HFA Influencers – Newsmakers/Profiles/Trends

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Doris Anne Sadler, president of the World Trade Center in Indianapolis, former Sen. Richard Lugar, Jim Kittle, chairman of Kittle’s Furniture in Indianapolis.

Kittle remembers Lugar as a friend of furniture retailers

Photo above: Doris Anne Sadler, president of the World Trade Center in Indianapolis, former Sen. Richard Lugar, Jim Kittle, chairman of Kittle’s Furniture in Indianapolis. Photo credit: Erica Quinlan, Indiana AgriNews

The last time Jim Kittle saw Richard Lugar, they sat side-by-side during a panel discussion highlighting the damaging impact of tariffs on free trade. 

That was in October 2018 in Indianapolis. Lugar was a distinguished former U.S. senator from Indiana whose views on public policy still commanded attention. 

“We are farmers who are deeply interested in feeding our country and the world,” Lugar said at the event, which was organized by Americans for Free Trade, a business coalition that includes the Home Furnishings Association. “That means there has to be freedom of trade, the ability for us to export our livestock, our crops and even some of our ideas, without obstruction.” 

Kittle, chairman of HFA member Kittle’s Furniture in Indianapolis, spoke for his industry. 

“Furniture retailers across the country are concerned that a prolonged trade war with China will lead to higher prices for consumers,”he said.“The home furnishings industry will see reduced sales as a result of tariffs, which will ultimately lead to fewer domestic retail jobs across the country.” 

It wasn’t an accident that Kittle and Lugar, who died April 28 at 87, sat next to each other. They were friends who worked together for decades. Kittle served as finance chairman for Lugar’s initial run for the U.S. Senate in 1974, which was unsuccessful, and again in 1976, when Lugar won the first of his six terms. 

“He was a mentor to me,” Kittle said. “He was a one-of-a-kind hybrid, historian-politician. He was a serious policy kind of guy.” 

Lugar became a leading senator in foreign affairs and arms control, working effectively with presidents of both parties, but he never forgot his Indiana roots, according to Kittle. 

“He still managed the family farm and planned the rotation of crops,” Kittle said, referring to Lugar’s 600 acres in Marion County. “He was a tireless supporter of NHFA (a predecessor of the Home Furnishings Association). “He believed in local retailers, and he bought all his furniture from us.” 

Patrick Mayo

Mayo’s furniture photography tells stories and starts conversations

Every picture tells a story. And in the middle of Patrick Mayo’s pictures – as out of place as they may seem – sit pieces of furniture made by his family’s company. 

Mayo Corporation is a third-generation manufacturer of upholstered and leather furniture in Texarkana, Texas. Patrick Mayo, vice president of sales and marketing and grandson of company founder Linn Mayo, and former sales manager Don McCoy took time during the recent High Point Market to tell the stories of how they created those arresting images of armchairs and sofas in the strangest locations.

Take, for example, the leather sofa surrounded by longhorn cattle. Two large, striking photographs of the scene hung from a wall in the Mayo showroom on the third floor of Furniture Plaza. 

Patrick Mayo happened to be driving by the pasture one day, saw the small herd and called McCoy, who still works for the company in a part-time capacity. 

“Remember, this is Texas,” McCoy explained to a visitor. “You got longhorns.” 

“How aggressive were these guys?” the visitor asked. 

“Those longhorns were like puppy dogs,” McCoy said, adding that the owner shook a bucket of feed to draw them to the sofa once Mayo and McCoy had set it in place. 

“They just came to the food,” Mayo said. 

“They just moseyed on over there,” McCoy added. 

“What kind of damage could those horns do to the couch?” the visitor asked, a little concerned. 

“They put a couple of dents in the outside back, and I had to replace it before I came to market, but it wasn’t much,” Mayo said. “I had to clean a little slobber off it.” 

“We also dropped it right in a patty,” McCoy said with a grin. 

Mayo puts his furniture through its paces by hauling it almost anywhere to stage his pictures. So you can see a sectional on a sandbar of the Red River outside Texarkana. Or an upholstered sofa in a swamp. Or an armchair on the edge of White Rock Mountain in Arkansas.  

Mayo recorded the mountain venture in a six-minute YouTube video (below) capturing a project that required a couple of days in February to execute.

He and Matthew Huckabee, the company’s graphics designer, drove a truck more than four hours to reach White Rock in Ozark National Forest northeast of Fort Smith. Then they hauled the chair along a rocky path, placed it atop a cliff and waited for the setting sun to cast just the right light. The resulting photos are stunning.  

McCoy started the photo shoots a half-dozen years ago. “He taught me quite a bit, and when he retired, I took over,” Mayo said. 

“Patrick has stepped it up,” McCoy noted. 

The imagination and energy that go into this furniture photography are amazing – even if the perpetrators sometimes get in a little trouble. 

They used a railroad track as a platform for one shoot, McCoy said. They thought it was a good idea, but after the photos were posted, a railroad inspector called to tell them they’d been trespassing. The photos could encourage others to stage their own activities on the tracks. Mayo removed the pictures. 

Even more than energy and imagination, however, what really pours into this pursuit is passion. Mayo loves the furniture his family and their skilled employees have been hand-crafting since 1965, and it shows. He wants to present it in its best light and in places where it starts conversations. 

As a marketing strategy, it’s brilliant. And it’s available to customers. Any retailer who carries Mayo furniture can download the photographs for free and use them to its own advantage. The images have appeared in many furniture store ads. 

Retailers can also feature the photos in their showrooms, just as Mayo does at markets. Why not, when they can grab shoppers’ attention and pull them into the story? 

Sophie Donelson, Bobby Berk

Selling furniture should be like selling happiness, Bobby Berk says

People recharge their phones every night to prepare for the next day. Their homes should serve the same purpose for them, Bobby Berk told an audience at the High Point Market. 

What if there’s no power there? 

“If you’re depressed and you wake up in a disaster of a room every day, you feel defeated already,” the designer and star of Netflix’s “Queer Eye” said. 

A.R.T. Furniture launched Berk’s new collection in the just-opened Markor Arts Center with rooftop “Skybar and Terrace” parties, book-signings and other events. But the Reality TV personality was down-to-earth in a conversation with moderator Sophie Donelson for High Point Market’s Keynote Series program. His advice should encourage furniture retailers to believe they can do a lot more than sell durable goods. 

“When it comes to home, we’re not designers, we’re therapists,” Berk said. 

Berk allowed that “here in High Point, you want people to buy furniture,” but he insisted the business isn’t just about money. “We have the tools to effect change in people’s lives,” he said. “It’s about making your home a place that sparks joy.” 

Berk didn’t have a happy childhood growing up in a conservative family in Missouri. He left home at 15, worked odd jobs, experienced homelessness and later found success in the retail trade. 

“If your home is in chaos, your life is in chaos because everything starts at home,” he said. “Don’t get a therapist, just fix your home.” 

That doesn’t have to mean with trendy, designer furnishings. People should find furniture that makes them happy – and healthy. 

“Everything else in the world is stressful. … You should get home and not be stressed,” Berk said. 

Donelson, former editor in chief of House Beautiful, noted that home furnishings fall low on the list of consumer priorities and faulted the industry for failing to make emotional connections between their products and happy home lives. Berk agreed. 

“At the end of the day, we want to sell stuff,” he said. “But we also want to make people happy.” 

Berk designed furniture to be simple and accessible, he said. The A.R.T. showroom presentation emphasized the homey, comfortable look with touches like a nightstand adorned with a pair of glasses set on an open book, as if a parent just stepped out to check on a child in the next bedroom. 

Berk said he didn’t have the upper class in mind but people who want affordable furniture that makes them feel good about their homes – or for the person who says, “I worked my ass off for this home and I want it to spark joy!” 

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