PrimeTime has been a staple for Nationwide Marketing Group for many years, dating back to the early 1990s. Furniture and bedding has a more recent history for the group, with Nationwide getting pretty serious about the channel within the last 15 years.
At that time, we took a hard look at the curriculum and how we were going to get our message out on the bedding side of things. That resulted in the formation of Mattress University, which, after being introduced 10 years ago, quickly became a PrimeTime staple. That event has evolved to include not just getting vendors on stage but actually getting Members on stage to talk with each other about bedding and retail strategies. It’s become a must-see event at every PrimeTime.
To be quite honest, though, with all of the attention around Mattress University, the Nationwide Furniture and Bedding team was doing a disservice to Members by not holding a similar type of event for the furniture category.
Now, we know that the furniture and bedding industries and the brands within them operate at different levels and under different market conditions. That reality made it difficult to really wrap our arms around how to bring the Mattress University experience to the furniture side of things. Then came our second Virtual PrimeTime this past March. With the virtual show format, we had the opportunity to try and do things a little differently. So, we said, you know what? Let’s launch our furniture platform here at the show, just to see what type of participation and feedback we get.
From the outset, we knew we wanted to create an event that resonated with furniture dealers just as much as Mattress University has with bedding dealers, although we knew it couldn’t be an exact carbon copy. We discussed bringing different furniture vendors on stage to talk about the industry or maybe diving into supply chain and raw materials issues. But then, we leaned into our mission, which has always been about putting the Members front and center, and we decided to create something that was essentially a roundtable discussion with our retailers.
That’s the Furniture Forum origin story.
We thought we had something when we told our Furniture Advisory Council about the idea and their response was pure excitement. But even so, when you’re dealing with virtual events you just don’t know what type of response you’re going to have. So, when we had to expand registration to include more Members than we initially planned for, it became clear that we had struck a chord.
Still, expectations were tempered, because the Furniture Forum was still so new. We had to ensure the content and conversations were engaging. This couldn’t be just another awkward Zoom call during a virtual conference in the middle of a global pandemic. This had to be different.
During Furniture Forum, we assigned each participating Member to one of several discussion rooms, each with five or six Members and a Nationwide representative who took notes and asked questions — a quieter, more relaxed setting.
Then, we started posing questions about what was going on inside their communities and inside the industry, and we let them talk. And boy, did they rise to the occasion, sharing with each other the challenges they were facing and the best practices they were using to overcome them.
Throughout the conversations, we regularly heard Members saying things like, “Oh my gosh, that’s a great idea,” or, “I’d never even thought about that before.” And that’s when we truly knew that we had created something special.
But we didn’t want to keep those great ideas in a vacuum, only to forget about them after the event ended. We had all of the moderators who took notes bring together those best practices and ideas to create a booklet that we sent out to the entire furniture and bedding membership. Now we’re hearing not just additional feedback on those best practices, but we’re also hearing from Members who want to know how they can be a part of the next Furniture Forum.
Moving forward, we expect that, like the retail industry itself has over the past year, Furniture Forum will continue to evolve. It will, of course, continue to be a part of PrimeTime, whether it’s virtual or in person. But, like everything else, it will be tweaked as we look to improve upon the event and the experience.
We’ll continue with the roundtable discussions, but being in person will allow us to expand timing — this first Furniture Forum was just one 45-minute session. With additional time, we’ll be able to bring more elements into the fold. Maybe we’ll add vendors to the mix to offer their opinions on the current obstacles facing the industry. We’ve even discussed having some of our key retailers participate in Member-led panels on how they’re successfully navigating certain challenges.
There is a great deal of opportunity for Furniture Forum to grow and expand as we look toward the future. At the end of the day, it’s an event that embodies everything that we’re about here at Nationwide. And that’s letting our Members get together and thrive together.
Jeff Rose is director of furniture and bedding for Nationwide Marketing Group