Leading the way
Industry award inspires confidence to forge ahead
Cinde W Ingram -- Casual Living, 2/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
Being recognized as a leading manufacturer by dealers, designers and suppliers empowers companies to move forward with confidence in making on-trend designs and products.
Tropitone Furniture Company President and CEO Cap Hendrix considers winning another International Casual Furnishings Association's Manufacturer Leadership Award an important recognition for his company.
"We have been honored to receive the Tubular Materials Manufacturer Leadership Award for three consecutive years and (won) the Manufacturer of the Year in 2011," Hendrix said. "The awards validate the efficacy of our business model and the hard work and dedication of our supply partners, independent sales representatives and, of course, our employees."
Tropitone was among 10 manufacturers ICFA honored for product design and quality along with merchandising, customer service, ethics, communication and trade relations.
"One of the most important objectives of Tropitone's culture is to adapt to changes in the business environment as rapidly and effectively as possible," Hendrix said. Tropitone's business model is based upon the principles of Porter's value chain, which has 27 interconnected competencies with specified customer requirements and an executive accountable for delivering those the first time, every time.
"Since we are far from perfect, Tropitone has a systematic four-part continuous improvement process that identifies required improvements and deploys the resources necessary to develop and implement improvements," Hendrix said. "The combination of the culture of adaptation, the value chain business model and the continuous improvement process provides us the ability to systematically embrace change and better meet ever-changing customer requirements."
Winning the Manufacturer Leadership Award in the Rattan/ Wicker/Woven Materials category accomplished his company's ongoing objective, Lloyd Flanders President Dudley Flanders said.
"Our goal is to be the best woven manufacturer in the industry," Flanders said. "Winning the award multiple times for a number of years shows we are being endorsed within the industry. It encourages us to keep bringing out new looks and new processes.
"It means a validation of what we are doing and that we are moving in the right direction with what our customers and their consumers want," Flanders said. "We had a luncheon to show off the award and to help instill in our employees pride in their work by showing it is appreciated."
Trans-Ocean Imports also was a repeat Manufacturer Leadership winner in the Outdoor Carpeting/Rugs/Flooring category.
"Winning the award does give credibility to our program and I believe, as customers have expressed, our long-term and continuous commitment to product development and service is recognized," Trans- Ocean President Charley Peck said. "Of course, the product is also important and the fact that we have a designer line, designed by Liora Manne, always gives us new updated looks and products which include rugs, pillows and our newest product floor mats."
Winning the ICFA Manufacturer Leadership Award in the Complementary Casual category was a surprise for Elaine Smith and her high-end outdoor pillow company, which bears her name.
"We were so excited and immensely honored to receive it," Smith said. "To know that our customers voted for us is the highest compliment we could ever wish for, and we cherish that. Our team celebrated winning this award after the show and every single person at this company feels recognized. It means that all our efforts are appreciated and motivates us to continue striving to be the best that we can be."
Woodard President Jean Lui said winning a Manufacturer Leadership Award in the outdoor lighting category "means a great deal to our company to be seen as a leader in our field as voted by the people who count the most - our customers."
When asked about which best practices Woodard relies on, Lui's answer was to the point. "Number one is quality," she said. "It doesn't matter how quickly you ship if the quality is not what is expected. Next is quick shipping and very high fill rates. Our company makes a major investment to hold inventory and ship quickly so our dealers don't have to."
Smith also stressed the quality of her products. "Our company philosophy has always been to try our best to offer pillows that have great design at a price point that sells through well at retail and to back that up with fast shipping, good customer service and quality that exceeds expectation," Smith said. "We strive to keep our customers and our company team happy and build long-term relationships. We hope to meet the needs of our customers from every aspect. Our production, customer service and sales representatives all work incredibly hard and try to do their best with our customer's interests top of mind."
Flanders said the quality of Lloyd Flanders product "goes without saying," but pointed to its lean manufacturing process as one of the manufacturer's best practices because it "allows us to ship product to customers quickly, in most cases in about 12 days. That wins us the confidence of the salespeople as well as the store owners.
"We also do a lot of COM work, so the customer can have the choice from our 400 fabrics to any of the fabrics they want to pick out," Flanders added. "A lot of our dealers are using the Sunbrella kiosks in their stores so the number of fabrics they can choose from is really endless. Our goal is to make the consumer experience happen seamlessly."
Peck desc ribed the quality of Trans-Ocean's sales force as one of his company's best practices. "Their product knowledge and understanding of the customers' needs is extraordinary," he said. Another superlative involves Trans- Ocean's "internal systems to maintain stock levels and ship quickly, usually within 24 hours," Peck said.
Hendrix described Tropitone's continuous improvement process as a closed loop system that is among its best practices. "The introduction of a new product, program or process is just the start," he said. "We move as quickly as reasonably possible to get new ideas into the marketplace. Our new ideas have passed through rigorous internal quality gates, but we want to get real time customer feedback as soon as possible and improve the idea. The guiding principle is to compress the development-improvement cycle time as much as possible since the business environment changes so rapidly. A good idea today may not be a good idea tomorrow."
"We feel like we brought out some really cutting-edge looks for the 2013 season," Flanders said. "They're not exactly contemporary, but are more of an ‘urban chic' look. We are trying to bring in styles that appeal to a younger customer so we can help our dealers and ourselves. There's a large segment of consumers in their 20s and 30s, who are looking for furniture that is different from what they're seeing in stores. Dealers didn't really get behind it when it was introduced in September, but we've gotten a tremendous amount of comments and hits on our website. Hopefully we will drive people into their stores. Once consumers start asking for the products they see online, we think it will build the confidence of our dealers and they will be moving it into their stocking programs."
Woodard's 2013 introductions are shipping within weeks out of its Owosso factory. Marketing, design and engineering divisions have been developing several new looks for the 2014 season. While they have hopes those will be huge successes with current and future customers, Lui noted, "There is always a risk in innovation and some uncertainty in how the product will be perceived and valued. This award gives us confidence that our customers are more than customers, they are our partners and will move forward with us in innovation when we step outside the box on new products."
Peck said he thinks "winning the Leadership Award for the second time means that we have to continue the best practices and continue to make the best product and service the customers," Peck said. "We have just returned from Domotex and are working on two new handmade outdoor programs we plan to introduce in High Point at the April market."
Smith pointed out that her website, elainesmith.com, is an easy to use tool offering a wide assortment of colors and styles of pillows. "By shipping quickly during season, we help our retailers maximize sales and keep their floors well stocked and visually appealing," she said. "As we grow, knowing that our customers hav e honored us with this award, we feel confident that they will have continued success with our new collections.
"We have launched wonderful new collections to lead the industry into the 2013 season," Smith said. "We try to be ahead of the curve and on trend. Our pillows allow our retailers to give their displays a fresh look for a small investment." Hendrix was optimistic about the season ahead. "We anticipate 2013 to be one of the most exciting years in Tropitone's 58-year history," he said. "Our commercial business unit is expected to continue its impressive performance. Our residential business unit has gained solid traction as the housing market recovers. We are closely collaborating with key residential distribution partners to adapt to the rapidly changing retail environment."
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