San Antonio, TX: What started as a simple audience warmup by auctioneers last week at the Furniture First Symposium in San Antonio, Texas, quickly grew into a $10,000 windfall for Autism Speaks. Auctioneers Michael Hanley and Sherri Ramstedt from SR Custom Events & Auctions kicked off the “Furniture Frenzy” event at the buying group’s annual conference by auctioning off a glass of water for the charitable organization, Autism Speaks. The winning bid of $500 was personally made by Bill West of Serta-Simmons.
The following evening, during the Best Idea award dinner, Furniture First’s members decided to allocate $500 of the Best Idea Grand Prize money and match Bill’s donation. What happened next was truly extraordinary: Hunt Broyhill from Aria Designs, Doug Knorr of Knorr Marketing, Laurie Tokarz of Restonic, Rose Oldenkamp of ColorAd, Art Couch of TD Retail Card Services, Tom Schwaab of Howell Furniture and the members of Performance 1st Performance Group all pledged $1000 to the cause. Jim Moquin, on behalf of Serta-Simmons, pledged $2,000 bringing the total donation to Autism Speaks to $10,000. Many of those contributing said they were moved to do so by their personal experience with a family member who is on the spectrum of Autism disorders.
More than 70 members participated in the Best Idea competition. Nine retailers went on to compete for the Grand Prize later that evening. Jill Thigpen of Furniture Distributors won the grand prize at the Best Idea competition for her company’s innovative mobile marketing strategy.
Reinforcing the theme of “Creating Connections, Building Bridges” the symposium’s speakers included Rory Vaden, author of Take the Stairs, who spoke on self-discipline and overcoming procrastination. Author and speaker Scott McKain used his personal experience growing up in a small town family business to illustrate the main tenets of his book Create Distinction, which encourages entrepreneurs to focus on customer service to compete against big box chains. Rod Bristol conducted a financial workshop for the group on the last day, teaching them the necessary calculations and projections for financial stability.
Two panel discussions, one by executives from four mattress manufacturers and one comprised of Furniture First members, answered Member questions about topics such as representation and staffing to retail sales associate compensation structure.
Several members participated in a networking competition throughout the event with the use of a customized app, sponsored by Furniture First partner STORIS. The networking grand prize went to Darcy Schmidt form Furniture Mall of Kansas in Topeka, KS, with second place going to Bryan Steger of Steger’s Furniture in Pekin, IL and third prize going to Rachel Rinard of Sylvan Furniture in Lewiston, ID.
Ed Rieckelman of Isaak’s Home Furnishings & Sleep Center in Yakima, Washington commented about his experience saying “We joined Furniture First primarily for the networking potential…a chance to learn from and bounce off of fellow retailers with similar stores and experiences. We got triple our money’s worth at the first Symposium we attended in San Antonio! The experience was great, the format was both professional and fun, and the amount of vendor support was amazing. Meanwhile, we’re still sifting through all the information that was shared and presented, and plan to implement some of the ideas immediately.”
Vendors appreciated the interaction with Furniture First members at the event. “Flexsteel has a special 17 year partnership with Furniture First and I very much enjoyed attending the 2016 Symposium and having quality time with many of our customers” commented Roger Freeman, Manager Retail Development at Flexsteel Industries, Inc.
Plans for Furniture First’s 2017 Symposium are already in the works. It will take place May 15-18 in Phoenix, Arizona. Furniture First participates in the Las Vegas Market with a showroom in the WMC, A-810. The group’s high-margin private label mattress line Mattress 1st will be on display along with selections from several of Furniture First’s supplier partners.