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Why aren't you a CFR member?

March 15, 2008

I have been a Casual Furniture Retailers member for many years and a board member for several years. Originally, I joined CFR because I wanted the credibility I thought membership would give me in the eyes of my customers. I also wanted to support the prime retail association for my industry. I wasn’t interested in any of the benefits or conferences. After all, I was a busy merchant with problems of my own. I didn’t have the time or inclination to participate further than paying my dues.

One day I was asked to be a board member. I thought it was an honor to be asked and that it would be something that could be mentioned in my otherwise brief obituary. As it turned out, joining the board brought about a sea change in my professional life.

Before becoming a board member, the only mid-year conference I attended was the one held in my hometown, New Orleans. Even then I only attended one or two round table conferences. After I joined the board, I started to attend mid-year conferences regularly. I was amazed at what I didn’t know! In addition to eye-opening educational seminars, I was able to meet so many other retailers like me in a low-key environment. We weren’t rushing from showroom to showroom and had time to talk to one another and share answers to common problems.

As a board member, I became aware of programs CFR has set up for retailers. The first program I took advantage of was the CitiFinancial customer-financing program. I was using another financing company mostly for their "90 days same as cash" program. I had to pay a discount fee, call in for credit approval which took several hours, hand carry the paperwork to the local office, and get attitude whenever I called to ask a question. Needless to say, I was dissatisfied. CitiFinancial offered me a streamlined credit approval terminal (I get approvals within 90 seconds), a much smaller discount fee, and service with a smile. If I never took advantage of any other benefit, being a CFR member became profitable when I partnered with CitiFinancial.

Because CitiFinancial had been so profitable for me, I started to look into other CFR benefits. I partnered with Icovia to add a computerized patio layout program to my web site. Although it allows web surfers to lay out their own patio, we get better use by doing layouts for our customers while they are shopping in our store. That paid off after two months as we closed several sales immediately after using the layout program.

I have started to get calls from consumers as a direct result of their going to the CFR website ( Over 30,000 consumers look at the site every month of the season. The site offers them insight into what furniture would best fit their needs, how to maintain that furniture, and a list of CFR members in their area. When consumers go to that part of the site, the next thing they do is contact me. I can’t quantify how much business we get from the site, but I do know we have gotten calls because of the site.

This week CFR had its first Round Table-by-Phone. The topic was "Designer Programs." Twenty-four retailers and designers participated. If we only use participation as a guide, the call was wildly successful. The information I got was spot on what I needed, too. Because of a one-hour phone call, I was able to put together a designer program that I have been trying to put together for several years.

If I had to say what is the number one benefit of being a CFR member, it has to be the depth of the expertise of the other members. In the process of deciding whether I should accept American Express or not, I asked around, and several CFR members were willing to exchange ideas with me. I don’t think I could have made the decision without their input or experience.

About a year ago, I had a problem with one of my hearth vendors. I sent email to my CFR contacts asking if they dealt with this vendor and, if they did, had they had the same problem. As it turned out, two others were big dealers for this vendor and they had the same problems. Because of this, we were able to get the vendor to address the problem at the manufacturing end. This would have been impossible without the input from the other retailers.

So, why haven’t you joined CFR? Today’s blog is not an attempt to get you to join. It is a sincere attempt to understand what CFR is doing right and wrong in your eyes. There are so many questions I would like to get answered. For example, what is the main reason you haven’t joined? Why would you join? Tell me just three benefits you would expect to get by joining a professional organization. No one will solicit you for your membership. But you might be able to help other retailers and yourself if you would take a few minutes to write me your thoughts.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce