Alexa Boschini -- Casual Living, July 3, 2013
In this recurring series, Casual Living interviews the industry's rising stars, notable executives under age 40 who already are making an impact on the outdoor business. This month, Frank Verna, director of sales and business development at Tropitone, and Satya Tiwari, president of Surya, share their insights on the state of the industry now and where it's headed in the future.
Director of sales and business development, Tropitone
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN THE OUTDOOR FURNITURE INDUSTRY?
VERNA: I was introduced to the industry by my father-in law, Ed Brookes. This industry has allowed me to develop relationships with great mentors that have had a profound impact on my life and career. I am very grateful to Ed for introducing me to this business.
WHAT STEPS DID YOU TAKE TO GET TO WHERE YOU ARE IN YOUR CAREER?
VERNA: I went to college at a small school in Lancaster, Pa., called Millersville University and received a degree in economics. My first job out of college was with Enterprise Rent-a-Car in San Diego. Enterprise helped me to develop valuable customer service, sales and time management skills.
I started in the furniture industry as a Brown Jordan in-house rep in 2002. After a brief stint as an independent rep for BJI in the Pacific Northwest, I started with Tropitone in 2005 as a sub rep in South Florida working with Ed Brookes. Prior to moving into my current position, I represented Tropitone in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky for five years.
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE OUTDOOR FURNITURE INDUSTRY EVOLVE OVER THE YEARS?
VERNA: The most glaring difference in our business has been the evolution of the deep seating category. When I first started, every new product conversation would start with, "What is the price of the dining chair?" Now most conversations start with, "What is the price of the sofa?"
I have also seen an enhancement in the in-store experience our specialty retailers provide. As the product mix changes, so does the merchandising. Retailers no longer line up dining sets and have sofas and gliders in the back of the store. We now see more vignettes and merchandising elements that tell a story and help the consumer visualize what the set would look like at their home.
Lastly, we are seeing digital elements come into the sales process. Many retailers have in-store portals where they use websites as interactive, electronic catalogs. This is also happening on I Pads.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GREATEST CHALLENGES THE INDUSTRY IS FACING?
VERNA: The greatest challenge I see is how our brick-and-mortar specialty retailers can enter the e-commerce space to capture more sales opportunities both online and in-store. How do we work together to create touch points with the "new shopper" and grow as an industry? We need to be able to keep the national resellers from preempting our channel and capturing our customers before we can. Casual furniture is an ideal "brick and click" product category.
Because of the multiple variables ranging from finish and fabric combinations to comfort level, consumers are likely to research their purchase at home and then go to their local retailer to "test drive." Tropitone has developed anomni channel strategy for our residential channel and we are building a structure to execute this with the finest retailers in the industry.
The Ravello deep seating swivel action lounger by Tropitone exhibits traditional beauty.
|According to Director of Sales and Business Development Frank Verna, Tropitone’s Moda brand “delivers meticulous workmanship
and high design for extraordinary spaces.” Shown here is the Toulon collection.|
|Surya’s indoor/outdoor rugs showcase a wide variety of colors and patterns, as illustrated by this design from the Storm
|This design from Surya’s Rain collection is hand-hooked in China from 100%
HOW CAN BUSINESSES ADAPT TO THOSE CHALLENGES?
VERNA: Adaptation requires knowledge and cooperation. Retailers and manufacturers need to work together to understand product trends and consumer behaviors. We need to develop partnerships to bring the in-store and online shopping experience consumers demand.
Tropitone is adapting to the marketplace by expanding our product portfolio. After the launch of our third brand, Tropitone Valora, at the July premarket, we will have three unique brands - Tropitone, Tropitone Moda and Tropitone Valora.
All three brands deliver our marketing message of "The Most Enjoyable Outdoor Experience" in unique ways. Tropitone Moda delivers meticulous workmanship and high design for extraordinary spaces. Tropitone Valora delivers with products designed to meet basic standards for a multitude of applications. Our core brand, Tropitone, delivers industry leading performance through a robust product offering combined with a superior purchase and ownership experience.
Our three brands allow us to create more touch points with our end users and create more sales opportunities for our company as well as our retail partners.
HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY IMPACTED THE INDUSTRY?
VERNA: Technology has made it possible for businesses to create relationships and touch points with their end-users via social media. Websites have allowed businesses the opportunity to tell their story and afford consumers the ability to research their purchases more thoroughly than ever before.
Only the strongest value propositions will survive. If a company does not deliver on their message, they will be called out on product reviews for all consumers to see. Conversely, if they do what they say they do, they will be rewarded with a positive review.
"Word of mouth" advertising has never been more powerful or far-reaching.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE NEXT GENERATION OF OUTDOOR INDUSTRY LEADERS CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THE INDUSTRY'S FUTURE?
VERNA: We can embrace the core values and the heritage of the companies we work for while constantly seeking ways to improve what we do and who we are.
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN THE RUG AND ACCESSORY INDUSTRY?
TIWARI: I grew up in a family business, but I went out and got an education at Northwestern for undergrad. Then I did four years of investment banking in New York. I had no idea growing up that I would want to come back to the family business. But I realized it's a good brand, and if they're reinventing the wheel, why don't I apply my knowledge to the family business?
WHAT OTHER STEPS DID YOU TAKE TO GET TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW IN YOUR CAREER?
TIWARI: Once I joined Surya, I started in sales and moved into product development, and now I'm head of the company. It's about learning how our customers work. A lot of vendors make the mistake of developing product they think their clients should sell. Our goal is to facilitate the buying process. By being in a different part of the business and interacting with customers at all levels, I got a good understanding of how to develop a product that our customers want to buy, and how to simplify the whole buying process.
WHEN DID SURYA FIRST ENTER THE OUTDOOR MARKET?
TIWARI: We entered the outdoor market in 2006 or 2007. About two years ago, we really got into the outdoor market in a big way. Today in the outdoor world we have good, better, best, so we have a very entry level product to a very high end product. And we have not just outdoor rugs but outdoor pillows and poufs.
We see outdoor as a lifestyle rather than just another product that we can sell and make money. We probably have the largest selection of outdoor in the market today in rugs. We have over 200 designs we sell.
If chevron is hot, we bring it outdoors. If medallion is hot, we have it in outdoor. Every outdoor customer doesn't want a solid stripe or plain rug. They need fashion. We have really taken outdoor the way we've taken indoor. And we believe in collaboration and partnership. We look at what is the outdoor world doing today in upholstery and furniture and we're making sure we have those color palettes instilled in our line.
HOW HAS THE GROWING ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IMPACTED THE INDUSTRY?
TIWARI: Technology de finitely helps us be more efficient, from manufacturing to communication with our factories to communication with our customers through surya.com. I can't have 24-hour customer service, but with our enhanced website, our customers can see our product, order our product. We show our inventory live 24/7 to anyone.
Making information transparent is one area where we're truly a leader. We've got no secrets. All of our rugs are online. Anyone can see it. Technology ensures we give our customers (and) our vendors information at their fingertips.
The second is inspiration - we try to inspire our customers with technology, with Pinterest and Facebook. We put something on our Pinterest and Facebook every day. How do we give them relevant information so they become more powerful? How do we empower them so they become a thought leader?
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE INDUSTRY GOING IN THE FUTURE?
TIWARI: I think there will be a lot of consolidation. In the accessory world, people have given their business to a zillion people. In return what happens is sales associates in the store level are confused because products are coming from 20 vendors. From a retailer perspective, with all things equal, give all your business to a vendor that truly deserves it. What we've done in the last eight years, that's been our focus.
I think today for someone in the outdoor business, we have all the price points, all the style, all the color, the inventory, the training. We're trying to convince our customers that's the only way we can solve bigger problems.
We cannot have 10,000 vendors in our industry. There's not enough market size. The only way we can come back as an industry is we've got to consolidate our business to fewer players, and the players have to earn it.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU AND OTHER YOUNG LEADERS CAN ENSURE THE INDUSTRY CONTINUES TO GROW?
TIWARI: We have a moral responsibility to take our companies to the next level. I feel like many of the young leaders in our industry, their family businesses are the company they work for. They've gone through some tough times to navigate the company to where it is today.
I feel we have it made. Going forward, the next 10 years will be good years for every business that does the right things. The economy's going in the right direction. The housing market can only get better from here. It's slowly improving. Unemployment has dipped to the worst; it's only getting better.
I think everything is aligned for us to really take it to the next level. With that said, we have to innovate. We can't just keep thinking the way our predecessors thought. I think we are in a great spot, but also can't just sit on our laurels and expect things to go great. We have to really earn it. We have to earn it every day.
Tiny Girl, Big Dream