Technology

smart-home

Top Trends to Watch for in “Smart” Furniture Tech

As wireless and mobile technology continues to advance, homeowners are becoming increasingly reliant on gadgets to improve the home environment. The Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to the billions of everyday items worldwide that are connected to the Internet, is leading to a new level of interconnectedness between people and their devices. Modern tech has made it possible to adjust a thermostat remotely using a smartphone app or start a favorite playlist with a simple voice command, but these actions only scratch the surface of what is happening in the area of home automation.

Consumers’ demand for the latest technology is leading many furniture manufacturers to create products that integrate tech-driven features into their design. While “smart” furniture is still in its infancy, it makes up a rapidly growing market in the home furnishings industry. In fact, a recent report projects that the global smart furniture market will reach $916 million by 2022. This growth correlates with an expanding IoT network that experts estimate will comprise more than 20 billion devices by 2020.

So, what can consumers expect in terms of furniture that makes their lives more efficient, productive, and entertaining? Here are some smart furniture trends to watch for:

 

Seamless Connectivity

Much of today’s technology is developed with a focus on improving people’s lives, and smart furniture is certainly no exception. In addition to connecting to the Internet, furniture pieces with Wi-Fi capabilities can connect with other items in the home to make everyday tasks easier. Tech-loving consumers can expect to experience greater connectivity as manufacturers create more products with the ability to “talk” to one another through the latest technology.

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Some of the most seamless connectivity today exists in the kitchen, but connected bedroom and living room furniture is becoming more popular. Many of these products use smart technology that combines Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, cloud-based artificial intelligence, and voice control to connect with speakers, smartphones, and other devices. Integrating Internet-connected touchscreens into coffee tables and cabinet doors is also an emerging trend.

 

Tech-Hiding Furniture

While the trend toward smart furniture is the result of an increased use of technology, it’s also driven by a desire to make tech less visible in one’s living space. Recent tech-inspired furniture is sleek and minimalistic. Rather than prominently showcasing their tech features, these modern pieces are designed to keep them out of sight.

New items, such as sofas with built-in surround-sound systems, reduce tech clutter while maintaining the look of a traditional sofa. Even furniture pieces without built-in technology are designed with tech in mind. These include cabinets with built-in charging ports and electrical outlets, coffee tables with hidden drawers for computers and other devices, and end tables that keep cords and wires neatly tucked away.

Wireless Charging Capabilities

Most people today remain connected to the world through their smartphones and other mobile devices. Until recently, charging these devices required unsightly cords that could get in the way of a clutter-free lifestyle. Thanks to innovations in wireless charging technology, consumers can now ditch the cords for stylish lamps and side tables with built-in wireless charging units.

wireless charging

Today, a number of furniture manufacturers are offering these products, which use an electromagnetic field to charge phones and tablets. As wireless charging capabilities improve, charging tables and standalone charging units will likely become commonplace in homes and businesses. In the near future, developments in this technology could make it possible to keep a phone or tablet charged without ever using an outlet.

 

Intelligent Mattresses

With the average person spending approximately one-third of his or her life sleeping, it’s not surprising that people are always looking for ways to improve upon the traditional mattress. For several years, manufacturers have been offering basic intelligent mattresses for use in the healthcare industry. More recently, other companies have created smart, interactive beds with various features designed to support a good night’s rest.

These intelligent mattresses include sensors that monitor sleeping habits and biometric information such as heart rate and breathing rate. Some also incorporate voice recognition technology that enables users to adjust the mattress and turn on components with a simple voice command. Other smart mattress technologies to watch for include climate-control systems, motion-activated ambient lighting, and automatic air-suspension units to prevent snoring.

 

Smart Furniture in the Workplace

In addition to offering benefits in the home, smart furniture is finding its way into the workplace as employers look for ways to improve employee well-being and productivity. Standup desks and adjustable monitors have been popular for several years, but companies have recently introduced desks that can remind an employee when it’s time to change from a seated to a standing position.

The desks feature connected sensors that provide reminders via a smartphone app. Along with helping employees monitor their daily movements, the app can automatically adjust a desk to an employee’s preferred height. Connected desks can also give employers better control over how their office space is being used throughout the day, which is especially helpful in a hot-desking environment.

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furniture

Spotlight – Social Media Best Practices for Furniture Retailers

Along with providing a space where users can chat with friends, catch up on news, and follow the latest celebrity gossip, social media channels can be a great source of business information. Alerts about upcoming sales, pictures of the newest product arrivals, reviews, and helpful shopping and design tips are all available on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. With so many people using these and other sites on a daily basis, social media is playing an increasingly important role in many retailers’ marketing strategies.

According to Social Media Examiner’s 2018 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 92 percent of marketing professionals say that social media is important to their work. Many marketers and retail professionals, however, still struggle with implementing the right strategy to reach their target audience. This problem is particularly prevalent for many retailers in the home furnishings industry, which has been somewhat slow to fully embrace new technologies, including social media.

The good news is that leveraging social media to attract and engage customers does not have to be an overly complicated task. Read on to learn more about social media and the marketing channels available to your business.

 

Why Use Social Media?

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The easy answer to this question is that these platforms are extremely popular. An estimated 2.62 billion people worldwide use social media, and this number is only expected to climb in the coming years. Ensuring that your business has a presence on prominent online channels can help you reach the many people who use social sites every day to connect not only with friends and family, but also with local businesses.

Studies have shown that while price is the leading factor in determining where an individual shops, knowing and trusting a business is also very important to today’s consumers. When used effectively, social media provides a way for retailers to build trust and brand awareness while showing the personal and sometimes light-hearted side of their business. Although boosting profits is the ultimate goal of all retail marketing strategies, social media offers the unique opportunity to drive sales by starting a conversation, building a community, and making personal connections with customers.

 

Mastering Facebook

Although it has been the recipient of negative press recently, Facebook still reigns as the top social media channel in terms of the number of daily users. The platform is also the top choice for marketers looking to reach consumers through social media.

Retailers wanting to get the most out of their Facebook page may want to start by rethinking the size and content of their posts. A recent study conducted by social media analytics company Quintly found that posts with fewer than 50 characters resulted in the most interactions. Posts with no text at all came in second place. Quintly also found that visual content is extremely effective at driving Facebook interactions. Video is the best way to boost engagement, but posts with images are also popular.

Using the Quintly study as a guide, retailers may be able to improve the effectiveness of their Facebook page by avoiding wordy posts and embracing video content, which still appears to be underused as a marketing tool. Retailers may also want to minimize the number of posts that include links. Although posts with links to products are pervasive on Facebook, they are less effective than videos, images, and status updates at boosting online interactions.

 

Embracing Instagram and Twitter

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Facebook may have the most active users, but it certainly isn’t the only social media platform that retailers should be using to reach their customers. While these platforms require a somewhat different approach, Instagram and Twitter are also effective tools for driving consumer engagement.

Because visuals are an important part of most marketing messages, more and more companies are using Instagram to build brand awareness. This is especially true in the home furnishings industry where design, color, texture, and functionality all come together in each product. To boost your Instagram account, include more product videos and consider posting user-generated content that highlights items found in your store. Don’t overdo it, however. For an Instagram account with less than 10,000 followers, one post per day should be sufficient.

Due to its character limit, marketing on Twitter can pose some challenges. However, it is the perfect platform for promoting discounts and sales events. Retailers can boost sales by creating special offers for followers. They can also drive engagement and attract more followers by using target keywords and hashtags to reach specific audiences.

 

Final Tips

In addition to focusing on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, retailers looking to reach the largest possible audience on social media should maintain a presence on other platforms, including Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, and Tumblr. While retailers should treat each platform differently, it’s important to post content that starts a conversation and is worthy of a customer’s time.

Overall, the tone of social media posts should be friendly and conversational rather than salesy and promotional. It’s also important to monitor conversations and respond to customers’ questions, concerns, and even negative comments. Be genuine and add personality to your posts, and don’t forget to use social media accounts to show your company’s involvement in the local community.

kitchen

You Need to Know about These Kitchen Décor Trends

As the saying goes, the kitchen is the heart of the home. It’s not only a gathering place for family, friends, and guests, but also an opportunity to showcase your personal design aesthetic. So, whether you’re planning a total kitchen overhaul or making only a handful of changes, you can pair your own style with the latest trends in décor to make the space truly shine.

Read on to explore a few of the kitchen décor trends that you can use in your next remodel:

 

Colorful cabinets

Though white cabinets remain a favorite among homeowners looking for a clean, bright aesthetic, colorful cabinets are beginning to come into their own. Blue, in particular, has been one of the biggest color trends in recent years. From light baby blue to deep cobalt, this color can add a splash of drama to any kitchen.

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More recently, however, another color has begun to take the spotlight: green. As more kitchen design schemes maximize natural elements, green has emerged as a top pick for cabinet remodels. Cabinets painted in this color complement warm metallic fixtures and marble countertops.

 

Statement shelving

Open shelving isn’t a new trend, but it is one that gained traction recently due to new interpretations of its usage in the kitchen. Typically, homeowners use open shelving to showcase their best dishware or most expensive food items. A true statement piece, open shelving also presents the perfect opportunity for homeowners to add their own creative flair to their kitchens. Between accessories and plant life, they are using these shelving units to create unique centerpieces.

There is an even more revolutionary trend influencing the use of open shelving in the kitchen, however. Instead of swapping out this type of shelving for their built-in cabinets, homeowners are turning their open shelving units into interesting kitchen focal points. Where some are choosing to put their open shelving in the corner of their kitchen, others are adding shelves to the tops of their windows.

 

Banquettes

A popular kitchen design trend from the 1980s, banquette seating is coming back in a major way. Long gone are the highly embellished cherry and oak banquettes of the past. Instead, homeowners are opting for seating arrangements with a more modern aesthetic. More recently, banquettes have left behind busy details in favor of cleaner lines.

The latest banquette trend has also changed the arrangement of banquette seating, doing away with the stuffy, narrow booths of the past. Banquettes now include other furniture pieces such as benches, side chairs, and separate tables. Many homeowners are also choosing to accessorize their banquettes with stylish pillows and vibrant greenery.

 

Pastels

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The pastel trend is perfect for homeowners who want to add some color to their kitchens but aren’t ready to commit to some of the brighter shades of paint. From pink to yellow to blue, pastel colors of all kinds add exciting highlights to any kitchen. These colors stand out the most against greys and wood accents. However, it’s also become popular for homeowners to add elegant pastel accent walls to brighten up their kitchens.

 

Islands with a purpose

Kitchen islands are becoming less of a small counter space in the middle of the room and more of a large, functional centerpiece. Homeowners are now using these additions to serve numerous purposes in their kitchens. More islands are featuring ample storage space of their own, with room for everything from cookbooks to wine racks. Many also equip their islands with built-in appliances and sinks so that they serve a more functional purpose in the kitchen. To top it all off, an increasing number of these fixtures are beginning to feature bar seating to accommodate guests. With all of these features, kitchen islands are truly doing it all.

 

Dark accents

There are more ways to add drama to the kitchen than using bright colors. Homeowners are also incorporating dark accents. Black fixtures, for example, are becoming a very popular choice for kitchens because they complement nearly every color scheme. From lamps to faucets, these dark accents lend a sleek, modern look to any kitchen.

Dark appliances are also set to overtake stainless steel as the number one choice for appliances. Some of the biggest manufacturers now offer ranges of microwaves, refrigerators, and ovens in dark grey and black.

 

Concealed hoods

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“Seamless” is one word that can describe many of the latest trends in kitchen décor, and nothing fits this label better than concealed range hoods. Where homeowners once preferred to make these vents the centerpiece of their kitchens, more people now prefer to hide them. From an aesthetic point of view, concealed hoods blend into the wall or upper cabinets to simplify the look of the entire space. As such, they attract less attention while still remaining functional.

 

Built-in sinks

In recent years, stainless steel and farmhouse sinks have been the dominant trend in kitchen sinks. However, these old favorites have been losing ground to a new trend: built-in sinks. Unlike more traditional models, these sinks are composed of the same materials as the countertops that surround them. Sometimes, they are even part of the counters themselves. This makes the kitchen look much sleeker by eliminating the visual separation between countertop and sink. Popular materials for built-in sinks include stone, marble, and concrete.

furniture

Top Insider Tips for How to Improve Furniture Sales

After several years of declining sales, retail leaders in the US furniture and home furnishings industry are benefiting from an improving economy that is giving consumers more money to spend on big-ticket items like furniture. Economic growth has led to a strong housing market, which, in turn, is now supporting healthy furniture sales numbers that are projected to continue for at least the next several quarters. With the current economic outlook, Furniture Today projects that the $96 billion furniture industry will experience a 2.9-percent growth rate through 2019.

Although furniture retailers can look forward to an improving market, they still need to focus on maintaining best retail practices to take advantage of upcoming sales opportunities. In the brick-and-mortar-driven furniture retail sector, efforts to boost sales center on positive face-to-face interactions and in-store experiences. Here are a few quick sales tips that retailers of all sizes can follow to ensure that customers do not leave without buying:

 

  1. Have a solid marketing plan

Successfully marketing furniture can be more challenging than other products because buying furniture requires an investment and happens only on occasion. Despite the challenge, however, furniture retailers looking to increase sales must find ways to attract customers using a solid marketing plan.

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Sending customers regular e-mails and/or SMS alerts provides retailers with a relatively easy way to maintain brand awareness and keep customers updated about in-store sales and promotions. To attract new customers, furniture managers and store owners can host sales events or promotional giveaways, which can be advertised easily using traditional mailers and social media. Furniture retailers can even partner with real estate agents to showcase their products in homes for sale in the community.

 

  1. Know your products

Knowledgeable sales associates are important in any retail environment, but they are essential to the success of all furniture stores. Within each furniture product category, there are a variety of styles, colors, designs, and materials from which customers can choose. Confident employees with an understanding of the products they are selling can both educate customers and put them at ease during this oftentimes overwhelming shopping experience.

While you and your sales staff do not need to memorize every spec of every piece of furniture on the showroom floor, it is important for all sales associates to be confident in their general knowledge of product categories. The most effective furniture sales associates are also current on the latest design trends, and they understand how certain furniture materials and features contribute to the comfort and durability of a piece.

 

  1. Be friendly and personable

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Regardless of how much a sales team knows about the products they are selling, customers are more likely to make a purchase from someone who is friendly and easy to talk to. Personable salespeople are able to educate customers while building rapport and trust during the shopping experience. A friendly demeanor also helps customers relax and feel more comfortable asking questions. This type of relationship and knowledge-building can generate one-time sales and increase the likelihood that customers will return for repeat purchases.

 

  1. Focus on customer service

Combining product knowledge with the right attitude is the key to great customer service, which is necessary in an industry full of businesses offering competitive pricing, similar products, and flexible financing. While the goal of all retailers is to convince potential buyers to spend cash in their stores, the most successful furniture businesses generate sales by making customer service the focus of their entire operation.

In a customer-first furniture store, trained and friendly employees greet everyone who walks through the door with a genuine smile and a simple inquiry such as “What brought you in today?” The goal of all sales associates should be to serve customers by actually listening to their needs and providing knowledgeable advice without using high-pressure sales tactics.

It’s also important to remember that customer service in the furniture industry starts on the sales floor and extends to management and operations teams who deliver products to homes and follow up on their customers’ experiences. Successful furniture companies value and actively seek out feedback from their customers so that they can continually improve the products and services they offer.

 

  1. Leave a lasting impression

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Of course, not every person who walks into a furniture store is going to leave with a new piece for their home. Regardless of whether a sale is made, however, it’s important that customers return to their cars satisfied with the overall experience they had while in the store.

In addition to offering great face-to-face service, retailers can leave a lasting impression by engaging customers with interactive room planning software and other tech-driven tools. Providing customers with a bottle of water, a cup of coffee, or sweet treat can also increase the likelihood that they’ll return to a store or recommend it to their friends and family.

Spotlight on the 2018 Ashley for the Arts Festival

ashleyfortheartsSince becoming one of the top companies in the home furnishings industry, Ashley Furniture has maintained a positive presence in communities across the country. Ashley’s dedication to social responsibility drives the company’s various philanthropic initiatives focused on social, educational, environmental, and health issues. Ashley also sponsors a number of art, music, and entertainment events, including its very own Ashley for the Arts festival.

Now in its 10th year, Ashley for the Arts was first held in 2009 and has since grown to become one of the largest charitable events in Wisconsin. The three-day music and art festival now draws over 50,000 people to Memorial Park in Ashley’s hometown of Arcadia. In addition to offering great entertainment and family-oriented activities, Ashley for the Arts raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for local organizations. Here’s what attendees can expect to experience when Ashley for the Arts celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2018:

 

Two Days of Top Musical Entertainment

Each year, one of the major highlights of Ashley for the Arts is its lineup of musical headliners. This year’s event, which will take place from August 9 to August 11, will feature several well-known artists. The headlining performances will kick off on Friday at 4 p.m. with music from Los Angeles-based singer and songwriter ZZ Ward. The music will continue that night as Rick Springfield, Daughtry, and Chris Janson each take the stage. On Saturday, the lineup includes Carly Pearce, Dan + Shay, Andy Grammer, and Rascal Flatts.

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Along with nationally touring musicians, Ashley for the Arts features performances from a number of local acts. At this year’s event, a dozen bands and individual musicians will play throughout Friday and Saturday. Ashley for the Arts’ musical lineup will also include school showcases at the Memorial Park Millennium Amphitheater. The Aquinas MS Choir & Jazz Combo, Cotter Marching Band, Cardinal Music Experience, and several other school ensembles will perform during the event.

 

Running in Pursuit of a Cure

In 2012, Ashley for the Arts added a charitable 5K to the festivities. Originally launched exclusively as an American Cancer Society fundraiser, the annual Pursuit of a Cure 5K Run/Walk now raises money for other organizations, as well as for local emergency services and families in need. Current beneficiaries include the American Cancer Society, Rita Tranberg Memorial, and Arcadia Ambulance Service.

The 2018 Pursuit of a Cure 5K will be held August 9 starting at 6:30 p.m. The event will take runners along Arcadia’s Memorial Park Drive. Those planning to take part in Pursuit of a Cure can register through the Ashley for the Arts website. During the registration process, race participants can choose to have their entry fee distributed to one or all of the race beneficiaries. All funds raised through entry fees and donations will support the work of the charities.

 

Artists and Classic Cars

A festival focused on arts and entertainment, Ashley for the Arts features an art and craft fair with nearly 100 booths. Fair participants include local artists showcasing a variety of items, including woodwork, paintings, and jewelry. In addition to providing the opportunity to purchase items from local artists and craftspeople, attendees can view live demonstrations of artwork being created during the fair, which will be held on Friday and Saturday.

After exploring the art and craft fair, Ashley for the Arts attendees can visit the Cruisin’ for the Arts Car Show to view rows of classic cars and motorcycles on display. The event, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, will wrap up with an awards presentation honoring the first- and second-place winners of the People’s Choice Award, Ambassador Award, and President’s Award.

 

Family Fun

petting zoo

Ashley for the arts also offers a variety of activities designed especially for families with children. Circus acts, carnival games, and a petting zoo are all part of the festivities, which include interactive arts activities, an inflatable air park, and three hot air balloon launches. On Saturday, the event will offer a fireworks show starting at 9:30 p.m. In between activities, families can enjoy plenty of food to snack on thanks to more than 20 food vendors who will be on hand during the festival.

 

Money Raised for a Worthy Cause

Along with providing entertainment for Arcadia residents and visitors from the surrounding area, the annual Ashley for the Arts event raises much-needed funds for over 40 nonprofit organizations. In 2018, Ashley hopes to repeat the success of the 2017 festival, which raised more than $425,000 for a number of groups, including many local schools. In addition to raising funds for various charitable organizations from its Pursuit of a Cure 5K run/walk and raffle, Ashley donates profits from ticket sales to participating schools and nonprofits.

Tickets to Ashley for the Arts are $10 for all attendees and include admission to the festival for the entire weekend. Additional details, including venue information and a daily schedule, are available at www.ashleyforthearts.com.

An Insider’s Guide to the Las Vegas Market – What You Need to Know

lasvegasmarketlogoFurniture and home decor professionals from across the country gather at the biannual Las Vegas Market to see the latest styles and trends in home furnishings and interior design. The expansive market features more than 4,000 brands across over 5.4 million square feet of showroom space. In addition to furniture for all rooms in the home, the products on display include bedding, textiles, housewares, floor coverings, lighting, and wall décor.

The 2018 Summer Las Vegas Market takes place July 29 through August 2. Organizers of the five-day event are looking to build on the success of the 2018 Winter Market, which saw a record number of buyers and suppliers in attendance. Those planning to take part in the event can plan ahead so that they know what to expect when they get to Las Vegas. Check out this quick guide for valuable information about the Las Vegas Market.

 

Registration Details

The Las Vegas Market is free to attend. Registration for the event, however, is limited to those who work in the home furnishings, gift, and design trades. This includes furniture retailers and manufacturers, interior decorators, architects, and product distributors.

In addition to government-issued photo identification, all attendees are required to provide proof-of-trade documents to show that they are a member of the home furnishings and/or design industries. Las Vegas Market officials accept business cards and business licenses as well as previous Market purchase orders/invoices to establish proof-of-trade status.

Although guests are welcome to register for the Market at the on-site registration tent, event organizers recommend that attendees register online prior to their arrival. Those who register before the show can pick up their badges using scan-and-go kiosks at the registration tent and select partner hotels (Aria and the Golden Nugget).

 

Where to Stay

The Summer Las Vegas Market is partnering with over two dozen Las Vegas properties to provide attendees with special hotel rates for booking dates from July 28, 2018, to August 2, 2018. Depending on where one stays, daily rates at the partner hotels range from $28 to $270.

Attendees can choose to stay on the Las Vegas Strip or at one of the off-strip partner hotels, including Marriott Las Vegas, Springhill Suites, and Signature at MGM. Available properties also include non-gaming hotels such as Hilton Grand Vacations Club, Mandarin Oriental, and Elara.

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The Best Way to Get Around

To save on airfare, those flying into Las Vegas can book a flight with one of the Las Vegas Market’s partner airlines. Partners include WestJet, Air Canada, and United Airlines. Copa Airlines and Delta Air Lines are also offering discounted airfare for event attendees. Available discounts include rates up to 15 percent off the regular price.

After arriving in Las Vegas, Market attendees can rent a car or choose from other available transportation options, including taxis and on-demand car services such as Lyft and Uber. Low-cost shuttles from McCarren International Airport to Las Vegas hotels are also available. Attendees staying at select host hotels can also take advantage of complimentary shuttles to and from Las Vegas Market every morning, afternoon, and evening of the event.

 

Making the Most of the Market Experience

With so much to see and do at the Las Vegas Market, it can be difficult for both first-time and experienced attendees to know where to start. Fortunately, the Las Vegas Market offers numerous tools and resources to make it easier to plan for and explore the event.

The Market Planner is a new digital tool that allows attendees to create and save custom itineraries outlining the sessions they want to experience and the exhibitors they want to meet. Available for iPhone and Android devices, the Las Vegas Market app is another valuable attendee resource. The app, which is updated prior to each Las Vegas Market, includes floor plans, an exhibitor directory, seminar schedules, and a listing of available dining options.

Along with digital tools, Las Vegas Market offers a variety of print publications to help attendees get the most out of their visit. Available publications include the comprehensive Market Resource Guide, the Designer’s Guide to Las Vegas Market, Pavilions Magazine, and the First Look style guide, which highlights the top new trends and products featured at the Market.

 

Things to Do Afterhours

After a long day of exploring products and attending seminars, Market attendees can unwind at on-site happy hour bars or the spacious Grand Plaza Courtyard, which offers refreshments each evening of the event. Off the Market grounds, a number of fun activities are available for those who want to enjoy local attractions. Market organizers suggest side trips to the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory, the Neon Museum Boneyard, and the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts. More information about what to see and do during the Las Vegas Market is available at www.lasvegasmarket.com.

security

4 of the Best Ways to Protect Customer Data

Maintaining personal information about your customers and employees is an important and often necessary part of business operations. The rise in online sales in the furniture industry and other areas of retail has led to the transfer of even more personal information from customers to businesses. Names, addresses, credit card numbers, and other account data are all used to fill orders and provide customers with a more efficient shopping experience. Unfortunately, this same data is a target of cybercriminals looking to profit from sensitive personal information.

While cyberattacks can affect businesses of all sizes, small businesses are especially vulnerable to this type of crime. In fact, nearly 50 percent of all cyberattacks are directed toward small business enterprises. When a hacker’s efforts are successful, businesses can lose the trust of their customers and face financial consequences serious enough to shut down their company. Fortunately, there are several relatively easy things that any business owner can do to protect their customers’ data. Here are a few strategies for implementing an effective data-security plan:

 

  1. Have a Strong Privacy Policy

Creating a detailed privacy policy provides business owners with an easy way to promote transparency and build trust among customers. While it’s necessary to ensure that the document is legally compliant, it should be written with the consumer in mind. Instead of using “legalese,” effective privacy policies should be written in simple language that is easy for anyone to understand.

Within the policy, it’s important to clearly outline what type of personal information is collected from customers. The document should also discuss how the business collects and uses the information and what measures are taken to protect it. Additionally, every privacy policy should provide contact information to help customers manage their personal data. There is no one right way to create a policy, but business owners should seek legal guidance to ensure that the document complies with state and federal laws related to data protection and privacy.

 

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  1. Know What Information Is on File

Even with excellent security measures in place, there is no way for a business owner to protect information that they don’t know they have. One of the first steps to take in implementing a data-protection plan involves taking stock of personal information by inventorying paper files, as well as computers, flash drives, mobile devices, and other electronic equipment.

Business owners should also work with managers and employees to identify what type of personal data is collected. Knowing where the data comes from and where it is stored is also important. Once a business identifies its data channels and storage sites, it will be much easier to track down the customer information it has on file.

 

  1. Get Rid of Unneeded Data

After locating and taking stock of all your stored customer data, the next step to take is to delete any unneeded personal information. There is no reason to store—or even collect—personally identifying information that is not integral to a business’ products and/or services. It is especially important to get rid of stored credit card numbers unless there is a legitimate reason to keep them on file. In addition to making data management more complicated, storing unnecessary customer information increases a business’ risk of being the target of a cyberattack.

 

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  1. Provide Proper Security for Any Stored Information

Of course, the most important thing a business owner can do to keep customer data out of the hands of criminals is to ensure that proper protective measures are in place. Effective data security begins with using the latest software to protect against viruses, malware, and spyware. In addition, it’s important to keep computer software, web browsers, and operating systems updated to protect against the latest threats.

In addition to using updated programs and computer systems, business owners should invest in a secure server. Although a dedicated server can be costly, the benefits that it offers are well worth it. A client-server setup provides centralized storage that gives businesses the ability to back up data and perform regular security updates across an entire network of computers. Servers also protect against computer viruses and worms, which can easily spread from one computer to another in a peer-to-peer setup.

Encryption technology is another way to protect sensitive information. Financial data, customer transactions, and even company emails can be encrypted to ensure that only authorized parties can read them. Encryption software works by scrambling information using a complex algorithm that can be very difficult to crack. This type of software is particularly important for businesses that use mobile devices to scan customer credit cards.

Regardless of how many security measures are in place, they will only be effective if employees implement them properly. Business owners should take the time to educate their staff members about how to handle customer information and identify data breaches. Creating a “culture of security” also requires regular training to keep employees updated on company privacy policies and the latest cyber threats facing the company.

furniture

Top Reasons for Ashley Furniture’s Amazing Success

AshleyFurnitureAlthough there are a number of major players in the US furniture market, Ashley Furniture stands out from the rest. The American furniture manufacturer and retailer has a history dating back to 1945, but the company’s rise to the top of the industry began in 1970 when current chairman Ron Wanek launched a small furniture manufacturing operation in Arcadia, Wisconsin. Since then, Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., has grown to become an international company operating in more than 120 countries around the world.

In addition to its role as the world’s largest furniture manufacturer, the company is also the largest furniture retailer in North America. The first Ashley HomeStore opened its doors in 1997, and two decades later, Ashley celebrated the opening of its 700th store location. Today, Ashley HomeStores bring in $3.8 billion in annual sales, nearly twice as much as its closest competitor.

The success of Ashley Furniture and its growth from a relatively unknown brand into a household name are not simply the result of good fortune. Ashley’s commitment to being the best furniture company in the world drives its success and continues to shape its daily operations.

Here’s a look at what makes Ashley Furniture a dominant industry leader:

 

Quality Products

From day one, Ashley Furniture Industries has focused on providing customers with top-quality home furnishings. The company’s manufacturing process begins with skilled engineers and designers who travel worldwide to find the latest trends, materials, and technologies. Then, every material and design is tested in Ashley’s state-of-the-art physical testing labs to ensure that it meets the company’s quality standards.

Ashley Furniture’s manufacturing practices and technologies ensure that each product produced is in line with the company’s goal to offer customers exceptional out-of-the-box quality at an affordable price. Ashley also partners with best-in-class suppliers and strives to hire disciplined and committed employees to keep quality at the heart of everything it does.

The company’s focus on operational and manufacturing excellence also supports its efforts to provide stylish, durable furnishings for the entire home. Today, Ashley customers can choose from items across 19 product categories, including bedroom, outdoor, home office, and entertainment.

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Commitment to Efficiency

As part of its mission to improve quality, reduce costs, and increase business, Ashley Furniture works toward continuous improvement by employing innovative production equipment and lean manufacturing principles at its US facilities in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi. The company’s patented assembly methods and streamlined systems support the Ashley team of manufacturing workers as they produce over 50,000 units each day.

Ashley’s commitment to efficiency extends from the factory floor to every area of the supply chain. In 1972, Ron Wanek established Ashley Logistics to manage the transportation and delivery of the company’s products. The Ashley fleet now comprises over 800 vehicles and 3,500 trailers that enable the company to move and deliver more than 30 million pieces of furniture each year. The fleet utilizes an advanced dispatch and routing system that ensures on-time delivery to customers in nearly every part of North America. Ashley is capable of delivering products to US customers in two days or less, a service that no other furniture company in the country can match.

In addition to speeding up production and delivery, Ashley’s efficient manufacturing processes and delivery systems translate into savings for customers. Providing customers with quality products on time and at an exceptional value is in line with the company’s growth-focused efforts to not only stay in business, but also increase profitability over the long term.

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Focus on People and Community

With the understanding that any company is only as good as its employees, Ashley Furniture invests in its people through job skills training and management coaching, as well as direct communication and support. Once a person accepts a position with Ashley, he or she receives job-specific training in manufacturing, distribution, and logistics. All employees have the opportunity for continued professional development as they work toward higher levels of leadership within the company.

Those who attain leadership positions at Ashley continue to develop their professional competencies through the Wanek School of Business Leadership. Ashley leaders take part in online learning and classroom education programs while taking on challenging job assignments that sharpen their skills. Throughout the process, they also receive feedback, personal coaching, and mentoring from other experienced Ashley leaders. All these activities support ongoing employee improvement.

Along with investing in its employees, Ashley Furniture gives back to the communities it serves. The company supports local economies and contributes millions of dollars each year to national charities and nonprofit groups, including City of Hope, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the American Heart Association. Ashley also supports local education programs serving students from grade school through college. Ashley’s work in the community is part of its efforts to make a positive impact while advancing its business goals as North America’s furniture leader.

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This Is What Is Happening Right Now in Furniture Manufacturing

Over the last several years, the furniture and home furnishings industry in the United States has enjoyed steady growth, thanks to an improving economy that has given consumers more disposable income. Growth in the industry began in 2009, and the latest figures show that it is likely to continue for at least the near future. Retail experts project that US furniture sales will experience a 3 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to reach $122 billion by 2020. Globally, the furniture and flooring market is forecast to reach $695 billion by 2019.

Of course, the projected growth in the industry has furniture retailers, distributors, and manufacturers optimistic, but industry professionals are also facing new challenges that are changing how they approach furniture design and marketing. It’s important for furniture manufacturers in particular to stay on top of the latest industry trends so that they can create products that will satisfy retailers and, ultimately, consumers.

To satisfy consumers, manufacturers must be aware of their demographics, lifestyle choices, and buying preferences. These factors help shape the industry by influencing how furniture is made and sold. Read on for an overview of what’s happening in the furniture industry and how it affects the work of manufacturers.

 

Millennials Are Driving the Market

While the furniture market also comprises generation Xers, baby boomers, and seniors, the majority of today’s furniture shoppers are millennials. As one of the largest groups of homebuyers in the United States, the generation spends billions on furniture and bedding each year. In addition to changing the way that retailers market their furniture, millennials are affecting how and what type of furniture is manufactured.

The generation prefers modern pieces with unique designs and tech-friendly features to the more traditional furniture that their parents likely own. Also unlike their parents, many millennials value affordability over durability and aren’t overly concerned with how long a specific piece will last. The generation prefers decorative, disposable furniture that they can use for 10 years or less before replacing it with something else. Manufacturers are meeting this demand by using materials and design processes that enable them to balance quality with affordability.

 

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Quicker Delivery Is in High Demand

Along with affecting how much they’re willing to pay for a new piece, millennials’ and other modern consumers’ attitudes toward furniture affects how long they are willing to wait for furniture they’ve purchased. This demand for quick delivery is leading many furniture manufacturers to streamline their operations.

According to the results of a 2018 industry survey, American upholstered furniture manufacturers consider reducing delivery times to be one of their most pressing challenges. To do this, more manufacturers are using technologies such as computer numerically controlled cutting (CNC) machines during the manufacturing process. Implementing better employee-training practices is also part of many manufacturers’ plans to speed up the time it takes them to deliver their products to market.

 

More Consumers Are Renting

Home sales may be increasing nationwide, but a large percentage of Americans are still renters. In fact, a recent report from the Pew Research Center showed that over 36 percent of households rented in 2016.

Although there are various reasons as to why a person may choose to rent over owning a home, money is a common factor. With less money to spend, many renters are similar to other modern consumers in valuing affordable furniture. Some renters are also tight on space, leading them to seek smaller and/or multipurpose pieces for their homes. Smart manufacturers today are creating inexpensive, streamlined furniture that appeals to the country’s large population of budget- and space-conscious renters.

 

Online Retail Continues to Grow

The growth of online retail continues to provide new opportunities for both furniture sellers and furniture manufacturers. Companies on the manufacturing side of the industry now have the ability to sell to retailers that aren’t limited to a specific geographic area. Some manufacturers are also increasing their efforts to create innovative furniture pieces that ship easily. This includes ready-to-assemble furniture, which is experiencing a revival in popularity in the United States. Despite the increase in furniture e-commerce, however, most furniture buyers still prefer to shop in-store.

 

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Retailers Are Catering to Environmentally Conscious Shoppers

A growing demand for sustainable products is leading many furniture retailers to carry eco-friendly pieces in their showrooms. Like many other market trends, millennials are driving the interest in green furniture, but people of all ages are looking for ways to decrease their carbon footprint.

Furniture manufacturers may have different definitions of what constitutes sustainable furniture, but for most, it includes pieces that use recycled and/or responsibly sourced materials, such as certified wood and natural fabrics. Sustainable furniture is also created using efficient manufacturing practices that reduce the company’s water and energy usage. Many of today’s furniture manufacturers focus on the green furniture market as part of a business strategy to increase profits while protecting the planet.

 

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How to Connect with Customers through Personalized Emails

Using modern marketing channels to reach out to customers is a good practice for any business in retail, particularly furniture sales. In addition to costing much less than many traditional marketing strategies, digital approaches such as SMS messaging and email campaigns are very effective. In fact, email is still one of the most effective marketing tools any business can use to reach customers across all demographics, including the sometimes-persnickety millennials.

Although using email communication is an affordable and effective strategy, business owners and marketers must find a way to stand out among the dozens of daily emails their customers often receive. This is where personalization comes in. Personalization is very important to today’s consumers, who have come to expect businesses to cater to their individual interests, needs, and wants.

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Despite the fact that most consumers are expecting a personalized experience, research shows that upwards of 70 percent of businesses owners are still failing to personalize their customer emails. Fortunately, delivering personalized email communications does not have to be complicated. Read on for an overview of effective personalization tactics that can increase email open rates and get more customers to shop in your store.

 

Start by Getting to Know the Customer

It is very difficult to personalize any marketing strategy without the right customer information. One way to learn more about those on an email subscriber list is through sign-up forms that ask for basic personal details as well as information about customers’ occupations, interests, and shopping habits.

Business owners can also learn more about their customers by following their online behavior. The email links they click on and the offers they sign up for can provide insight into their preferences. All of this information can then be used to segment an email list to send more personalized and targeted communications in the future.

When collecting data and personal details from customers, it is important to let them know that the information will be used to provide relevant offers and a more personalized experience. As concerns over data sharing continue to grow, more people are becoming cautious about signing up for offers that require certain information. Business owners who practice transparency build trust with customers and will have a better chance of collecting the info they need to operate a successful personalized campaign.

 

Address Recipients by Their Name

Every email sent to a customer should begin with a greeting that uses his or her first name. Thanks to email subscription forms, a customer’s first name is one of the easiest bits of information to gather. Also, most email services enable users to customize messages with a recipient’s name, so there is no reason not to use it. Starting a message with “Dear friend,” “Hello customer,” or another generic greeting will not encourage many people to read anything beyond the opening line.

 

Add Personalization to Subject Lines

Along with using first names in every email greeting, adding a name and other personalized info to the subject line is a surefire way to get more customers to open and read an email. In fact, recent studies have shown that a personalized subject line can increase email open rates by over 40 percent. More people reading an email means more people shopping for products and signing up for offers, which is the goal of any marketing campaign.

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Send Messages at the Right Time

Instead of sending out an email to an entire subscriber list at the same time, it is more effective to deliver messages when each recipient is most likely to read them. In many cases, there will be time zones to consider, along with other factors, that will help determine what time is best for customers. A/B testing and email marketing platforms can offer the data and other tools that business owners can use to customize delivery times for each person on their email list.

In addition to considering time zones and consumer habits, business owners should focus on sending timely messages that advertise current sales. Also, sending out emails about a seasonal or limited-time offer creates a sense of urgency, making recipients feel the need to act quickly to avoid missing out. Special personalized offers sent on customers’ birthdays are also very effective.

 

Don’t Forget to be Human

Email personalization works best when it is apparent that there is an actual human behind the message. Some of the easiest ways to do this include using a conversational tone and first-person pronouns throughout the email. Depending on the nature of one’s business, it might also be a good idea to send emails that include emojis to help a message seem more friendly and informal.

In addition, ending each message with the name and perhaps a photo of an actual person shows the reader that someone took the time to reach out to them personally. All messages should also include a reply-to email address so that customers can easily reach the company without having to search online for contact info.