I have always believed that a person really doesn’t learn much from success. Don’t get me wrong…I have nothing against success and I have always preferred it to failure. But, I never really learned much from it. When something worked, it just worked. What was there to learn? But, when something failed…really bombed…I certainly learned from that. I definitely discovered what NOT to do. Will Rogers once said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment”. Thomas Edison remarked that, “I found five thousand ways how not to make a light bulb” after so many of his experiments had failed. Then, finally, one experiment succeeded and the electric light was born. Like Edison, when faced with failure a person must learn to look for and examine its causes and then formulate a plan to remedy the problem. This is called active “Learning”. One must then seek out and act in ways that will not result in the same negative outcomes. Speaking from experience, sometimes it is even conceivable for a person to make the same mistake twice.
My career in the furniture industry began in 1975. Like most entry-level employees, my earliest education in the business came from my boss. I learned the basics of my job, some of the details of the furniture industry, and specifics about the company for which I worked. My boss casually told of earlier days in the furniture business and how much it had both changed and stayed the same. I religiously read the trade papers HFD (HFN, today) and then Furniture/Today in the mid to late seventies to acquire more information. My education in the furniture business was mostly self acquired (I suspect that the process is still very much the same) and continued through the years (and is still continuing) largely through learning ‘how not to do that again’.
There were no books to read that would explain the furniture business. There still aren’t many. There seemed to be little to read other than the trade magazines that might reveal the secrets or even the language of the furniture business.
In making the decision to write this set of books, an interesting question was posed to me. Can a person entering the retail furniture industry really learn about the business by reading about it in a book? Some may believe that a new entrant must actually live it, must experience the business firsthand in order to really ‘get it’. Of course, there is a lot of truth to this. The knowledge and understanding a person gains sure sticks better when it has been lived. In these volumes, I have attempted to offer the next best thing to first hand experience. I have tried to write of ‘second hand’ experiences. The books are intended to provide a foundation, some of the basics of the business, and is not meant to be the definitive source for all knowledge about the furniture industry. It is simply a place to begin learning.
In writing these volumes, I have attempted simply to report some of the strategies and tactics that are or have been commonly used in the retail furniture industry. I have tried not to offer my own opinions as to their wisdom or correctness. These attempts at impartiality were not always successful, and my own views may have been revealed. When this happens, it becomes the reader’s challenge to decide upon the validity of what has been written. In some cases, some of what I have proposed may be controversial, and individuals with experience in the industry that read the books may disagree about points that have been made. At a certain level, I actually hope this happens, not because I wish to be found wrong, but because it may provide a basis for discussion. I have fairly broad shoulders and don’t mind being told that I have erred, occasionally.
I have tried to write in very ‘lay’ terms using normal, everyday language in order to provide a base for a reader who is not familiar with the industry. The book set uses a “stand alone” format. Each part and chapter may be read independently of the other parts and chapters without confusion on the part of the reader, almost as individual essays. As a result, managers might select certain relevant sections for their employees to read to gain a better understanding of the job they will be required to do. For instance, an individual newly assigned to work in the advertising department might begin their journey by reading the chapters on Marketing and on Sales in this volume. They may defer their reading other, more unrelated sections of the books until a later time. For this reason, specific concepts may seem to be redundant because they may appear more than once in different chapters, in the three volumes of this book set. When this happens, that particular concept is generally viewed from a different perspective, that of the focus of the chapter in which it appears.
The set of books was written for individuals that have newly entered the industry. One might say they have been written for the future of the furniture industry because many of the readers will be the leaders of the future. Therefore, much of the content is very basic and elementary. Readers that have worked in our industry for a period of time need to understand this element: the books deal with many rudimentary aspects of the industry, not with the more complex. It is very basic by design and I hope that much of the language of the retail furniture industry may be learned through reading these pages. The objective for these books is to help build a foundation for individuals who may come to love the industry as much as I do.
The three volumes of this book have been geared toward the retail furniture industry specifically, but may also hold significant relevance to other closely aligned businesses like interior design firms, furniture manufacturing, trade publications, service suppliers, etc. These volumes are not generalized books on business. They are books expressly about the retail furniture business, past and present. Many real world examples and developments that have occurred in the history of the industry in the US are cited.
Topics discussed are, by necessity, general in nature and relate to a typical furniture retailer or interior design firm rather than any specific one. Clearly, there is no such thing as a typical furniture dealer since each company is unique and, as such, operates in a distinctive way. With this in mind, each part in each volume ends with a series of Individual Company Research Questions. These questions are intended to be the basis of research into the workings of a specific Furniture Company by the reader. The questions themselves are selected based upon the subject matter of the chapters in the part in which it appears. Researching and answering the questions will provide the reader with a more precise understanding and insight into the individual company being studied. (See Note Below)
TOO MUCH OR NOT ENOUGH? This is the question I have wrestled with throughout the compilation of the volumes of this book. In writing them, the objective was to provide a foundation of information, a place to start, for someone entering the furniture industry intent on learning the ropes. Obviously, new employees are hired to do specific jobs, to work in particular areas or departments that are likely to be found in typical furniture retail companies. The aim, then was to provide enough information about most areas of a business so that a newly hired employee would not be entering blind. The problem is that for some there might not be nearly enough information about the specific work that they would be involved with; for others, there might be too much information if they were not hired to work in that area. My recommendation is to scan or skip the areas that do not have great relevancy and move on to the next section. Not a great answer but the best one I have.
Even though the primary targeted readers are individuals new to the furniture industry, I have hopes that these pages will also be read by others. Furniture manufacturers, both at the management and representative levels might gain insight into the thought processes of their customers. So, too, might journalists specializing in the retail home furnishings business (who may never have actually worked ‘hands on’ in furniture retailing) garner some greater understanding of the industry about which they write. Buyers or other support staff that have been transferred from other departments may find the book helpful. Retail furniture executives and managers might read the book just to see if there are any new or forgotten old ideas that haven’t been used in a while but might work just as well today. Executive level individuals or new owners or managers with franchise affiliations that are new to the industry and unfamiliar with the furniture business but having experience in other industries might gain insight.