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Gary McCray: President, Laneventure

Sets goals for advancing with optimism

Gary McCray

While some may hesitate to follow in the footsteps of an industry legend, Gary McCray's move into the presidency of Laneventure in the wake of Art Thompson's retirement this month is likely to be as seamless a transition as the industry has seen.

McCray has been with the organization for nearly 30 years and reported at one time or another to all three of its presidents as it morphed from a manufacturer of furniture for the den to the outdoor living room. His cross-discipline experience in engineering, product development, marketing, merchandising and supply chain management all combine to provide an extraordinary depth of knowledge.

McCray's impressive credentials make him an obvious choice for stepping into Thompson's shoes. But perhaps even more importantly, they equip him with a strong skill set for guiding the company through the challenging economic times ahead.

As the uncertainty of the global financial market continues to erode consumer confidence, McCray takes on his new position with clear goals for doing more than keeping his company afloat.

Survive and advance

For the coming months, McCray adopted the mantra of renowned North Carolina State University coach Jimmy Valvano, who took his underdog basketball team all the way to the NCAA championship in 1983.

"Jimmy Valvano always liked to say 'survive and advance, survive and advance,'" McCray said. "I think that's our short-term goal right now, survive and advance."

Given the credit crunch, survival for anyone in business today starts with sound financials. McCray cautions that staying on top of expenses isn't enough for Laneventure or the industry.

"I don't think we or our customers can bunker down and expect to survive," he said. "We have to keep ourselves excited about what we have to offer. The same is true for our retail base. They are not going to survive on just taking control of their expenses; they have to be out there in the market."

Longer term, McCray's strategy for Laneventure is a renewed focus on delivering the best value for its customers, beginning with an assessment of its product categories. "We're viewed at the top end of the market and that's a great place to be in a lot of respects, but in other respects, you create a lot of energy and excitement for the industry and sometimes you don't reap the rewards," McCray said. "So as we move forward, selecting suppliers and working on product development, we are going to make sure we are offering the right level of product."

McCray stressed this doesn't mean Laneventure is moving away from the high end. Rather, he will push hard to see that product development is more targeted and thus more competitive.

Dark brown tete a tete
McCray said the Windward Collection was a hit during the fall Casual Market. The line, including the tete a tete pictured above, is available to retailers Spring 2009.

Expect to see the company focus on product categories that are the most important to its dealers and, potentially, just maintain less important ones. At the same time, it won't do away with any category given the cycles of popularity categories go through.

"We need to be positioned to take advantage of that as well," McCray said, adding Laneventure now has access to consumer trend research via its parent company, Furniture Brands, which helps it stay in front of category cycles.

Dealers can also expect stepped-up customer service and support under McCray's direction. The company has already taken steps to get product and sales support materials on its dealers' floor more quickly, and McCray expects further improvements in both areas in the next year.

Training is another area he intends to amp up. Laneventure provided its first comprehensive training manual to its dealers this spring. McCray is following up on this with a dealer training program in which dealers are brought in to tour the Conover factory and get hands-on product knowledge.

"There will be a pilot program next year to work the kinks out, but I expect to role that out full-force as soon as we get through that stage," McCray said.

His final priority will be building the Laneventure brand.

"I really want us to push the Laneventure name harder than we have in the past, and work as hard as we can to make sure that the customer for high-end or premium outdoor furnishings thinks of Laneventure as the name in that category," he said.

Creating opportunities

In a sense, McCray views his career in outdoor furnishings as destiny. Growing up, he worked for his father's nursery business, which was known throughout western North Carolina.

"It's bringing my life back around full circle to be making beautiful outdoor spaces, which is in essence what my father did before there was an outdoor room," he said.

McCray was on hand when Laneventure went to the Chicago Market for the first time in 1989 with a single collection of its outdoor wicker. Still available today, Four Seasons was a sensation and marked Laneventure's entry into outdoor furnishings.

Over the years, McCray has been an avid advocate for the casual furnishings industry and a past president of the industry association. He believes while the industry's relatively small size hinders its ability as a whole, it also fosters personal relationships that are key to the industry's value proposition — that the specialty market offers style, selection, quality, comfort and service that is unavailable elsewhere.

Getting that message out now is particularly critical, McCray said.

"The recovery will occur; we can all be assured of that," he said. "In the meantime, it is important to keep a balance. On one side, we have to be very careful and keep our financial houses in order, but we also have to keep optimism and excitement and passion about the business we are in. We can't afford to lose that now more than ever. It is critical that we keep looking forward and keep creating opportunities."

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