Growing tomorrow’s leaders today

Photo of Speakers

The HFA’s Home Furnishings Leadership Institute brings together some of retail’s top minds in a collegial setting to help them learn and grow

Home Furnishings Association (HFA) member Erin Donaghy wasn’t sure what to expect when she enrolled in this year’s Home Furnishings Leadership Institute at Louisiana State University. After all, it had been 14 years since she last set foot in a classroom, but she was willing to give it the old college try.

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

“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 HFA’s first-year program at Louisiana State University. The purpose of the Home Furnishings Leadership Institute is to prepare up-and-coming retailers with the tools and knowledge to grow in their jobs. 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 HFA-sponsored educational seminars, said the 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.”

Photo of group activityThompson said holding the program in a traditional campus setting allowed for deeper learning by him 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 contrary evidence after a decision has been made.

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 was excellent.”

If you missed this year’s Home Furnishings Leadership Institute, there’s always next year. The HFA will hold a second Home Furnishings Leadership Institute in Baton Rouge on May 6-9, 2019. Scholarships are available for those wanting to attend, but space is limited. If you or someone from your store is interested in attending, please contact HFA Educational Director Kaprice Crawford at or by calling (800) 422-3778.

About the Author

Kaprice Crawford
Kaprice Crawford is the Home Furnishings Association's Educational Director. She can be contacted at or by calling (800) 422-3778.