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Will You Mid-Year?

November 23, 2011

I think it goes without saying that we need as much information about the industry, our competitors, and our peers as we can get to succeed in this business. Personally, I subscribe to six trade journals. I also read e-blasts and e-updates from industry sources that come out daily.  In addition to trade journals, I avidly read catalogs from my competitors to see what they are offering. I read House Beautiful, Southern Living, and Architectural Digest in order to see what the trends are in design. I also read these mags to see what outdoor industry manufacturers are advertising in them. When I was on the board of Casual Furniture Retailers (CFR), I spent one day a month talking to my fellow board members about problems, trends, advertising successes, and other business-related topics. I always learned at least one thing from those conversations and looked forward to each and every meeting.


Because I am such an information “hog”, I attended as manhy of the CFR mid-year conferences as I could. Without a doubt, these was the most productive three days in the year for me. When CFR was folded into the International Casual Furniture Association (ICFA), I was disappointed when the mid-year conferences were put on hold. So, you can imagine my delight when ICFA announced their first (of many, hopefully) Casual Living Conference to be held in Sarasota, Florida, February 22 – 24, 2012. At the Ritz-Carlton, no less


Attendance is a no-brainer for anyone in the industry including manufacturers, reps, and retailers. I mean - - - here is everything you've ever wanted but were afraid to ask for in one place! Unlike Chicago during pre-market or market, there is no buying decisions stress to cloud your mind. It comes at a time that is convenient for most of us since the season hasn’t quite yet started and most of our goods are already received. I know this is not true of our peers in Florida; but, many of them think this event is so important they go out of their way to make time for it.


The part I like the best about this conference is I get to talk to my peers from around the country in a social environment, sometimes over breakfast, usually over lunch, and always over drinks in the evening. Even though retailers in our industry are famously known for their willingness to share information, they are even more forthcoming at events like this.


While the camaraderie is great, there is the extra added value of the professional speakers that are brought in. I don’t know how they do it; but, the organizers always seem to find speakers that talk about areas of immediate concern. While the program for this conference is not set in stone yet, some of the topics that will be covered this year include social media, how our customer is changing, how to relate margin and profit, and a panel on critical industry issues, just to mention a few.


ICFA, being no fools, have arranged to have their board meeting earlier in the week. This guarantees the presence of manufacturing bigwigs. So, here’s a little trick. Meet one or two of them over drinks. You will be surprised at the insights they ware willing to share after a few adult beverages. For a different perspective of the industry, talk to the reps, particularly those outside of your territory. They have their ears to the ground all over the country and will give you a perspective you can’t get anywhere else.


Did I mention it is Florida in the middle of the DEPTHS OF WINTER? For those of you from the frozen North, you can spend a few days warming up. I understand the Ritz has a great spa (massage, anyone?) and there is an outstanding golf course nearby. Usually, the organizing group is able to get a great room rate for this conference and this year is no different. The Ritz has deeply discounted the rooms for attendees.


It is difficult to oversell this meeting. No matter how high your expectations are when you go in, I guarantee that the Casual Living Conference will exceed them.


Yours in confused retailing, Bruce