 million, total US online retail sales in the second quarter of 2016 alone were up 15.8 percent from the year prior. This rapid e-commerce growth has extended to the furniture industry, where some 15 percent of all 2015 sales took place online.

The logistical and technological resources necessary to create an engaging e-commerce platform can easily increase a company’s carbon footprint. The following are strategies furniture companies – and firms across every sector – can utilize to weave environmental consciousness into the fabric of their e-commerce strategies.

Tip #1: Consider Energy Efficient Web Hosting and Design

The amount of energy required to load a web page can vary based on its design and server needs. Websites that include a limited amount of resource-draining applications – such as Flash videos or JavaScript widgets – require less processing power to load and are therefore more energy efficient.

Companies can also make their retail websites more sustainable by using images as efficiently as possible. While high-quality pictures are a necessity in a retail sector such as home furnishings, firms should consider using lower-resolution photos on search result pages in order to conserve processing power.

Other web design adjustments that can increase the load speed of a website and decrease its energy requirements include the use of browser caching and the use of printer-friendly page options. The color of a retailer’s website can even impact its energy efficiency. Because bold or dark colors require more energy to load, simple page layouts with a large amount of white space will yield faster page load times.

Tip #2: Develop Sustainable Packing and Logistics Strategies

Shipping is a key strategic consideration for any online retailer, but for a furniture company, logistics can pose significant challenges and opportunities. Tasked with delivering cumbersome and often-fragile items in a safe and timely manner, furniture companies must take extra care to craft efficient and sustainable logistics strategies.

They can begin with packaging. Inefficient packaging not only requires a greater amount of energy to transport, but can also create excessive pollution. Furniture companies should strive to improve their logistics sustainably by developing packaging that uses eco-friendly materials, such as responsibly-sourced cardboard that is Cradle to Cradle or Forestry Stewardship Council certified. Companies should avoid using Styrofoam, which is not biodegradable, and instead seek alternative, sustainable filling materials.

shipping box

In designing their packaging, furniture retailers should aim for efficient boxes that are as streamlined as possible. In addition to reducing the cost of packaging materials and allowing for more efficient shipping, this can also help increase a company’s speed to market, offering new value to consumers.

Another simple way to improve the sustainability of furniture shipping practices is to reduce the amount of paperwork included in the box. Retailers should use electronic invoices whenever possible and consider allowing customers to opt to receive warranty information and instruction manuals online.

Furniture companies can gain an advantage in pursuing their sustainability goals by partnering with a logistics service provider. Certain providers with a commitment to green operations may offer payment options to help offset a retailer’s carbon footprint, and logistics firms can also provide data analysis tools to assess a company’s environmental efficiency.

In addition, online furniture retailers must ensure that their reverse supply chain is just as efficient as their initial delivery strategy. Because online purchases often carry an increased likelihood of returns, it is important to develop environmentally sustainable methods of facilitating product returns, repairs, and replacements. This is a boon not only for the environment, but also for a company’s customer service and brand image.

Tip #3: Harness Customer Engagement

By involving consumers in their sustainability initiatives, furniture retailers can have a positive environmental impact that extends far beyond their own operations. One potential strategy is to offer sustainability-minded incentives, such as donations to ecological organizations or pledges to offset carbon emissions, to new social media or website subscribers.

As furniture retailers develop online brand images that complement their e-commerce offerings, they can use social media platforms to encourage a greener lifestyle. For example, a company may launch a blog wherein they offer not only furniture design trend news, but also easy tips for sustainable living.

Online furniture retailers seeking to improve their sustainability initiatives might also find that they can accomplish this by involving customers in their logistics processes. Services such as UPS My Choice or UPS Access Point allow consumers to update and personalize their delivery times and locations. This may decrease the inconvenience, financial cost, and environmental burden posed by missed deliveries and repeated delivery attempts.

office chair

These Are the Motion Furniture Trends You Need to Know

In recent decades, motion furniture—furniture that reclines or features moving parts that can be adjusted for comfort—was notorious for prioritizing function over style. Buyers often relegated these pieces to far-off entertainment rooms, renovated basements, or living room corners, rather than make them the focal points of a room. However, as advancing technology makes it more possible for manufacturers to offer better function in a sleeker, more subdued package, motion furniture is gradually taking a more central role in home interior design.

Read on to learn more about the factors driving the most significant changes in the motion furniture sector.

Technology

reclining sofaTechnology has spurred the development of new motion furniture products since the early 2000s, when the advent of flat screen televisions caused many consumers to seek a more theatrical home entertainment experience. Tech innovation has made motion furniture one of the only categories to undergo consistent changes to its fundamental design. While aesthetic trends influence the look of virtually every home furnishings product, technological advances are changing the nature of motion furniture manufacturing, use, and repairs.

More advanced motor systems have allowed manufacturers to develop seating with several different motion mechanisms. Today’s most popular motion sofas and chairs offer users several ways to recline, including separate functions to adjust the head rest, ottoman, and lumbar support. New motion technology is also facilitating the development of more versatile, user-friendly motion furniture.

For example, a new base system and power conversion kit created by Evolution Incorporated allows companies to transform manual motion mechanisms into electrically-powered systems. This has created exciting new opportunities for promotional demonstrations on the sales floor and allowed companies to save valuable warehouse space. At the same time, it has also made it easier for customers to customize and repair their seating sets.

In addition to facilitating more convenient and efficient motion furniture designs, technology has also led companies to introduce new features designed for the modern, technology-immersed lifestyle. Today’s top motion seating arrangements include cleverly concealed USB ports and plugs that allow people to simultaneously charge and use their smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices from the comfort of their couches.

A growing number of motion furniture producers are also offering Bluetooth functionality. One such company, Klaussner, recently released an app that allows users to connect to their motion sofas via Bluetooth and adjust their seating directly from their smartphones or tablets. In addition to allowing users to adjust three power mechanisms, the app also includes a memory function to allow users to save their favorite seating positions.

In recent years, features such as speakers and reading lights have added further value to motion furniture collections. As time goes on, these innovations are allowing motion furniture to not only offer enhanced comfort, but also to serve as a command center for the most advanced home entertainment systems.

Health Benefits

As motion furniture technology improves, companies are able to offer products with health benefits as well. Sofas and recliners with added lumbar support have become popular, as has motion furniture with built-in massage functions. As motion technology becomes more advanced, adjustable beds are becoming an attractive sub-category for consumers seeking home furnishings that promote health and wellness. With a variety of adjustable metrics, motion beds allow customers to configure sleeping positions that help relieve conditions such as sleep apnea, heartburn, acid reflux, and poor circulation.

Motion furniture is also facilitating healthier habits in the workplace. Sitting for long periods of time is associated with a number of health risks, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and cardiovascular disease. However, adjustable desks are allowing employees to spend more time on their feet while in the office, while at the same time helping companies accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce.

Consumer Trends

A recent survey conducted by Home Furnishings Business’ parent company, Impact Consulting Services, found that 47.3 percent of respondents count style among their chief concerns when purchasing motion furniture—although just over 52 percent reported that style wasn’t a potential barrier to purchase. Although the majority of consumers still prefer manual motion mechanisms, a growing number are beginning to appreciate power and automated reclining mechanisms. In addition, 52.1 percent of survey respondents said they’re willing to pay $50 more for a power mechanism.

Although preferences regarding motion mechanisms vary, one motion furniture trend prevails: companies are making a concentrated effort to design motion seating that more closely resembles traditional stationary pieces. Some designers are achieving this by adding legs to motion furniture, while others are exchanging dated shapes and fabrics for sleek, modern lines and materials. Furniture manufacturers are also appealing to consumers with new levels of convenience. For example, a newly redesigned seating system by Franklin offers increased maneuverability with a removable back panel, allowing for easier delivery.

Market research suggests that retailers’ attempts to blend style, comfort, and efficiency are paying off. When asked by Impact Consulting to rate their recent motion furniture purchases on a scale of one to seven, 27.6 percent of consumers gave their products a score of seven—the highest possible rating—while 31 percent ranked their purchases a six.

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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.

e-commerce

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.

furniture

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.

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  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.

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  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.

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This Industry Is Spurring New Growth in the Furniture Sector

The ebbs and flows of a number of industries have a significant impact on the furniture sector. Including trends in interior design, advances in logistics and, more recently, technology, a variety of forces throughout the economy frequently present new challenges and opportunities for furniture companies.

In recent years, the housing industry has been one of the most significant external factors impacting American furniture sales. After the 2007 financial crisis sent the real estate sector into a downward spiral, the market is finally showing signs of recovery. With more individuals now moving into their own spaces, furniture companies have a chance to grow exponentially.

Trending Upward

housingAlthough it has yet to reach levels seen before the recession, the US housing market is exhibiting clear signs of recovery. Other than a slight decline in 2014, sales of existing homes have gradually risen in recent years, increasing 3.8 percent from 2015 to 2016. The 5.49 million homes sold in 2016 nearly reached the peak established in 2007, when 5.65 million existing homes were sold.

There has also been a gradual increase in the construction of new, single-family homes. Although the 559,000 new houses sold in 2016 were still 27.8 percent lower than the 2007 peak of 769,000, new home sales have increased by an impressive 82.7 percent since 2011.

The only housing market metric to exhibit a marked decline in recent years has been the construction of new multifamily buildings. But while the construction of new multiunit complexes decreased by 13 percent in 2016, the construction of single-family homes grew by 7.5 percent, and is expected to grow by 8.1 percent in 2017.

All of these factors have resulted in the lowest rates of rental unit and home vacancies in three decades. Rental vacancy rates fell to 6.9 percent in 2016, with the tightest housing crunches felt in metropolitan areas and their surrounding suburbs.

What This Means for the Furniture Sector

homeHousing growth is a natural boon for the furniture industry, as the move to a new home or apartment is one of the most common motivators behind a new furniture purchase. In the US, the furniture industry is growing at a faster pace than the broader economy. The US furniture market was valued at $96.4 billion in 2014—and it is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 2.9 percent through 2019.

As millennials begin to establish their careers and move out on their own, they have become the largest segment of the furniture-buying population, overtaking baby boomers. While millennials made up just 14 percent of furniture sales in 2012, spending approximately $11.1 billion, this number more than doubled to comprise $27 billion in furniture sales in 2014.

With millennials driving growth in the housing market and, therefore, in the furniture sector, furniture companies must consider their unique needs and tastes to make the most of their purchasing power. Furniture designers and retailers can benefit from catering to the millennial desire for personalization, as well as their eagerness to engage with socially conscious and sustainable organizations.

Of course, technology also plays a significant role in the lives of not only millennials, but people of all ages. To cater to a new era of home renters and buyers, furniture companies must provide a convenient, secure, and engaging e-commerce experience—online sales are expected to contribute 30 percent of all furniture business in 2018, up from 21 percent just four years prior.

Furniture companies must also consider the ever-growing role of technology in their designs. Furniture equipped with wire management systems, charger ports, and other tech accommodations can blend seamlessly into a digital lifestyle, while a rise in telecommuting has driven demand for home office furniture outfitted for tech-heavy workstations.

The Matter of Mobility

While home purchases and rentals are on the rise, it is worth noting that mobility is at an all-time low. The percentage of Americans moving to new homes has steadily declined since the 1950s, falling by nearly 50 percent. As moving is a major life event that frequently leads to furniture purchases, companies must take a closer look at the people who are still moving, in order to successfully market to them.

At present, the Americans moving most often are typically non-married renters younger than 35. The younger the individual, the more likely they are to move: twice as many 20- to 24-year-olds (23 percent) and 25- to 34-year-olds (20.1 percent) moved in 2016 compared to individuals in the 35 to 44 age range. Additionally, less than 4 percent of adults older than 55 moved into a new house or apartment.

Americans who move more often also tend to earn less money. This suggests that affordability may be an important factor for furniture companies to consider when seeking to cater to customers in 2017.

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3 Recent Regulatory Updates That You Need to Know About

Though business leaders in the home furnishings sector must keep a watchful eye on ever-changing aesthetic trends, consumer tastes are not the only factor influencing furniture design and supply chain decisions. In order to keep their operations efficient and compliant, furniture companies must stay abreast of evolving regulations governing the sourcing, manufacturing, transportation, and sale of their products.

New laws and federal agency rules are constantly creating new challenges and considerations for furniture firms. The following are some of the most recent regulatory developments impacting the United States furniture industry:

  1. The New EPA Rule on Formaldehyde Emissions

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a new rule aimed at limiting the health risk posed by formaldehyde in consumer products. Certain items made of composite wood, such as furniture, cabinets, and flooring, can emit levels of formaldehyde that may be harmful to both humans and animals in the home. Sustained exposure to this colorless, odiferous, and highly flammable gas can cause health complications related to the eyes, nose, and throat, including conditions as serious as cancer. For this reason, the EPA’s new rule establishes stringent formaldehyde emissions standards for composite wood products sold in the United States, setting up one of the world’s strictest regulatory frameworks governing formaldehyde content.

In December 2016, the EPA issued the final draft of its formaldehyde emissions standards. The newly finalized rule outlines guidelines for compliance with the 2010 Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, which comprises Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act. It applies to both imported and domestically produced composite wood products, including hardwood plywood, particleboard, and medium-density fiberboard, as well as finished products containing these materials.

The final version of the EPA’s formaldehyde rule is extremely similar to the pre-publication draft released by the agency in July 2016. It sets forth requirements for product testing, labeling, and the management of records such as chain of custody documents, in addition to setting up a third-party certification program and establishing standards for the accreditation of these certifying bodies.

The final rule also provides specific limits for the formaldehyde emissions of certain composite wood products. It caps hardwood plywood emissions at .05 parts per million (ppm) and limits particleboard to .09 ppm, while medium-density fiberboard and thin medium-density fiberboard may contain .11 ppm and .13 ppm, respectively. These standards may be familiar to some furniture industry professionals, as they largely mirror the formaldehyde emissions guidelines upheld by the California Air Resources Board between 2009 and 2012.

The EPA’s formaldehyde emissions standards for composite wood products are the result of significant research, deliberation, and industry collaboration. An initial draft of the rule proposed in 2013 met significant industry resistance due to what many companies deemed excessive testing requirements. After drawing on the feedback of industry members to develop more mutually acceptable guidelines, the EPA released its final rule, with an intended effective date of February 10, 2017. However, a mandatory regulatory freeze enacted by the incoming presidential administration in January 2017 extended this date by several weeks on two separate occasions, ultimately pushing it back to May 22, 2017.

Furniture industry suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers who still need to familiarize themselves with these new regulations may review them here.

  1. Department of the Interior Regulations Requiring Sustainable Rosewood Imports

Rosewood is a popular material often used to give an elegant flair to the exterior of higher-end furnishings such as tabletops, headboards, and drawer fronts. However, the irresponsible sourcing of rosewood can have dire consequences for the ecosystems where rosewood thrives.

On Janury 2, 2017, the US Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service formalized a rule that will ensure the legal, environmentally responsible sourcing of rosewood. The new regulation applies to nearly 300 major species of rosewood within the genus Dalbergia, as well as kosso (also known as African rosewood), East Indian rosewood, cocobolo, and Honduran rosewood.

It requires companies to obtain permits proving that their rosewood suppliers are harvesting the material legally and sustainability, and with no phase-in period, the regulation has required furniture companies to promptly assess their supply chains for compliance. Following the issuance of the new rule, many firms found themselves conducting audits of shipments currently in route to avoid issues at customs.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s new rosewood regulation falls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty designed to ensure that business practices do not endanger natural habitats or the species that they host. Ratified by 182 nations since its establishment in 1975, CITES currently defends over 35,000 plant and animal species.

  1. Impending Duties on Chinese Plywood Imports

Mounting concern over unfair international trade practices could lead some furniture companies to reexamine their supply chains. In November 2016, a group of 12 American hardwood plywood manufactures, collectively operating as the

Coalition for Fair Trade of Hardwood Plywood, filed a petition alleging that unfair pricing practices by Chinese suppliers have led to layoffs and financial losses throughout their sector. To remedy this, the petition specifically requested that the government levy new countervailing duties on Chinese plywood imports, which would account for alleged subsidization provided to Chinese firms by the nation’s government, as well as anti-dumping duties, which would address concerns that suppliers have imported materials to US manufacturers at prices far below the cost of raw materials.

After several months of deliberation, the US Department of Commerce recently announced countervailing duties of up to 111.09% for 61 Chinese board producers. Going forward, the department may establish additional anti-dumping duties, as well as duties to address the financial damages sustained by the petitioners.

It is important to note that these duties do and will not apply to finished products imported from China. Rather, they apply only to panels imported for the construction of furniture within the United States, excluding all structural panels intended for use in ready-to-assemble furniture. While industry experts allege that these duties should have no immediate significant impact on American furniture companies, they may very well lead American furniture and cabinet companies to reassess the cost efficiency of their supply chains.