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Casual Living Conference takes off

Designed to help industry players soar like eagles

The casual furnishings industry was open for business education as retailers, manufacturers and designers gathered today at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Fla. for a full day of speeches, capped by a 7:30 p.m. awards dinner.

Former All-American athlete, CEO and international sales force Robert Stevenson kicked off the inaugural Casual Living conference with advice on how to tackle the ever-changing business arena in a climate of uncertainty.

Following Stevenson's high-energy presentation, Casual Living Publisher Norman Hamilton introduced speaker Maxine Lauer of Sphere Trending, who explored the topic of Life Stage demographics and the changing consumer. The nationally known speaker and trend forcaster demonstrated how a better understanding of such topics can help business soar.

Lauer was followed by Ray Allegrezza, editor in chief of Furniture/Today, who moderated a panel discussion with four leading home furnishings retailers sharing their best practices for success. Revealing why their approach to, and success in, the outdoor arena has been anything but casual were speakers:
• Bernard Sensale, Fortunoff Backyard Stores
• Doug Sanicola, Outdoor Elegance
• Keith Koenig, City Furniture
• Kyle Johansen, HOM Furniture

Following lunch, home furnishings industry guru W.W. "Jerry" Epperson Jr. continued the discussion by sharing his outlook, gleaned from more than 30 years of experience as a founder and managing director of Mann, Armistead & Epperson, Ltd., an investment banking and research firm.

Keeping the view up-to-date was a perspective on social networking, online shopping and decision-making, delivered by Jim Jansen of Pew Research. Jansen's fact-based statistical presentation cut through much of the anecdotal information about how consumers shop online and use social media to provide a real-world understanding of what those trends can mean to business.

Casual Living Executive Editor Nicole Crews supplied a few interesting facts in regard to social media as she introduced Robert Williams of Houston's Gallery Furniture, one of Furniture/Today's Top 100 furniture retailers. Williams, the self-titled director of fun, took Gallery Furniture's dormant Facebook page from 13 to more than 10,590 fans in less than 18 months. Williams led a team of developers to create an eTicket System that allows the sales team to create transaction tickets, submit credit applications and draw out room floor plans on their iPads anywhere in the store.

Allegrezza returned to moderate a second panel discussion featuring four industry icons who were prepared to weigh in on the segment's most challenging issues. The panel included:
• Steve Lowsky, Pride Family Brands
• Doug Peppler, Agio
• Ashley Nolen Newton, Leader's Casual Furniture
• Petey Fleischut, Casual Marketplace

This evening's educational events will conclude with an Awards Dinner. Hamilton will present the Retailer of the Year Award to 19-store Florida retailer Leader's Casual Furniture and the Supplier of the Year Award to Glen Raven Custom Fabrics' Sunbrella brand.

Friday morning will also be filled with speeches as the conference concludes. The activites began Tuesday with a retail tour and golf event.

 

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