HIGH POINT — Being adaptable and comfortable with constant change are two important abilities a new generation of retail leaders say helped them as they moved into leadership roles in the family business.
The panel, moderated by Doug Stewart, the vice president of global business development at Dale Carnegie, consisted of Jackie Brookshire, second generation at American Furniture Warehouse, Englewood, Colo.; Andrew Koenig, second generation at City Furniture, Tamarac, Fla.; and Rachel Tronstein Stewart, fourth generation at Gardner-White, Detroit.
“The mileage matters. There is a value in having lived those ups and downs in a real way when both parents are in it,” said Tronstein Stewart. “My parents taught us that you had to ying and yang to stay relevant. There was never an expectation of predictability.”
Koenig said his family stressed the importance of old-school entrepreneurial skills to get through hard times.
“Being the second generation helped to fuel the fire and gave me a passion to take it to the next level,” Koenig said. “During the first few months of the pandemic, we turned on chat and online phone sales, and did whatever it took to satisfy consumer demand.”
After returning to the family business five years ago, Brookshire said she has learned the strengths of the team and what they need to do to be successful moving forward.
“During the pandemic, we were open in Texas but closed in other places,” Brookshire said. “The team suggested having customers from other locations call us in Texas, and we could Facetime to show them around the showroom. We made sales in Texas for customers in Colorado, a great example of everyone working as a team.”
The panelists all agreed the pandemic forced them to find innovative and cost-effective ways to serve customers.
“We came up with creative ways to staff the phone lines strategically and carefully in all locations to keep those sales going,” Koenig said. “It was an effective and inexpensive solution.”
Tronstein Stewart said Gardner-White was not considered an essential business in Michigan and had to shut down during the early days of the pandemic, and she said it’s important to take steps as an industry to prevent that from happening again.
“We need more advocacy and best practice components,” she said. “Our stores are large and can easily be COVID-19 compliant. If we nail this as an industry now, we’ll do better whatever the next COVID is.”
The panelists also stressed the importance of long-term thinking over short-term wins.
“With this pandemic, we are not settled in to anything, and geopolitics is affecting our industry,” Brookshire said. “We expect 2021 to be every bit as tumultuous as 2020 has been, and we need to constantly be on our toes to look for the next problem and how to solve it while running a business at the same time.”
The panelists agreed that working together for the good of the industry will be important moving forward and keeping ahead of advancements in technology is paramount.
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