The furnishings industry is craving contact

I am craving contact! I think in home furnishings, we all are craving contact right now. Our industry has many wonderful attributes, but the one thing that I fell in love with and that resonates with me is our business’ collegial nature. We are part of a customer-centric industry, and as such, we all like to interact with people. That carries from the showroom floor to furniture markets to industry events. When I first joined HFA’s leadership team, I was told that in the home furnishings industry, when you meet someone for the first time, it’s a handshake, and the second time it’s a hug. How disappointing it is that we can’t do either right now.

Here we are closing in on a full year of distancing. A good chunk of this year will probably be the same. I find myself craving those routines that we took for granted. We were so accustomed to furniture markets each quarter and industry events. Whether it’s the Home Furnishings Hall of Fame dinner or City of Hope, we could always count on that we will see people we know. We love seeing familiar faces, catching up, and sharing stories. I don’t know about you, but I always learn so much around those tables.

Just a few months back, I could talk to any retailer, and they would all lament that there are too many furniture markets and too many industry events. Now many of those same people are saying, “what I wouldn’t do for just one of those events to be back.” Not only does the pandemic go against our human need for contact, but it goes against our industry’s desire for face-to-face interaction.

It is kind of funny to talk about this desire to “get together” that we all have when ours is as competitive as the next retail industry. What furniture store owner doesn’t want to beat the competitor across the street. That’s the number one goal as it should be. Yet, what makes us different, in my view, is that we’re OK with breaking bread with that same competitor. I will never forget speaking to a Top 100 CEO who made it clear that he wants to dominate, yet in the next breath was concern about how small and mid-sized furniture stores would survive the pandemic. “What can we do to help them?” You can be a world-beater and still care deeply for this industry and how it has been built by family businesses. That’s what makes us different and why we crave contact.

I’m not sure where this pandemic will take us when it comes to how we have traditionally met up with each other. From conversations with leaders at High Point Market Authority and IMC, I know everyone is trying to figure out what the “market” in High Point and Las Vegas will look like when vaccinations reach herd immunity levels. I don’t have a crystal ball to tell you what the future may look like; however, I hope it will include face to face elements. Just like online shopping cannot truly replicate the human hand caressing the upholstery on a chair or the smooth finish of a wood dining table, virtual cannot truly take the place of in-person buying between a manufacturer and a dealer. You know, good old fashion face to face haggling and deal-making.

Markets are imperfect, and there is no doubt significant change is on the way. My only request is we don’t lose sight of the importance of looking each other in the eye, not through a computer screen, but standing toe to toe. I think that’s where some of our best connections are made.

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