Learning to Lead

LSU GroupThe HFA's Home Furnishings Leadership Institute was packed with industry experts including (left to right), The Dufresne Group's Mark Dufresne, Hudson Furniture's Josh Hudson, Olinde Furniture's Tom Olinde and Ashley Furniture's Shaun Bunch.

August 2018—

The HFA’s inaugural Home Furnishings Leadership Institute helped retailers become better leaders

HFA member Erin Donaghy wasn’t sure what to expect when she enrolled in last month’s Home Furnishings Institute at Louisiana State University. It had been 14 years since she last set foot in a college classroom, but she was willing to give it a try.

Looking back, enrolling in the Home Furnishings Leadership Institute was the single best move Donaghy says she’s ever made in her career. Four days of working with and learning from some of the best and brightest in the retail furniture industry left Donaghy inspired and fired up to take what she learned back to her store, Dunk & Bright Furniture, in Syracuse, N.Y.

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HFA retailers John Otter, Erin Donaghy, Matthew Schuel, and Ben Badcock discuss best practices.

“This was by far the most rewarding learning experience of my career so far,” said Donaghy. “It brought so much insight into, not just home furnishings, but business as a whole. Leadership is key in this business, and now I feel so much more empowered to be a true leader at our organization”

Donaghy isn’t alone in her excitement. Eighteen fellow HFA members took part in the program last month at Louisiana State University. Topics ranged from succession planning, human resources and employee relations to strategic sales and marketing and a host of other issues.

HFA member Lael Thompson of Broyhill Home Collections, Aurora, Colo. no stranger to attending educational seminars during markets or conferences, said the Home Furnishings Leadership Institute was the most concentrated period of education he’s been a part of in the furniture industry.

“It was a beautiful way to look up and see what can be done better versus always looking down on things that our industry is challenged by,” said Thompson. “The program allowed me to assess what I know and revealed what I didn’t know so I can do better moving forward.”

Thompson said holding the program in a traditional campus setting allowed for deeper learning by he and his peers. “We were more focused,” he said. “It was a true business school setting. It wasn’t confused with a ton of social distractions and time constraints that can accompany conferences and trade shows.”

Members learned about succession planning and how to prepare others to take on the responsibilities of leadership, so their company is positioned for long-term survival. They learned how to develop talent from within their business, identify key positions in the business and how to recruit employees for those positions.

They also learned about strategic planning and decision making using real-world scenarios from members’ businesses. Members learned some of the key skills a leader needs to move forward such as:

Anticipate. How to gather information from a wide network of sources inside and outside your company to predict competitors’ potential moves and likely reactions to new initiatives or products/services.

Challenge. How to view a problem from several angles to understand its root causes by seeking out diverse views to understand multiple sides of an issue.

Interpret. How to maintain an open mind and test multiple working hypotheses with others before coming to a decision.

Decide. How to balance long-term investment for growth with short-term pressure for results.

Align. How to assess customers’ tolerance and motivation for change. Pinpoint and address conflicting interests among customers.

Learn. How to communicate stories that deal with success and failure to promote organizational learning and make course corrections based on disconfirming evidence after a decision has been made.

The week ended with three instructors —all home furnishings veterans—offering insights and sharing cases studies. Mark Dufresne, CEO of The Dufresne Group, spoke about the future of the home furnishings industry and the perceived threats to brick-and-mortar stores from companies like Amazon and Wayfair. Dufresne said those companies are more annoyances than threats if retailers react and grow properly.

“Growth is all about people,” he said. “If you spot the right talent and put them in the right place your business will grow.”

Shaun Bunch talked about the evolving customer expectations and how to meet those expectations, HFA member Josh Hudson shared an inspiring story about bringing his sagging family business back from the brink and turning Hudson’s Furniture into the top 100 retailer it is today.

Adam Chaney of Vermont Furniture Galleries couldn’t wait to get home from the institute to start implementing changes at the store he works at in Williston, Vt. “It was a great time,” he said. “The networking with business peers and also business champions were excellent.”

If you or someone from your store were unable to attend this year’s Home Furnishings Association Leadership Institute, there’s always next year.

The institute will be held in Baton Rouge again, this time in May of 2019. Scholarships are available for those wanting to attend, but space is limited. For more information contact your HFA membership specialist.