Bringing our “A” game

August 2017—

Ambassador. Association. Awareness. Those are the components of our “A” game.

Ambassadors are defined as “an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country” or as “a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity.” Synonyms are campaigner, champion, supporter, and booster. Those are all great descriptors but they don’t start with an “A” so they don’t make this article!

It can certainly seem that the furniture industry is a country of its own but we aren’t headed that way either. We’re ambassadors for the furniture industry, especially retailers, because we are the Association (What? Another “A” word. I’m seeing a pattern. I hope you are, too.) for the retail interest in the industry.

In our ambassador roles, members of the staff serve on boards, testify at hearings, write papers and articles, attend conferences, and generally provide the voice of retail while you pay attention to what you do so well—run your businesses. Legislators and regulators can make plans and consider proposals that would be difficult to implement because they have little time or knowledge about how what they decide will impact the retail furniture business. We collaborate with groups and organizations to keep your interests at the forefront. Your business is important to the economy. The HFA fly-in to Washington D.C. earlier this year provided vital information that helped better decisions be made.

In our role of the Home Furnishings Association, we facilitate associating. The recent HFA Networking Conference in San Antonio is a perfect example. Attendees participated in problem solving of real-life challenges and came away with many solutions. We knew they were real challenges because each attendee got to present their problem to their table of solvers. Talk about powerful associating!

The final “A” is for awareness. This comes from a recent associating opportunity I had while being an ambassador for HFA members. Several of your Association staff members attended the SHIFT Tech Summit hosted by Amber Engine and Reverie in Detroit. The atmosphere was alive with ideas and energy. We were there because we’re committed to helping our members and our industry leverage technology to our advantage.

Since Jennifer Gilbert, founder and CEO of Amber Engine, has a bit of influence in Detroit, we were delighted to start the Summit off hearing Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and Jennifer’s husband, talk about his philosophy for his company and the Family of Companies. This philosophy is made up of 19 “isms” and the first one is “Always raising our level of awareness.” You’ll notice this isn’t in the form of an “ism,” none are, but calling them isms is more fun than saying core values.

We heard more than one speaker say that awareness is crucial if business people are to do their best for their customers. And, your customers will tell you what they want from you if you’re aware enough to hear it, watch for it, or maybe just ask about it.

Independent retailers like so many of you are in a unique position to find out how to best please your customers. You or your sales associates talk to them about what furnishings they need. In describing what they want, your customers will tell you about who lives in their household; how they use their furnishings; what works well and what needs some work; and even how much money they will invest in having their furnishings serve them better.

Then when you deliver their “solution” for their home, your delivery team can see what else they might need or note their style. With this information, you can let them know about other solutions you have in your inventory that could make their homes more comfortable.

As you raise your level of awareness, you could take it one step further and enlist a group of “advisers” made up of a couple of good customers and one or two of their friends to become your awareness advisers. Invite them to lunch and, prior to the lunch, ask them to visit your store and make some observations based on questions you provide. Ask them to tell you what impresses them about the showroom and what doesn’t click with them. Then ask them what one thing they would do if they were you. You may become aware of something you’ve become accustomed to and don’t notice anymore. Be sure to give your advisers credit for any changes you make and invite them back.
Opinions are powerful and being asked for any opinion that improves something you care about makes for powerful advocates or ambassadors for that improved thing . . . your store.

Create your Ambassador group to help up your Awareness and tell the Association what you learn. Bring your “A” game.

About the Author

Mary Frye

Mary Frye is the Home Furnishings Association’s executive vice president. She can be reached at mfrye@myhfa.org or 916.757.1162.