I would like to start by saying how honored I am to be serving as Chairman of ICFA. I just started my 29th year in this industry and to see the changes confirms my thought the outdoor industry has some of best manufacturers, product designers and retailers than many of the other home furnishings businesses. And to see how manufacturers have changed their factory base and how retail has evolved from brick-and-mortar, e-commerce and master retailers to where it is today is exciting.
With the times of business closings and store shutdowns mandated during the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror, the outdoor furnishings industry entered 2021 chomping at the bit to satisfy the anticipated demand from huge numbers of consumers planning to invest in the outside space around their homes. Indeed, new research conducted by the International Casual Furnishings Association in January reports that 90 percent of Americans consider their outdoor living space as “more valuable than ever before.” To that end, 58 percent of those surveyed plan to purchase outdoor furniture and accessories this year.
From a simple refresh of upgrades made in years past to an entirely new set-up of seating and dining groups and transformations of patios to outdoor rooms, shoppers are being welcomed by dealers dedicated to providing a totally safe in-store shopping experience or, for those who prefer armchair shopping, a robust online buying experience. And that’s where the ICFA comes in as a business resource to support retailers, with a range of educational and networking activities as well as discount programs to offset operational costs.
Helping our retailer members restore their level of pre-COVID health is my number one priority as this year’s chairman of the board of ICFA. My entire 29 years in this industry has been sent at Summer Classics, where our hybrid business model gives me a unique perspective on the relationship between manufacturers and retailers. I understand the challenges facing both in the best of times. In 2020, like all the other brick-and-mortar retailers, our sales were impacted by the pandemic. Our company-owned and licensee stores have maintained their recovery by implementing best practices, including ongoing education and receptiveness to change,
The strategic initiatives pursued by ICFA in the coming two years will promote recovery and compel more retailers to join as they recognize the value of this dedicated support. We’ll continue to create and enhance the networking, educational and philanthropic opportunities that make the ICFA so vital to professional success for every segment of our membership.
Well-trained, highly effective sales teams are crucial to any retailer’s success. The ICFA recently conducted a survey that indicated this is a concern and area for improvement across our membership. This year we have started the groundwork of developing training specifically tailored for casual furnishings sales associates, and the timing couldn’t be better. This will be a valuable tool for orienting new associates and will serve as a refresher course for experienced salespeople whose skills may have become rusty during business slowdowns.
Since 2017, ICFA has earned very high marks for its annual Educational Conference. Although our 2021 event was canceled, we’ll more than make up for it with ‘Innovate and Elevate’ scheduled for February 14-17, 2022, at the Walt Disney World Swan Resort in Orlando. Anyone who has participated in the four previous educational conferences will agree that you don’t want to miss the world-class speakers, exceptional workshops and fabulous social events in gorgeous venues.
The pandemic drastically limited our in-person meetings and we will be so grateful for the opportunity to mix and mingle when we can get back together. I have countless examples of quiet moments of connection during ICFA events that resulted in longstanding relationships and close friendships. Whether it’s working out issues with vendors or sharing business concerns with peers, you can’t replicate the impact of those in real-life meetings on the phone or through emails.
I very much appreciate everything that theMART team is doing to provide a safe, healthy setting at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for the ICFA Preview Show on July 20-22 and Casual Market Chicago on September 21-24. The ICFA Retail Council is moving forward with plans for their annual afternoon seminar and networking session on September 20, the day before the official opening day. And on the morning of the 21st, marketgoers are invited to arrive early for the ICFA Trends Seminar at Marshall’s Landing and the grand staircase in the lobby of theMART for an advance look at color directions for 2022 and the newest outdoor fabrics. I recognize that there will be a variety of changes in the way that we gather together to conduct business but look forward to being together with industry peers.
In the meantime, however, we’re making the most of educational webinars on topics designed to lift a dealer’s bottom line, scheduled on the third Wednesday of each month. Work is also underway to populate the ICFA website with detailed information about all of the various programs – credit card processing, in-store financing, discounted office supplies and printing services, telephone systems and more – aimed at saving members money while building business.
Often, troubled times are the perfect backdrop for a rise in charitable activity, and I am proud at how ICFA members are coming forward to support City of Hope, a research and teaching institution selected as our philanthropic partner in 2017. Two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the campus in the Los Angeles area with other board members. Until then, I didn’t grasp the enormous reach of this renowned hospital whose research and treatment protocols advance care for those who have cancer, diabetes and other chronic, life-threatening diseases. I saw firsthand the miracles they are achieving and the impact they are making in medical practice throughout the world.
I don’t think that there’s any question that membership in the ICFA is vital to every meaningful outdoor furnishings business, and I personally invite any interested company to contact Executive Director Jackie Hirschhaut at Jackie@ICFAnet.org or 336/881-1016 to learn more.
And if you want to compare notes on my favorite ‘Bama football team, stop by the Summer Classics showroom and ask for me!