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CFR Looks To Join Forces With ICFA

August 8, 2008

This week, all members of Casual Furniture Retailers (CFR) received a letter from Carl Vice, this year’s president. The letter announces a CFR board decision that we (I am on that board) have been wrestling with for months. To quote from Carl’s letter, "The board has determined that it is in all of our interests to join forces with the International Casual Furnishings Association (ICFA).” I mourn the loss of our beloved association but eagerly look forward to the day our industry will have one voice speaking for it.

I guess I should tell you why I will miss CFR.  I have been a member as long as I can remember. I originally joined because I thought it gave credibility to my store to be associated with the national group of my peers. That was it! I didn’t take advantage of any benefits, didn’t attend mid-year conferences, and, if I participated in any CFR sponsored events at market, I didn’t know it. This paragraph is not what you would call a rousing recommendation for CFR membership!

My opportunity to learn more about CFR came  several years ago when the mid-year conference was held here in New Orleans. I attended one round table, demonstrated an Internet project I was working on, and was a host store for the attendees. I learned the most from the round table. I had the most fun meeting other retailers at my store. But still, I didn’t pay too much mind to what CFR did. I continued to pay dues for the same reason as before, I wanted the credibility.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was asked to serve on CFR’s board a few years ago.  I was bewildered but honored and accepted. After all, how much work could it be, right? And, if nothing else, I thought it would look good on my obituary. (Be honest, don’t we all wonder how many column inches our obit will take) Well, it turned out to be a lot of work; way more than I thought! But it was some of the most rewarding work I have done in a long time. And, I will be proud to have it listed in my obit.

Through CFR, I found a finance company and a credit card processing company with much better rates than the ones I had found on my own. I attended another mid-year conference and picked up a sales training course for my staff. I discovered a manual and then computerized layout program that helps all of us close more sales.

But my most important find was other retailers. I have never thought of this as a closed industry; but, I didn’t know enough people I could call on for advice. When I did start meeting other retailers through CFR, I found that everyone was eager to help and share information.

But let me take off my mourning black and put on my wedding white and tell you why I am enthusiastic about CFR and ICFA joining forces. ICFA is comprised of every segment of the industry including manufacturers, reps, retailers, designers, and trade publications. If nothing else, the size of the membership is the biggest benefit I can imagine. All of the sudden we will have the resources to do so many things SCFMA or CFR couldn’t do alone.

With all of the expertise in our industry, the education possibilities boggle the mind.  I would like to see an industry web site with different member-only training areas for sales consultants, reps, and designers. The web site would have self-paced video training sessions taught by professionals in our industry. Sales consultants could take entire courses to learn the nuts and bolts of the outdoor industry; the difference between frame material, assembly techniques, finishing techniques, an entire course on fabrics, and on and on, all from the comfort of their home or a computer in your store. Reps could go to the site to learn selling techniques and to get specific training in a line in which they have no experience. Training has been such a catch-as-catch can aspect of our industry, I look forward to ICFA taking a systematic approach to it.

Internet training is fine and dandy, but nothing beats face-to-face and that is another area ICFA can shine in. We haven’t had a mid-year conference in a while. Now is the time to start planning the next one. Because of ICFA’s revised dues structure, multi location stores will be able to send employees from each location to a jam-packed and fun filled education extravaganza! Round tables, seminars led by experts already working for or consulting with vendors within the industry, and networking would be three of the most important things the mid-conference would offer. Since the conference would be sponsored by unified voice of the industry, it should be easier to get funds and assets to make mid-year conferences as important if not more important that markets.

 While our industry may never have the wherewithal to mount a national campaign like "Got Milk" a unified voice like ICFA should be able to do more than we have done in the past. I can see outdoor room improvement shows on cable television sponsored, if not produced, by ICFA. And, like the Better Business Bureau members, ICFA members will get membership credentials they can proudly post at their entrances and use in advertising.

Once the CFR and ICFA boards finalize their agreement to merge, the plan will have to be approved by CFR members  You should know I was skeptical of the plan at first. I was afraid retailers would lose an independent voice. As the months and discussions rolled on, I began to see that manufactures see an advantage to working with retailers and setting up a retail council as part of ICFA. My fears have been allayed and I encourage you to vote for this merger.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce