Burlington Furniture was one of dozens of stores with a virtual tour available during the conference.
HIGH POINT — The Contemporary Design Group wrapped up its 37th annual conference earlier a week ago, moving for the first time in the group’s history to an all-virtual presentation.
“We recognize that COVID-19 is impacting business travel, and we don’t want a single one of you to miss out,” wrote the group in conference announcements online. “Our virtual conference platform allows everyone to gather, learn and network face-to-face, safely and easily. Having 100% of our members and partners participating in CDG’s conference is our top priority and this year, we believe that we need the ability to connect more than ever.”
In its new online format, the CDG was able to bring in elements similar to those present in its traditional programming — such as keynote presentations, subject experts, small group discussions, one-on-one conversation time, the 2020 Edward Haimsohn Design Awards, networking activities and more — while also providing new opportunities. Specifically, more selling/buying opportunities were present, with select partnership levels receiving exhibition booths, and more speakers were on the roster in years past.
“I think you’ll find this year’s event to be, hopefully, something beyond what you could imagine.” said Howard Haimsohn, president and co-founder of CDG and owner of San Diego-based Lawrance Contemporary Furniture. “This is not just your average Zoom meeting. We have invested in a robust conference platform that will allow us to have some great social functions, networking one-on-one and group discussions.”
The online format also allowed the CDG to host its own game throughout the conference. Through Gamification codes that were hidden throughout the event, attendees to could claim and collect points to redeem for prizes like Visa gift cards, donations and even craft cocktail kits over the course of the seven-day event.
One of the most prolific kinds of content available on this year’s digital conference platform was store tours from a variety of retailers including Jensen-Lewis, Circle Furniture, Perlora, Skandinavia, Burlington Furniture and more. Through videos, viewers got a peek inside the stores and brands from each participating retailer.
In the educational sessions, retailer panels on topics including website building, marketing strategy and best practices took the stage alongside keynotes about the importance telling sales stories with confidence and looking better on Zoom.
Taking a particular COVID-19-focus for many sessions, the conference offered actionable solutions for a variety of pandemic/crisis-related problems.
In one session, called “Building Your Business Crisis Immunity,” Shannon Greg, president of Cloud Adoption Solutions, called on retailers to “panic proof” themselves so they do not find themselves in the same place they were in when COVID-19 hit in March.
“The first thing I want to talk about is operational readiness,” said Gregg. “There are signals and triggers that your business will give you that will tell you ‘how I can operationally fulfill the things that I need to so that my business will keep going.’”
To start that process, Gregg said retailers need to look at what they are doing very well. If that’s sales completion and fulfillment time, retailers should ask themselves if they are ready for a disruption and identify what signals will indicate problems. After that, retailers should look at the people involved in the process, assigning one person who should be responsible for specific goals and other things in the face of an emergency.
While it is OK for employees to wear many hats, everything on your list should have one person responsible for it, said Gregg, and you should be assigning metrics and key performance indicators to that so you can identify problems and ultimately help employees improve.
“If it doesn’t get measured, it doesn’t matter,” noted Gregg.
She also suggested that retailers should take inventory of and action on the things they want to improve on more quickly and more often from now on, pointing out that many retailers have a laundry list of to-dos, but often delay doing them.
According to Gregg, if retailers can adapt quickly to the pandemic, those other goals should not be a problem, and accomplishing them sooner could save time and frustration in the future.
“One of the things we learned is that a lot of people got dragged kicking and screaming into changing the way they do things,” she explained. “Maybe now you’re finding your customers have to find you online. Maybe your employees couldn’t come in to work the way they used to. … You were able to make those changes quickly because you had to for your businesses to survive.”
Another speaker, Chris Andresen, senior vice president of Dutko Government Relations, gave an update on the current political climate and how it impacts furniture retail, pulling information about COVID-19 legislation and how it relates to more localized governmental bodies, product regulatory issues and the future of the United States’ relationship with China.
“There’s a lot to look at between now and the end of the year and also looking ahead to the new administration, the next congress and some of the really important domestic economic and health care challenges that are facing the country and also facing business leaders,” said Andresen, adding, “We’re looking ahead at a big year.”