Now that the dust has settled, I wanted to give you a few more drool worthy photographs from our sojourn to North Carolina a few weeks back, and also to share with you the state of the union as we approach election month (according to the furniture market). With only three short years of experience visiting the furniture capital of the USA, but most of them falling inside one of the worst financial periods for the home industry, things are looking UP, which is really nice to report.
COLOR IS BACK
In showroom after showroom that we visited we saw much more color and bold choices being made. I spoke to one person who said that people consider color a risk, and for that reason customers had been avoiding it over the past few years. Now, they said, they were seeing a desire to take risks again, to be bold and to choose stronger colors for their home. Due to this, there was color everywhere. There were the popular colors of the past few years in heightened display - the jewel tones of blue, green and orange - but there was also a wonderful new appearance of bright FUSCIA splashed about that felt really vibrant, fresh and inspiring. If the furniture industry has been in the ashes, it felt like a phoenix was rising from them.
THE SURVIVORS HAVE RETOOLED
A number of showrooms also reported that their sales had been really strong for the first time over the past six months, and I got the feeling that those who have survived the downturn are MUCH more tuned into their customer, have retooled a lot of their operations, cut fat, and are generally much more humble and competitive than they were in 2007-8 when they got hit with a tidal wave of the plummeting home market.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE WEB ARE NOW UBIQUITOUS
Or almost. As a sign of how far things have come, when we first went to Market three years ago, no one knew who we were. Now most people have heard of us and many were following our live feed on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. This is a huge turnaround. Now, most of the bigger companies that have retail facing sides all have social media presences and are trying to work their way into the blogosphere and the Pinterestasphere.
The younger generation is buying furniture, and they buy it differently than their parents.
While it's certainly early days, the efforts being made are genuine, interesting and all over the place, showing an industry that knows now more than ever that the future of reaching their customer is going to be directly through the web AS WELL AS through their furniture stores.
WOMEN ARE PLAYERS, NOT PRETTY FACES
From what I have learned over the past few years, women used to be sales people and supporting cast at Market as recently as five years ago. Up to one point there weren't even women's bathrooms at Market because it was a totally man's world. Interestingly, while male energy may have built the old Market as a big furniture industry for post-war America, it seems to have been singularly unequipped to deal with stress to the system and big changes like increasing Chinese manufacture and the Recession.
Enter the Ladies. Women have been stepping up and proved to be much more easily adaptive to the changing needs of the industry. They've been at the front of all the web and social media outreaches that we've seen, and they've been organizing themselves to bring new energy, new designs and new ways of thinking to reach the customer in new ways - ways that have been resisted or not understood by many men in the industry.
Similarly to what happened during World War II when women took over the factories during the war effort, their fresh perspective and sensitive approach led to increased efficiency and higher standards (ironically all of this new knowledge went to Japan after the way via W. Edwards Deming and helped that country rebuild), a similar change may be happening in one of America's oldest industries.
We shall see! We've attended the WITHIT (Professional Women in the Home and Furnishings Industry) breakfast meetings twice this past year and been impressed with how quickly this group has been growing.
So, for those of you on the East Coast, Enjoy the Storm! and for the rest of you, here's to things continuing to get brighter in 2013!