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Industry Spotlight

ICFA: A New Alliance for a New Era

During 2007’s Chicago International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market™, it was announced that a new organization—the International Casual Furnishings Association—had been formed to unite the industry and meet the challenges of the future. According to ICFA’s board of directors, the organization’s mission is to create demand for, and promote awareness of, high-quality outdoor furnishings worldwide through industry partnerships. Replacing the Summer and Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association, ICFA will be open for membership to all key partners within the casual-furnishings industry.

Dudley Flanders, president of Lloyd/ Flanders and chair of the organization’s board, says, “ICFA actually is a metamorphosis of SCFMA. SCFMA elected to change itself into ICFA in order to become more inclusive of all of the different facets of the industry.” Since SCFMA’s membership was limited to manufacturers and distributors only, Flanders says that a change was needed. “It was of prime importance to the industry to gather all of the voices at the table when it came to talking about industry issues,” he notes.

ICFA will become the official sponsor of the Casual Market. The newly formed association will sponsor the Design Excellence Awards program, which recognizes innovation and creative design in casual-furniture products. ICFA will also sponsor the Apollo Awards, which honor retailers in single and multistore categories. ICFA will be a division of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, the largest and most active trade association solely dedicated to the U.S. home-furnishings industry.

Flanders says that ICFA’s initial board was structured to consist of a mix of manufacturers, retailers, manufacturers’ representatives and suppliers. “We felt we got a voice from each of the constituencies eligible for membership in the ICFA,” Flanders says. Joseph P. Logan, based in High Point, N.C., will serve as ICFA executive director, in the same role that he formerly filled with SCFMA.

As chair, Flanders sees his responsibilities primarily as spearheading the organization and helping to move it in the right direction. “Our vision is to have an association that is representative of all factions of the industry and to increase our base outside of the traditional manufacturer members,” Flanders says.

ICFA’s board held its first organizational meeting in February 2008 in Las Vegas, with plans to meet throughout the remainder of the year to discuss bylaws, officers, committees and how to move forward as a new entity. As the group develops, Flanders says, it not only hopes to continue the cohesiveness that exists within the casual industry today, but also to strengthen it. A membership kickoff is in the works, with the total number of members expected to exceed that of SCFMA, since membership is now open to a broader range of people throughout the casual industry.

Like many trade associations, ICFA will offer various programs to support its members. “We will be offering our members benefits that are specifically tailored to the different facets of the industry,” Flanders says. Recognizing that manufacturers and retailers may have different needs, ICFA is in the process of developing targeted support for its members. “A retailer needs credit-card and financing programs that an industry association will offer that can bring strength in numbers,” he adds.

Committees are currently at work on freight issues, insurance matters and creating certification programs. “Manu­facturers’ sales reps can complete certain training courses and become ICFA certified,” Flanders says. An ICFA certification for retail salespeople is also being developed. “We’re not sure how far we are going to go with the certification program, but those are the first two areas the committee is working on,” he adds.

Flanders is positive about his industry, in spite of the highly publicized downtown in the real-estate market. “I think the casual business is faring better than the regular furniture business,” he says. “I do believe there is some increase in fixing up the home, rather than traveling, based on the cost of gasoline. There are certain areas of the country where the real-estate market has been more drastically affected than in others, and the casual business seems to be off a little more in those areas than in others.”

Overall, Flanders considers the general health of the casual-furniture business to be strong. “Based on the move to make the outdoor room more important in the grand scheme of how people live, in terms of cooking, dining and relaxing, I believe the casual industry in general is growing dramatically. We need to make sure that the specialty retail segment and its suppliers get their share of that growth,” he says.

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