David Koehler, president, AICO
We are currently implementing scalable IT infrastructure solutions, integrating the latest communication tools and artificial intelligence innovations to enhance business efficiency and information accessibility. These advancements align our technological foundations with our growth, fostering collaboration and positioning us for sustained success in the ever-evolving digital landscape.
A.I. has already made a significant impact, from the way we write to the digital content we create. We can quickly create high quality lifestyles, and once these technologies advance to enable 3D capabilities, it will be a complete game changer for product visualization.
Implementing cutting edge technologies like AR/VR and A.I. is not without its challenges. Notable obstacles include resistance to change, cost of implementation, significant changes and integration with existing processes and workflows, concerns about data security, along with ethical and bias considerations.
Overcoming these challenges requires a comprehensive approach that blends financial planning, talent development and close collaboration with our current teams to effectively manage the change process.
Kari Fletcher, director of marketing, Baer’s Furniture, Pompano Beach, Fla.
The technology that will have the greatest impact on our business in 2024 and beyond will be Artificial Intelligence. There are many obstacles to a robust implementation of A.I., some of which are:
- Lack of transparency from vendors presenting A.I. solutions. With such a new and emerging technology, there are many ‘bad actors’ who have slapped the “A.I.” label on both new and existing products to catch the wave, which makes it challenging to separate the true A.I. providers from the imposters.
- Not all A.I. is created equally. For example, in the world of search engines, Google is the first to admit that their A.I. is still emerging and riddled with flaws, while Microsoft’s product is market ready and experiencing low hallucination rates. This is the case across the entire spectrum of A.I.-powered solutions: some are excellent, and some are not. Choosing an underdeveloped product could have disastrous results for an organization.
- The old acronym GIGO (garbage in/garbage out) applies here as well. With outdated infrastructures and challenges in pulling clean data to feed the A.I. monster, work needs to be done to shore up existing systems and processes prior to a full spectrum or multi-focused A.I. launch.
- As with so many upgrades, launching and integrating A.I. systems takes time in research, time in road mapping, time in considering the possibilities, time in testing and time in implementation. This isn’t a flip of a switch; it’s a labor-intensive and strategic process that will fail to provide results if not approached systematically.
The A.I. revolution came up quickly and is evolving more rapidly than any other tech development in recent years. While it’s exciting, and many of us want to be part of the ‘early adopters’ movement, taking time to learn, plan and implement strategically will be worth it in the end.
Jared Carlitz, chief operating officer, Bedding Industries of America
On the consumer front, we’re actively exploring the integration of A.I.-driven virtual assistants to manage the chat function on our websites. This will help us provide superior service and guarantee that users receive quick and informed responses to their queries.
Matt Sorensen, senior vice president of sales, Classic Home
Some of the latest tech I see getting more prevalent in our business is both generative-A.I. and A.I. machine learning. Also, the continued importance of shopping partners and shopping patterns/platforms.
We have seen shopping patterns change from in store to a major push online. Now I feel we will start to see influential buying, where you will see designers and influencers tag more companies and work closer with the wholesale market to generate revenue both for the designer and the influencer.
We see that already with paid ad placement on YouTube, influencers and Instagram, and I think we will start to see it more with TikTok and other social platforms. As ad revenue goes down, I feel there will be a larger importance on brands working with online marketers/influencers.
I am starting to see more companies work with A.I. to generate ad text and everything from chatbots online to create a sales pitch to the writing of romance copy online. Our team has already been working closely with A.I. companies to create a better online experience and help automate the process online.
Along with A.I., I feel that 3D modeling of product in a customer’s home will start to help close the loop on returned items. This will give the consumer the feel of the product already in their home through 3D modeling. We had a sales call just last week with one that absolutely blew me away with the complexity of how we can now take a picture of an item and place that item in the room, and it is almost 100% identical to what the customer would see in the home.
It’s a digital world now, and we have to be ahead of the curve.
Bob Bruns, president, Cozzia USA
The technologies that impacted our business in 2023 and will continue to impact our business in 2024 are artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
A.I. has enhanced our chairs’ capabilities by analyzing the customers preferences and adapting massage techniques accordingly. A.I. can also enable features like voice control and personalized recommendations, making the massage experience more intuitive and enjoyable.
By incorporating AR in the Cozzia experience , our customer can customize their “Chair Doctor” massage in real-time. This technology has changed the massage chair segment. The Cozzia family of brands will be introducing the next generation of the “Chair Doctor” in April 2024. As we spread this technology across our various brands it will drive our business in 2024.
Shaun Pennington, CEO, Diamond Mattress
Technologies that either can simplify the buyer experience, more specifically the research phase of consumer purchasing, will be the key in reshaping and continuing the positive momentum of the market. A.I., machine learning, augmented and virtual reality will transform how consumers perceive the mattress buying process whether it be online or in-store.
These advanced technologies will allow product information and education to become more readily available and come in many more digestible formats, eliminating many of the question marks and hesitancies that the average buyer would have traditionally.
The cost of integrating advanced technologies and balancing technological advancements with eco-friendly practices to minimize environmental impact may impact pricing and accessibility for some consumers. Businesses will have to adapt to keep pricing reasonable while integrating truly beneficial technologies that add value to the buyer journey as well as the end-product.
Richard Oliver, CEO, E.J. Victor
Very early into my journey with E.J. Victor I realized we were relying on an outdated, home-grown ERP system that severely limited our access to the quick data needed for planning and operational decision making. The reporting was often heavily reliant on spreadsheets which are inefficient and prone to error.
In 2024, we are implementing NetSuite, Oracle’s cloud-based software for small and mid-market companies. The implementation of this software will result in a completely integrated, real-time information system, which will allow us to be agile in making informed, data-driven decisions. The system will also provide a tremendous improvement in automated/efficient transaction processing. Leveraging this system will result in an increase in profitable sales and a reduction in administrative costs.
The greatest obstacle/challenge to implementing a system like this is resource management, as many of the same business process experts utilized in running your business are needed to implement the new system.
Additionally, the new system, while a vast improvement, represents a significant change in process for the organization. Making sure that you provide adequate training and implementation support is the primary key to successful adoption of the new system.
The final challenge is to not look at the implementation as a “Big Bang” event, whereby you implement and leave it alone. A new ERP system is an investment, and the implementation is just the beginning of leveraging the investment. To achieve maximum ROI, you must continually review your business needs and look for new and additional ways to leverage your investment.
Mark Kinsley, CEO, Englander
Generative A.I. has the potential to revolutionize the mattress industry, offering groundbreaking opportunities in product design, marketing, and operational efficiency. This game-changing technology can analyze massive amounts of data on consumer preferences, sleep patterns and ergonomic requirements, and can synthesize that information into meaningful product designs, marketing strategies and operational enhancements.
In the mattress industry, where companies spend a significant amount of marketing dollars, generative A.I. promises highly targeted, engaging content, elevating customer interaction and conversion rates. A.I.-driven chatbots and customer service tools are set to transform the consumer experience with real-time, personalized support. For business strategy, Generative A.I.’s predictive insights will enable smarter decision-making and operational agility.
While this innovation promises significant advancements, the mattress industry will need to balance it with ethical considerations around data privacy and employment impacts, ensuring a responsible integration of A.I. in the industry.
David Crimmins, vice president, sales and product management, Flexsteel
We continuously evaluate technology solutions and seek opportunities to potential impact to improving customer experience and operational excellence. There are four core technologies/software solutions that will have the greatest impact on our business in 2024 and beyond, with the obstacles being focused investment prioritization and accelerating change management with the organization.
A.I. will continue to rapidly evolve both standalone and within the business applications we utilize across our business. Product design and development, speed to market, visualization, customer insights and improving digital customer experience will have the greatest impact.
Digital platforms and content/3D bisualization AR/VR: Continue to invest in powerful digital engagement and seamless interactions with customers. Dynamic 3D digital models for all new products is now standard, and we continue to pursue new avenues to ensure visualization is available to all consumers when and where they desire experience it.
Customer Relationship Management: We implemented CRM across our service and sales teams. We are seeing very encouraging results early in our implementation. In 2024, our focus will shift from implementation to optimization, targeting dramatic improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of our sales team and relentless pursuit of a differentiated customer experience.
Operational excellence: We continue to invest and implement cloud ERP platforms from order to cash with full implementation of the core in 2024 to deliver real-time order processing, faster fulfillment for customers and enable future investments in robotics, A.I. and big data.
Rick Lovegrove, president of upholstery, Four Hands
In 2023, we took the time to step back and reassess how we can improve our systems and existing processes, and how to best integrate new technologies over the next few years. In 2024, we are continuing to focus on serving our customers and growing sustainably.
To accomplish this, we are heavily investing in technology across all departments. Keeping up with technological advancements ensures that we are maintaining our standards to deliver the best customer experience possible.
We’ve already seen amazing results from launching the revamped Four Hands website, FourHands.com. The platform is designed with our customer base in mind, with features that cater to the increased need to shop more efficiently. This includes custom browsing by product category or room, new and improved features to search for a variety of fabrics, colors and more, and capabilities to create shared shopping lists that clients and guests can view seamlessly from their phone, table, and desktop.
This fully reimagined visual and shopping experience was the next step in accelerating innovation while maintaining service and quality, and we’re excited to continue exploring new ways to engage with technology in seamless, responsible, and sustainable ways in 2024.
In the new year, we will continue to assess how our customer base is becoming more diversified and how we will need to adapt to their unique needs in return. It’s paramount that we curate a technological experience that allows Four Hands to be the best partner to retailers, designers and other stakeholders. In 2024, we are focusing on technology that enhances warehouse management and logistics solutions, analytics tools that forecast customer interests, purchasing patterns and product stock requirements to ensure our audiences are being served the right product at the appropriate time.
A huge advantage to increased technological integration will be how seamlessly we can help our business partners to determine which products will best support their objectives and serve their customers.
One obstacle we anticipate facing is how to seamlessly swap legacy systems with next-generation advancements. We firmly believe leaning into technological advancements is the best way to offer a broader range of services and enhance Four Hands’ customer experience.
To mitigate any bumps along the way, we are continuing to work closely with our customers, partners, and our internal team, communicating about what is working and what needs to be further enhanced, and making sure everyone feels comfortable with the pace and extent of integrating new technologies.
Craig Daniels, director of marketing, Furniture Fair, Cincinnati
There are a lot (of technologies having an impact), and most are related to the website and giving the customer the best possible UX online before they come to your store.
On the technical side, I would say setting up server-side tracking to retain more customer data and improve match rates on platforms like Facebook and Google. The challenge is how technical the implementation is and then getting any necessary data streams connected to the server.
Erald Gjoni, chief information officer, Furniture Mart USA, Sioux Falls, S.D.
As we wrap up auditing this past year, we are really looking forward to what’s to come in 2024. We understand that company success comes from a multi-dimensional approach of technology. While the list of projects is long, from a high-level perspective, we are going to execute on both offensive and defensive fronts.
The past several years saw an increased number of cyber attacks that were industry agnostic. Many of our peers in the furniture industry have experienced considerable damages and down time from cyber events.
At Furniture Mart USA, we are going to continue our journey of digitally protecting the company. We are going to continue to improve our cybersecurity education of all our users as well as continue to deploy measured technologies for our security posture.
On top of our end point security solution, we are leveraging automation to ensure early detection and mitigation of any suspicious activity within our digital perimeter. Additionally, we are going to invest in high availability architecture to ensure that we can be nimble in shifting our business from on-premises to the cloud and vice-versa for the purpose of business continuity in the event of a cyber breach.
Offensively, we believe that an improved customer experience is going to be our next target. While this is a widely used term and encompasses many things, our goal at Furniture Mart USA is to improve the way we serve our customers, wherever they are.
Throughout 2022 and 2023, we spent a lot of time creating tools for our internal teams. In 2024, we are going to roll out mobile devices to our sales associates. This will congregate all the tools created, point of sale, as well as centralize the information that is necessary for our customers’ benefit.
The goal will be to facilitate information exchange between all our brick-and-mortar locations and our digital arm of the business to achieve the best omnichannel service possible. Our team believes that this is going to be the steppingstone for other technology bolt-on solutions that will only add to our customer experience journey.
While the above and many other slated projects are going to positively affect our business, we also foresee some challenges that must be overcome. Traditionally, technology has always been a change agent.
As any other disruptor, organizational change management can make or break its effectiveness. We must ensure that all our user base understands the effects of the tools we deploy, as well as their interaction with it. Without the alignment of our end-user, technology is merely another expensive tool that is left unused. Communication and ongoing training are necessary for 2024 and beyond. Additionally, technology solutions are pragmatic. Meaning, they are going to be as effective as the information that is being fed. At Furniture Mart USA, whether for A.I., customer experience or other tools, we must ensure our data is in its most optimal shape. We are going to be spending a considerable amount of time in data governance, data security and data hygiene.
Those that have been down this road already will tell you that it’s imperative to get this step right. The very results you get from a solution can be severely skewed by the condition of its underlying data.
Marcus Bontrager, president, Fusion Designs
Throughout our history, we have always carefully balanced the principles of our Amish heritage with technological innovation. If you come onto our production floor, you will see craftsmen working with their hands alongside those working on modern equipment. In our design area, we are using the latest CAD technology to bring our ideas to life.
Most importantly, we have always paid close attention to incorporating the latest technologies in our manufacturing processes, which has led to many industry firsts over the years. In fact, when we couldn’t find what we needed in terms of equipment to automate our plant or improve our processes, we built it ourselves.
Behind the scenes, we are always exploring the latest advancements because equipment becomes outdated quickly where tech is concerned, and we want to make sure we are always taking advantage of the latest advancements and incorporating them into our business.
Most recently, however, as lead furniture designer in addition to my executive role in our family-owned and -operated company, I have been personally attuned to the implications of artificial intelligence on both design and marketing.
As an example, we’re currently in the midst of revamping our website, and while superior visuals were always important in marketing our collections and promoting our brand, we know this issue will become even more critical as we move ahead in 2024.
Especially since our target consumer cohort is part of a generation that is extremely technology focused, and impatient, if not downright dismissive of any company that is not reaching them where they are. The obstacles are, I’m sure, the same for most manufacturers: Cost and the ability to carve out the time necessary for research, implementation, and training. Change is hard, but it’s also necessary, not only for us, but the entire industry.
David Gebhart, CEO, Global Views
It is no surprise that the team at Global Views feels that artificial intelligence will have the most significant impact on our business in 2024 and beyond. A.I. is set to revolutionize multiple facets of our operations, encompassing the management of office networks, enhancement of information security, business analysis, logistics of importing products, order fulfillment, generating copy for product and the prediction of trends in the design of furniture and accessories. This transformative influence has the potential to extend to the very design of our products.
However, I would like to stop here and state that the human touch in prediction of trends in the design of our furniture and accessories, writing product copy and the actual designing of our products has always and will always continue to be created by the most talented members of our team, not 100% by A.I. I see A.I. as a superior support tool to start some of these processes, but not necessarily the end all, be all in terms of product design and development, trend prediction, nor product copy. I believe in the power of the pencil as the key driving tool for our design team members.
For Global Views, the primary challenge in implementing A.I. lies in identifying the areas where it can most benefit our business and cultivate the necessary skill sets within our IT and business teams to adopt A.I. in a meaningful way.
As we embrace and utilize A.I., it is crucial to tread carefully to ensure we do not lose the personal touch that defines our business and our brand. Maintaining strong connections to our loyal customers will require meticulous attention throughout this transformative process of A.I. implementation where we see it being most useful.
Jeremy Hoff, CEO, Hooker Furnishings
Everybody has to be a technology company, or they’re not going to be here. I’m happy to get this new ERP system. We want to bolt onto technology that matters.
For me, it’s not about becoming more efficient from a number-of-people standpoint. It’s about helping our people be more efficient with our customers. Giving data quicker. Lessening mundane tasks. If you can get rid of non-value-added work but still have the human element to drive, that’s the way forward.
Our company needs to become a technology company, or we’ll fall behind. Our tech strategy will be as robust as anything else we do.
We are analyzing each area of our company, and we are trying to understand what is available from a technological standpoint. And we want to make sure we are ahead.
Bobby Watson, co-owner, Hoot Judkins, Redwood City, Calif.
Without a doubt, Artificial Intelligence is going to have the biggest impact, both positively and perhaps negatively. A.I. is already slowly working into the systems we use on a daily basis. Apps that run our email, chat and texting services have already started showing A.I.-generated responses to customer questions.
Our delivery optimization platform will soon use A.I. to help us create better routes and delivery zones. Our digital advertising platforms are beginning to use A.I. to better target our ads. We are even working with two different startup companies in our area, one imaging company and one information systems company, who hope to use A.I. extensively in their new systems. Both are looking into solutions specific to the furniture industry.
A.I. is making suggestions to me literally as I write this. All of these have the potential for huge positive impacts upon our company.
The potential negative of A.I. would be the harming of the relationships we build with our ustomers. Our industry sells high-ticket products. The personal relationship that we make with the customer in our store leads to more business in the future and the very important referral business.
Ten years ago, we would speak with the customer many times on their journey from purchase to post-delivery. Today we send automated messages to these customers. It may be convenient for both parties, but is it weakening these relationships? Time will tell.
Joshua Hudson, CEO, Hudson’s Furniture, Sanford, Fla.
No. 1 is our websites. The greatest obstacle is the development teams behind them: communicating clearly with them and executing.
No. 2 is our POS systems and getting them efficient with checkout times. Many of us have to get more efficient on getting clients checked out faster. The obstacle here is the POS companies themselves. Most don’t share the same visions.
Kenneth Ludwig, owner, Kenneth Ludwig Chicago
Our website and online sales will be the biggest focus for 2024. With the push to integrate A.I. into websites, we will be working on how to institute that along with a much better understanding of algorithms for buying. We want to determine who our true online client is.
We also will be adding a video element to all our listings on the KLC site. Not only will be showcasing the product via white background photos and lifestyle shots, but we’ll be featuring the product in the store with close ups and a brief description. I will be doing the videos in an effort to make clients more familiar with myself and our brand.
The greatest obstacle will be the time required to accomplish these tasks, along with dollars allocated to achieve. We have scheduled at least 30 hours per week for new uploads, videos and listings maintenance. We will be reaching out to a number of firms recommended by other strong retailers we know to implement the A.I. and algorithm details.
We are looking to increase our online presence with sales by 25% in 2024.
Frank Hood, president and CEO, Kingsdown
Certainly, we are beginning to explore the use of artificial intelligence at Kingsdown in a number of areas. While the technology requires a lot of prompting and is not perfect by any means, we are experimenting with A.I. as a design inspiration generator in our ticking fabrics, which allows our design team to cost-effectively and efficiently experiment with incorporating the latest fashion trends in product development.
Our marketing team is also finding that A.I. is proving quite useful for generating brand-exclusive, highly styled imagery for room scenes, without the typically high costs associated with traditional, set-driven lifestyle photography.
Yet, in terms of becoming an invaluable part of our toolbox in 2024, we see the real potential and promise of A.I. in data analysis, both in harnessing our considerable reviews data, and to mine and leverage the data of more than 17 million consumer profiles generated by Kingsdown’s proprietary BedMatch system.
Gabriele Natale, CEO, Manwah USA
Technology will continue to enhance product offerings, but more than technology is function.
At Manwah, our next big thing is the sliding seat which gives consumers an easy-to-operate, adjustable-depth seat. These sliding seats are modular, giving chaise and/or bed options on sofas and sectionals. We believe our new “slider” will turn into a category.
Troy Harrison, vice president of information systems, Miskelly Furniture, Pearl, Miss.
Two technologies immediately come to mind. First is Artificial Intelligence. While an extremely broad topic, it is one where even what is possible is still being defined. A.I. is already being used for more than just crafting responses to emails or creating web/text content. Software vendors are adding A.I. features to make them better. Retailers are also adopting A.I. outside of specific vendor applications and are using historical data to train A.I. to do things like:
- Make purchasing decisions based on inventory flow and customer behavior
Evaluate pictures of damaged/worn products and assess the severity of the issues
- Automate processing of data based on established norms and history
- Pour through volumes of data from different systems and identify patterns/issues
The biggest challenge for A.I. is likely not getting distracted with all it could do, but instead to identify primary problems and look for opportunities to use A.I. to solve them. A.I. is a fast-moving target with many applications for our company and for our industry.
Second is CRM. We implemented Hubspot in late 2022 and have been consistently growing our use and adoption. We initially started out with Hubspot as a market automation tool but quickly grew into using the same platform for sales automation and customer communication.
Our goal is to start incorporating customer care into the platform later in 2024. The challenges we have experienced center around integrating data from many different sources (website, social media platforms, point-of-sale, email/phone, etc.) into Hubspot. With most of these completed and maturing, the next set of challenges are with definition and adoption of consistent workflows.
The business has done a great job of adopting the CRM, but as with most new technologies, it does require a shift in thinking to maximize the benefit of the platform.
Andrew Peykar, president, Nourison Home
We believe we can make a strong impact by offering more customization in our products. Consumers are looking for custom-sized rugs and custom designs to better fit their spaces and decorating styles. We’ve offered strong programs that offer multiple levels of customization for many years now, and these programs have shown rapid growth over the past five years.
Technology can help the consumer to better visualize what the finished product will look like and encourage a sale. We recently implemented a new rug and carpet visualization solution that allows customers to see how different sized rugs will fit their spaces. We also have a rug and carpet design tool that allows commercial customers to visualize how different designs and colors will look in the finished product.
These technologies require a significant investment of time and resources but have already delivered good results for us. We plan on expanding these technology offerings in 2024.
Doug Townsend, chief operating officer, Parker House
I think all furniture companies that I know can do a better job on data analytics, most especially business intelligence tools to give real time, actionable analysis on daily, weekly or monthly trends in all macro and micro parts of the business. These tools can create data sets that very easily can be sliced and diced to get to what is REALLY happening in the business in real time.
So often reporting is looking so far backwards in time, so companies miss the opportunity to make changes quickly and with real purpose.
The greatest obstacles to implementing these are corporate culture and resource availability. Company cultures can frequently be super resistant to change throughout our industry. And when it comes to allocating resources for things that don’t directly add value to the product or the customer experience, it can be an uphill battle.
Luckily, at Parker House we are creating a culture of embracing change, and we have ownership that is willing to invest in new technologies and in finding new ways of adding value to our customers and their experiences.
Jason Phillips, vice president, Phillips Collection
The most significant impact tech will have on the home furnishings industry in 2024 will be in data analytics. By now, most of us are tech-savvy to a certain extent. We collect and store data, and can access it with confidence in its accuracy.
But it’s not enough to have real-time data at our fingertips. What do we do with that data? Can A.I. tools be used to sift through it and create actionable steps for implementation? And what about establishing metrics to ensure we are all analyzing benchmarks and making tweaks to our processes for further refinement?
This is the challenge we all face as the world speeds ahead at a pace we are not accustomed to. Data must be clean, easy to access, easy to manipulate, measure and make determinations.
At Phillips Collection, we are ahead of the curve. For years, we’ve been developing a team of data experts who are helping us build robust buyer profiles, ensuring we are presenting the right images of collections they may be interested in.
We are also taking a lesson from some of our larger customers who give us a report card that shows us our product, sales, and shipping performance and how improvements to the areas of need will increase our overall business. We plan to roll this same concept out to our customers.
For retailers, which top collections are they not buying, which are trending up/down? For designers, do they tend to order big-ticket items or smaller items more frequently? Is their look more coastal? More industrial? More organic? All of this data helps inform us, and when manipulated and served up properly, it can significantly affect our business.
Andrew Steinhafel, president, Steinhafels, Waukesha, Wis.
In 2024, we plan to invest in improving our data analytics tools and platform in multiple ways from measuring/evaluating customer traffic in our stores and our website to how we value and reach targeted customer segments through media.
Satya Tiwari, president, Surya
Technology has to be front and center in a company’s strategy. Our customers are using technology in all venues, and some buyers are on different tracks. This is something we take very seriously.
We are using pieces of A.I., and when we think of it or some element of A.I., we think of it as a tool, not a replacement for people. All of these technologies make us more productive and better at what we do, so for example, we can use A.I. to create 50 inspirational room scenes. We can do more with less when we adopt new technologies and reach more people than ever before.
Bailee Nebeker, Wallaroo’s, Spokane, Wash.
Marketing is a moving target in every industry but especially for the furniture and mattress industry. For Wallaroo’s, any marketing effort that takes friction out of the funnel and gets our customers into contact with a Wallaroo’s sales associate is valuable.
Post 2020, it has become vitally important to assess marketing data with a critical eye: impressions v. views v. engagement. None of this truly matters if it does not result in door swings and sales. Reaching our customers where they are (their email inbox and text messages).
Authenticity in communication is key, but so is speed, accuracy and volume. A.I. is the way we are addressing all those concerns.