A Network For Solutions

Retail entrepreneurs join together to share insights, solve business challenges

“We hit Market as a highly motivated, synchronized team, shopping all day and networking nights,” said Howard Haimsohn, president of Lawrance Furniture in San Diego, California. Perhaps his most effective network is the Contemporary Design Group (CDG). Founded by Haimsohn and his father, Ed, this dynamic group of entrepreneurs meets at Market to discuss – and solve – business challenges.

As the name suggests, CDG member stores focus on contemporary style. Their freedom to collaborate openly comes from being located far enough away from each other to not be competitors. In their at-Market meetings, they share shopping notes to help each other “discover the top products in our category,” said Haimsohn. “Our membership growth has enhanced our reconnaissance skills, allowing us all to optimize our time in High Point.”

“My dad and I started the CDG 35 years ago because we believed there was immense strength in uniting these entrepreneurs to the benefit of all.”

Lora Sigesmund, co-owner of PerLora, a three-store operation in Pittsburgh, explained the buying strategy. “We wear CDG pins, so vendors know we’re part of a group of like-minded upper-end retailers. This helps create stronger relationships than we might develop alone, resulting in benefits like proprietary products and specials. We fan out across the 11.5 million square feet of showrooms and get together to share our experiences in a 3-hour meeting on Monday afternoon. We talk about the rock stars of Market, what we didn’t like, and of course, what we purchased and why.”

In addition to identifying can’t miss showrooms, info shared at the Monday meetings also generates savvy buying decisions. “I was ordering a new chair but couldn’t decide on quantity until Lora’s husband said the vendor gave a 20% discount on four,” said Andy Thornton, co-owner of LaDiff in Richmond, Virginia.

Always working to improve the quality and timeliness of their product intel, CDG beta-tested a cloud-based instant messaging system in April. Using the Telegram app, six members texted photos and product details on a private network. “Sharing in real-time comes in handy if you get compelling news about a vendor in a building that’s on the way to your next appointment,” said Haimsohn.

“We share data relating to best practices, financial performance, key indicators, and other business issues.”

“I didn’t join CDG until I’d been to High Point on my own for many years,” said Thornton. “I knew from the first day of my first Market as a member that I’d made the right decision. I realized an exponential return on my investment by implementing what I learned back at my store.”

Rick Howard, president of Sklar Furnishings of Boca Raton, credited CDG support for the survival of member stores during the 2008 recession. “We worked together to develop an action plan that helped us right-size our businesses as part of a successful effort that had us announcing the recession was over in July 2009.”

“In the after-hours, unexpected and valuable insights are often gained during a casual conversation.”

Market provides endless opportunities for CDG members to gather in social settings, from traditional get-togethers to serendipitous let’s grab a drink and catch up moments. “We are a close group,” said Haimsohn, “with some of the friendships going back over thirty years. The time we spend together in High Point deepens those bonds and keeps our business relationships fresh.”

“Contemporary furniture retailers are a diverse group,” said Haimsohn, “but they tend to share similar mindsets as independent, creative, design-focused risk-takers, always striving to succeed. As non-competing collaborative colleagues from across the country, we join forces to leverage our time on the ground in High Point. We have become an influential buying block and, hopefully, provide an inspirational example to other retailers of the impressive power of peer networking.”

If you're inspired to start your own peer-to-peer networking group, October Market is a great time to schedule your first meeting. Reach out to a few like-minded folks who share similar business challenges and set a time to discuss developing a more organized approach to networking. Who knows? It could be the beginning of 30-plus years of collaborative success!