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Leading the way against competitors

Headquartered in Largo, Fla., Leader's Casual Furniture boasts 18 locations, including an Orlando showroom that carries casual furniture and accessories as well as indoor wicker and rattan furniture and interior furniture and accessories.

 Leader's has recently expanded to a total of 18 stores. The Newton family now is turning its focus to creating a unified brand concept for its locations.

Family-owned by The Newtons — Jerry and Linda, whose grown children Tim and Tami also are involved — Leader's Casual Furniture has a total of 181 employees. In 2004, Leader's had estimated total sales between $27 and $29.9 million. Vendors include Palm Springs Rattan, Garden Classics, Tropitone, Suncoast, Capris and Carlton.

With its focus turned on creating a unified brand concept across all of its locations, Leader's is a unique casual specialist that pits itself directly against mass merchants such as Target and Home Depot. Unlike most other retailers, Leader's and its Orlando area retail neighbors, also are in competition with Disney and hotels.

"We have to buy things and think, 'What's going to sell to the masses?'" Tami Newton said.

"We're trying to grow more from a mom-and-pop store to a store with a mom-and-pop feel," Tim Newton added. "We are focusing on smart growth rather than rapid growth."

Price points are competitive, and the Orlando showroom, rather than merchandised in vignettes, is tactfully packed with furniture and accessories from the entrance to the back of the store.

"We educate ourselves on what everybody is doing," Tim said. "We are not afraid to have low price points."

Larry Watt, chief operating officer for Leader's, added, "Don't ignore the big box, educate yourself against them. There are many patio shops in this area; there is room for everyone. The more interest in the specialty product, the more we will all sell. We have the same outlook on the big box. They create interest, and we will sell to the customer who demands more variety and more service."

Leader's targets a demographic of women between ages 35 to 64, and advertises through mail, on television and in the newspaper. With its own internal advertising department, Leader's has found radio doesn't generate as much success. The company also is paying close attention to the growing Hispanic market, researching style, for example.

Another clear focus for the company is employment. "Our biggest day-to-day challenge is hiring high quality motivated individuals," Watt said. At Leader's, a great deal of attention is paid to employee training, including hands-on training, videos and product demonstrations. Employees are offered 401K, medical, dental and optical benefits, and, after eight years of employment, employees earn one week in Key West every other year. Lobster and fish fries for the company aren't unheard of, either.

In addition, the company frequently has fun, goal-oriented contests for employees. "We run a companywide goal once a year that gets everyone involved from the warehouse and operations to the sales department," Watt said. "Every individual has the ability to earn the same amount of extra income if they hit a predetermined delivered goal for the month. They also have the opportunity to hit an even higher 'supergoal' and earn more compensation. This contest has received the best overall participation out of any contest Leader's Casual Furniture has run."

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