Space, AI and sleepless nights: Reflections on the Bedding Conference | Bill McLoughlin

By most accounts the bedding industry is in recession. The volume of business pulled forward by the pandemic remains unrecovered, and the factors that typically support growth — household formation, demographics and the availability of discretionary dollars — are all currently working to constrain rather than support demand.

It was in this context that the industry came together at Furniture Today’s 2024 Bedding Conference to explore strategies and ideas that could help reinvigorate the business. The event kicked off with a keynote by NASA astronaut and former Navy SEAL Captain Chris Cassidy.

Sharing his journey into and beyond the U.S. Naval Academy, through SEAL training and ultimately  into space, Captain Cassidy highlighted the role that key mentors played in helping guide his path and the lessons in teamwork and team building he learned along the way.

Recounting his experience in the submarine service, he discussed the concept of “commander’s intent,” an operational concept designed to provide subordinates with a sufficiently detailed understanding of a mission’s purpose, key tasks and desired outcome that will enable them to succeed even in the absence of the ability to communicate directly with leadership.

The lesson for attendees was clear. Provide employees with a detailed understanding of their “mission,” including the “why,” and them empower them to execute.

Later in the day, retailers Jeff Giagnocavo of Gardner’s Mattress and More and Steve Houk from Boise Mattress shared their journey into AI with specific, actionable steps they’ve taken to employ it within their business. Giagnocavo advised attendees to get out in front of the rapidly emerging technology, contending that AI will replace Google search as consumers’ search method of choice.

“Consumers no longer want a buffet of answers,” Giagnocavo said. “They want ‘the’ answer.”

At a time when industry merger and acquisition activity is on a rapid upswing, M&A specialists Darlene Leonard from Smith Leondard, Stuart Mullens from Stump & Company and Mike Watson from Mann, Armistead and Epperson provided guidance to attending companies that may be looking to position for a sale and also discussed recent changes in the types of deals the industry is seeing.

Specifically, they pointed to the increasingly vertical nature of recent activity that is seeing companies look to close gaps between the factory floor and the end consumer, blurring traditional lines between retailer and manufacturer.

The day’s sessions was capped off by a presentation from the National Sleep Foundation, which shared striking statistics on the connection between better sleep and improved health outcomes.

Day two’s activities included retailer-excusive consulting sessions with industry experts on human resources, cyber security and financial management. This is a new feature for Furniture Today’s conferences that made its debut at the 2023 Leadership Conference and, based on popular response, will be a key addition moving forward.

For more coverage of the Furniture Today Bedding Conference pick up the June 3 issue or go to furnituretoday.com.

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