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Charlie Horn's Family

Crowley Furniture & Mattress makes safety part of its culture

Photo: Brett and Jenny Horn and their children

Charlie Horn was 2 when a dresser fell over and killed him in 2007. In the wake of that terrible event, his parents, Brett and Jenny, created a nonprofit organization, now called Charlie’s House, dedicated to promoting safe homes for children.

The Horn family lives in the Kansas City, Mo., area where Crowley Furniture & Mattress operates three stores. It wasn’t long before Crowley, a Home Furnishings Association member, reached out to offer help. Years later, the result is a strong partnership and growing awareness of a household hazard that has injured and killed too many children.

To Greg Crowley, second-generation owner of the 65-year-old business, it was a natural. Although the dresser that tipped over on Charlie wasn’t purchased at one of his stores, that didn’t matter. As Crowley saw it, he had a responsibility to help the Horns promote safety.

While there is a lot of regulatory and legislative attention today on furniture tip-over dangers, “It didn’t take many deaths for them to be proactive and jump ahead of this,” Brett Horn said of Crowley Furniture & Mattress.

‘A model of what retailers need to do’

“We’ve found Greg Crowley and his staff to be extremely proactive to this issue, and they have really used this issue as a tool to serve the community,” Horn added. “They’re a model of what retailers need to do to embrace tip-overs and address it head-on, and not duck it.”

The Home Furnishings Association agrees. All HFA members should follow Crowley’s example because it’s good for their customers, their communities and their operations.

The Horns’ foundation is building a safety demonstration house in Kansas City. When it opens next year, it will focus on all kinds of potential hazards using interactive displays to educate parents about how to eliminate dangers. Still, because of Charlie’s story, Charlie’s House is most closely associated with furniture tip-overs.

Crowley Furniture has provided financial support and will help to furnish Charlie’s House, Greg Crowley said, but the partnership is seen most visibly in their campaign for anchoring dressers, chests and other pieces to fixed surfaces so they can’t fall over. Together, Crowley Furniture and Charlie’s House give away about 25,000 tip-restraint kits every year at community events, home shows, speaking engagements and the three Crowley stores, Horn said. The kits are co-branded with the Crowley and Charlie’s House names, he added.

Customers can’t miss the tip restraints

The tip-restraint kits are displayed prominently at check-out desks and customers are urged to take them – even extras for older furniture they might already have in their homes, according to Katie Crowley, marketing and merchandising director for Crowley Furniture and Greg’s daughter. Safety is emphasized on the Crowley website and in social media, and an instructional video explaining how to install the tip restraints is posted online.

“Our primary focus is awareness and making tools available,” Katie Crowley said.

“The key is to create an awareness on my whole team,” Greg Crowley said. Safety “has become part of our culture, from sales to delivery.” To make sure everyone buys in, “you need to talk about it almost daily,” he said.

Delivery drivers don’t attach the tip restraints, but they make sure customers have them if they want.

As “part of the culture” at Crowley, working to prevent tip-overs of clothing storage units really isn’t different from other ways they take care of customers, Greg Crowley said. In a home without children, no one might be hurt if a poorly set up china cabinet falls over – but a valuable piece of furniture and its treasured contents could be damaged. So, when any furniture is delivered, it must be right – every screw turned, every loose staple picked up, Greg Crowley said. “Attention to detail is what we sell.”

The same attention to safety is making a difference, Horn said.

Crowley’s work prevents accidents

“Absolutely,” Horn affirmed. “It’s difficult to measure an accident that didn’t happen. That’s our goal, to prevent accidents.” But Horn said he often hears from people who testify to the impact – for example, from a parent who says he anchored a dresser and later found his child climbing on it. Maybe it would have fallen over if it hadn’t been secured.

“Their corporate sponsorship alone helps prevent accidents around the home,” Horn said about Crowley Furniture. “Crowley’s financial support helped us accomplish what we want to do.”

“Generally speaking, people seem to be more aware,” Katie Crowley said. “I do think it’s important for us to bring it up.”

Her father has no doubt.

“You don’t change the world overnight, but there’s no question we’ve made a difference in the Kansas City area,” Greg Crowley said. He sees evidence in community support for Charlie’s House. “Every event they have is stronger and stronger. There’s no question about that.”

At the same time, “It’s a hundred-year war,” Greg Crowley said. “It can’t be one event, or one event a month. It has to become a way of life.”

‘You never quit, never give up’

Horn said there’s a benefit for Crowley Furniture.

“Crowley is good with social media and TV advertising, and we’ve partnered with them on that, too,” he said. “We get a lot of coverage in Kansas City, so it’s good (for them) to develop a partnership with an organization like us when there’s a shared passion.

“They want to be known as the furniture store that cares,” Horn asserted.

Greg Crowley downplayed that aspect of the partnership.

“You can’t have an agenda on this,” he said. “I’m not doing it for three extra sales … It’s the right thing to do.”

Horn’s larger message is that manufacturers should also make products that comply with safety standards. The industry’s voluntary standard is published by ASTM International, but not all manufacturers meet it. Retailers can have a strong influence.

“If retailers care enough about the problem, the manufacturers will ultimately comply with the standard,” Horn said. “We all want furniture that won’t tip over when a child interacts with it.”

Greg Crowley agrees.

“You never quit, never give up, and it’s not one and done,” he said about safety.

American Home Furnishings Alliance Regulatory Summit

Greg Crowley will participate on a retail panel discussing tip-over at AHFA’s Regulatory Summit Oct. 2 in Colfax, N.C. Another panelist will be Jameson Dion, managing director of global sourcing for Home Furnishings Association member City Furniture. City’s participation in a UL stability verification program was featured in the July edition of RetailerNOW magazine.

Doug Clark, HFA’s government relations liaison, will moderate the panel. Registration is here. The cost is $199 for HFA and AHFA members, $499 for others.

Whittier Wood Furniture specializes in safety

During the July Las Vegas Market, Greg Crowley recommended a visit to the Whittier Wood Furniture showroom. It was easy to see why. The space was full of safety messages; Whittier Woods’ chests and dressers carry decals stating that the pieces feature anti-tip drawers with an interlock safety mechanism; and a video was playing on a large TV screen demonstrating how to use the manufacturer’s unique tip-restraint attachments.

Whittier Wood, based in Eugene, Ore., is strongly committed to ethical practices and safety, Sales Coordinator Eric Gullicksen said. It is one of the top suppliers for Crowley Furniture and a strong partner on safety, Greg Crowley said.

Whittier Wood products carry labels noting their anti-tip features

Whittier Wood, which began making case goods in 2007, complies with ASTM stability standards in constructing its furniture and always has included tip restraints and safety warnings, according to Marketing Manager Conni Barofsky. In 2013, President and CEO Scott Whittier designed a new tip restraint. “It’s a superior design for holding power and does not require the consumer to put holes in their walls,” Barofsky said. Instead, they are anchored below the baseboard. By the next year, Whittier equipped all its chests and dressers, as well as taller bookcases, with these restraints, even though bookcases aren’t covered by the ASTM standard.

Whittier hasn’t sought a patent for the tip restraints, Barofsky said, because “if somebody wants to copy it, if it saves one child, that’s fine.”

Another innovation followed in 2016. Because children sometimes use dresser drawers as steps for climbing, the interlock safety mechanism was added to frustrate that impulse by only allowing one lower drawer to open at a time.

Whittier Wood posts safety information, including videos, on its website, provides webinars for its sales representatives and distributes detailed literature to its retail customers. It wants everyone to get the message that safety matters.

Designers Treci Smith and Rachel Moriarty

Retailers can add style around a fireplace

Photo: Designers Treci Smith and Rachel Moriarty in the Twin Star Home showroom at the Las Vegas Market

Twin Star Home may be best known for its beautiful and functional electric fireplaces, but it stepped up the style at the recent Las Vegas Market. One goal was to inspire retailers that carry Twin Star Home products to do the same.

The Florida-based company engaged a quartet of designers/lifestyle bloggers/influencers to decorate different parts of the TSH showroom. Treci Smith, Rachel Moriarty, Christy Davis and Shannon Ggem designed warm, comfortable spaces with plenty of homey touches that anyone could imagine settling into for a cozy evening.

“We really focused on building beautiful furniture around the fireplace,” said Lisa Cody, vice president of marketing.

Designers share their vision in showroom

Shannon Ggem shows a Twin Star Home desk at Las Vegas Market

The designers didn’t hit and run. They remained in the showroom throughout the market to share their vision with visitors, helping retailers gain ideas about displaying products to best advantage in their stores.  And the close of market wasn’t the end of the story. It continues on TSH’s website, blogs and social media platforms.

The company concentrates on consumer research, Cody said, and passes its insights to retailers. It wants their time at market to be productive, but it also visits their stores and provides training videos about its products, including information about its technology and safety features.

Function co-exists with form

Product lines include furnishings for the living room, bathroom and home office. The Twin Star Home showroom featured several standing desks that raise and lower their height at programmed intervals, which help remind the user when it’s time to work on her feet for a healthy stretch.

But the calculation for Las Vegas was that function must co-exist with form and fashion. Whether shoppers are looking to furnish a home office or to create a centerpiece for their living room, they want to build an attractive and stylish space around the fireplace or other key feature. Twin Star Home offered  good ideas to retailers for showing customers what’s possible.

Doug Clark writes the Policy Matters blog for the Home Furnishings Association.

picture show authors of report

Furniture sales should be better, Smith says

Photo: Ken Smith and Mark Laferriere, Smith Leonard assurance partners

The numbers remain a puzzle to Ken Smith, assurance partner for Smith Leonard Accountants & Consultants in High Point, N.C. Smith is co-author with Mark Laferriere of the monthly Furniture Insights survey.

Their July 30 report found that new orders for residential furniture declined 3 percent in May compared to a year earlier, the fourth consecutive monthly decline. In June, “sales at furniture and home furnishing stores were up 0.8 percent from June 2018 but down 0.8 percent year-to-date from the first half of 2018,” Smith and Laferriere noted.

Yet overall economic indicators are still good, including employment, personal income growth and especially consumer confidence. In the past, “it was all about consumer confidence,” Smith said in a phone interview last week.

‘It looks like it should be better’

“It looks like it should be better, and hopefully it’s going to come,” he said, referring to jumps in furniture spending. He also observed that 2018 was strong, so it’s more difficult to achieve significant improvement in year-to-year comparisons.

Tariffs on products imported from China are affecting prices in some categories, but Smith continues to stress that furniture is underpriced.

“That old $300 sofa we used to buy 30 years ago is now $200. There’s something wrong with that picture,” he said.

Housing  also relates to furniture sales, Smith said, but the data there are inconsistent.

New home sales numbers are inconsistent

“New single-family home sales in June were 4.5 percent ahead of June a year ago, with sales up in the South and West, but down 50 percent in the Northeast and 17.6 percent in the Midwest,” the report says.

“Housing starts were off slightly from May 2019 but were 6.2 percent ahead of June 2018. Starts were up in the Midwest and South but were down in the Northeast and West.”

Low interest rates help with financing, but labor and material costs may be pushing up home prices, giving purchasers higher mortgage payments and leaving them with less money to buy furniture, Smith observed.

The picture is inconsistent across regions, Smith said, but success for individual retailers isn’t necessarily tied to larger trends.

“An awful lot of it does depend on how you run your store,” he said. “When the customer walks in the door, you need to know what you’re talking about.”

That means retailers need to know their customers and what they need. Well-trained sales staff must know the products, why one piece is priced more than another, what upholstery fabric is better than another, what accessories work and what don’t, Smith said. The customer might not know these things, so the retailer must help. And doing so can clinch the sale.

New orders declined again

The survey of manufacturers and distributors found that new orders in May fell 3 percent compared to May 2018, the fourth consecutive month of declining orders. Nearly 60 percent of respondents reported reduced orders.

Year-to-date, new orders were 3 percent below the first five months of 2018, with 64 percent of participants reporting reduced orders.

“Last year, new orders year-to-date through May were up 6 percent, so maybe the decline this year is not quite as bad as it might seem,” the authors said.

They added: “We have always said that the industry does not do well when confidence is down. And we always believed it performed better when there was strong confidence. We wonder why that is not working as well this time. We hope to see some pickup after summer vacations, etc. We will need some before the political ads start and all the news goes to elections.”

Doug Clark writes the Home Furnishings Association’s Policy Matters blog.

Bedgear's spoof shop at LVM

Sleep isn’t a joke at LVM

Photo: Eugene Alletto, CEO of Bedgear, with an actor portraying the proprietor of a spoof sleep shop at the Las Vegas Market

Eugene Alletto’s “spoof” at the Las Vegas Market was meant to make a serious point about sleep: You can’t fake it.

Alletto is founder and CEO of Bedgear, which calls itself a performance bedding company whose products are carried in more than 4,000 retail stores around the world.

Alletto was introducing visitors to the proprietor of the sleep store adjoining the Bedgear showroom in the World Market Center. In reality, the proprietor was an actor and the store was a phony. It was stocked with gag products like “jelly” pillows and sleeping pills.

It was meant to poke a little fun at the sleep products industry.

“We don’t think retail is dead, we just think boring retail is dead,” Alletto often says.

Engage shoppers in retail spaces

Bedgear wants to engage shoppers in retail spaces and give them more than the typical lie-on-the mattress experience. Its patented technology fits mattresses and pillows to the customer while heat-dispersing, moisture-wicking, air-flow systems help the sleeper maintain his or her most comfortable temperature, the company says.

Eugene Alletto in Bedgear’s real showroom

“People are looking for a better night’s sleep,” Alletto said in an interview during the market. “Not to sleep more, but better.”

While Bedgear does sell products online, it places more emphasis on in-store sales and building relationships with retailers, Alletto said. He believes that’s the key to getting the right product to the customer.

‘We have to learn what a customer wants’

“We have to learn what a customer wants even if they don’t tell you,” he said. So Bedgear conducts focus groups and tries to develop consultative relationships with its retailers, providing resources such as machines that can measure air flow through a pillow. Alletto claimed that Bedgear pillows measure 95 percent compared to a typical pillow rating of 60 percent. But the machine allows customers to see for themselves in the store. “What happens in the store is what matters,” Alletto said.

As a result of these efforts, “We’re doing more business than ever with brick-and-mortar,” Alletto said.

With so many advances in bedding, Alletto added, sleep can contribute even more to health and wellness. “What an opportunity our industry has to tell a better story,” he said. And that’s not a spoof.

Doug Clark is content manager, government relations liaison and author of the Home Furnishings Association’s Policy Matters blog.

Regional chamber honors HFA member Sheely’s as small business of the year

Photo Caption: Sheely’s Furniture will receive its small business of the year award in August.

Even when the call came earlier this summer, Jeff Curry found it hard to believe. After all, in the 67 years  Home Furnishings Association member Sheely’s Furniture has been serving northeast Ohio, the family-run store has never even been nominated for a Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Salute to Business honor, let alone taken home an award.

One call ended both droughts. “When the chamber called, they asked, “Are you sitting down?’ It’s still a little hard to take in,” says Curry, who, along with Jessica Smith and Lance Romeo are still getting used to running the store as the new owners of Sheely’s. “We’re all very pleased and even more so honored that we won. Our employees are really proud, and they should be because this is 100 percent about them and what they do for our customers.”

Governor to speak

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine will be the featured speaker at the ceremony Aug. 29 in Boardman, Ohio. Curry says Sheely’s is planning on sending a lot of employees to the ceremony. “This doesn’t happen every day – though we’re going to try hard to see that it happens again next year.”

The award is all the more remarkable given the store is less than a year removed from a major changing of the guard. Sheely’s was founded in 1952 by Dale Sheely Sr. Dale Jr. and Sherry Sheely sold the business in August to Jessica Smith, a granddaughter of Dale Sr., and longtime employees Curry, the store’s general manager, and Lance Romeo, the store’s buyer.

“I don’t think the operation missed a beat when the transition took place,” said Curry. “That’s a testament to the staff we have here. Everyone jumped up and said, ‘What can we do to make this (transition) a success?’ Then they went out and did it.”

Sheely’s sells the usual upholstery and wood furniture, but it also does a large amount of business in appliances. Last year the store’s 10 trucks did more than 22,000 deliveries, according to Curry. “A lot of people outsource their deliveries, we still have our own guys,’ says Curry. We like that control, we like being the first ones our customers see when they walk into our store and the last ones they see when we walk out of their homes after a delivery. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been such a success over the years.”

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