Preparing To Excel At Retail

At Next Generation Now a community of young professionals learns how to lead and succeed

“I spend half my time at Market as a buyer,” said Bijan Lalji, of Lalji Home in Coquitlam, British Columbia. “The other half is spent seeking the equivalent of a Ph.D. in home furnishings retail by going to Next Generation Now (NGN) educational and networking events. Not only do I learn how to be a savvier buyer, I also gain insights that directly contribute to our store’s profitability.”

Initially established by the Home Furnishings Association (HFA) to help support family-run retailers with the transition of leadership from senior owners to their children, NGN has expanded its membership to include all industry professionals under 40. Participation is a free benefit to HFA members, who are encouraged to attend at-Market events such as Lunch with Leaders, retail tours, and after hours showroom crawls.

“These events allow us to learn from established leaders and to bounce new ideas around with peers facing similar challenges.”

“We’re all in High Point to buy,” said NGN board president Mandy Jeffries, of Colfax Furniture & Mattress in Greensboro, North Carolina, “so we schedule our events at lunch and after hours because everyone has to eat – and to unwind at the end of the day.” A member of NGN for five years, Jeffries brings boundless enthusiasm – plus her experience as President of her family business – to her position as the organization’s first woman president.

“The perception of the home furnishings industry being run by smart old guys isn’t inaccurate,” said Jeffries, “but we’ve found many of them are motivated to share their stories of struggles and successes. In our Lunch with Leaders program last Market, a group of us sat around a table together while Jake Jabs told us how he grew his empire, and answered our questions about issues we had. We all benefited from his invaluable advice!”

“I hate to admit it,” said Lalji, “but Jerry Epperson confirmed in an NGN seminar that my parents were right! I never understood why they insisted on showcasing the most unique pieces in the front of our store. Jerry’s number one tip for smaller retailers was to stop worrying about price and commit to buying products that are distinctive from our competitors.”

“It’s a blast to kick back with the great friends I’ve met along the way. It’s amazing the ideas we come up with when we’re together!”

Market events create a whole new social network for NGN members. In addition to creating opportunities to meet and seek guidance from industry veterans, they are a place to build strong and mutually beneficial relationships with one’s peers. Members look forward to cutting loose from their parents and older business associates for evening events like the pub crawl that wanders through the best showroom parties, and always ends up at the Legends Furniture Open Mic Night.

Bijan credits a late night conversation on the pub crawl as the catalyst for a decision that “transformed our last mile with our customers. I asked the group about starting a delivery service. The response was ‘don’t monetize it – make it complimentary.’ They said white glove service enhances delivery and in-home set-up. As a result of following their advice, we get at least four emails or phone calls a day from customers expressing their appreciation for our delivery team.”

“Hanging out with NGN folks at Market is like going back to college for a week. We’re all having great fun together while striving to educate ourselves for a highly successful future.”

If you’re under 40 and would like to learn the intricacies of furniture retail with seasoned pros and upstart peers, stop into the HFA’s Retailer Resource Center on the first floor of the Plaza Suites building. Included with your HFA membership, NGN is a great way to ensure your – and your store’s – success.