Icon Honors winners named
Jenny Heinzen York -- Home Accents Today, July 14, 2011
Last night, the second annual Icon Honors event was held in Atlanta, in conjunction with the Atlanta Gift & Home Furnishings Market.
The Icons were presented to members of the gift and home furnishings industry in the categories of Innovation, Contribution and Achievement. Also, a Lifetime Achievement Award and Medal of Excellence prizes were bestowed.
Following are profiles of the winners. The program was sponsored by Americasmart Atlanta, the Gift & Home Trade Association and Sandow Media, corporate parent of Home Accents Today and its sister publications.
Americasmart Medal of Excellence Honor
Corte Madera, Calif.
Gary Friedman proudly calls Restoration Hardware "defiant troublemakers."
That seems a bit harsh for the CEO and chairman to say, but Friedman takes it a step further. In fact, he likens the company, which he has helmed since 2001, to Mick Jagger, the famed Rolling Stones lead singer.
"Just like Mick Jagger, we are passionate, ageless, completely authentic and clearly unsatisfied," Friedman said, who recalls a magazine article that quoted Jagger as saying the singer was "simply being me."
That quote clearly resonated with Mr. Friedman, who uses it as a beacon of authenticity for Restoration Hardware. For Restoration Hardware and Freidman, "completely being me" means staying true to its vision of selling home furnishings, bath fixtures and bathware, functional and decorative hardware and related merchandise.
The company's philosophy is simple: "We want to surround ourselves with what we love. We want to inspire laughter as well as thought. This is more than our way of finding and selling products; it's a way of life we highly recommend."
"While many chose lower-quality to reduce prices, we chose to be the defiant troublemakers in our industry, raising quality and elevating design," Friedman said. "Today's Restoration Hardware is a personal expression of what we believe in, design we are passionate about, produced by artisans who in their own right are creating a cultural revolution."
Founded nearly 30 years ago, Restoration operates a multi-channel, multi-brand, multi-market business. Restoration Hardware operates more than 100 retail and outlet store locations in the United States and Canada, as well as a rapidly growing direct-to-consumer business that includes catalogs and e-commerce sites. The family of catalogs includes the Home catalog, a dedicated Outdoor book, a Gift catalog and Baby & Child.
"For if there's one thing we've learned in our 30 years, it's that passion inspires passion ... and quality is the key to a customer's heart," Friedman said. "We will push boundaries, be authentic to our own unique point of view, never tire and refuse to act our age. Because we, like the Stones, can't get no satisfaction."
Americasmart Medal of Excellence Honor
The Williamsburg Brand of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Williamsburg for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation was the first company ever to license a product - going all the way back to 1930.
"The heritage of Colonial Williamsburg and design categories has been explored over the years - from furniture, to lighting fixtures to lighting, rugs, accessories and house plans," said Tricia Foley, noted interior designer and author of Williamsburg Style. "Every aspect of licensing for the home has been done by Williamsburg and their influence is very wide and found in so many layers."
License royalties from the Williamsburg brand go to the nonprofit Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. "We like to say that with our products trends meet tradition," said Liza Gusler, product manager. "For 40 years, we were the premium purveyor of Williamsburg reproductions. About 20 years ago, we made a very good business decision to produce and license products that were interpretative or inspired by Colonial Williamsburg as opposed to being pure reproductions. It put new eyes on our designs and people were seeing our designs in a fresh way. It was also a way for us to extend the brand without cannibalizing."
Currently 40 companies are licensed with Williamsburg, with Friedman Brothers Mirrors holding it the longest, dating to 1938.
Calling Williamsburg lines "iconic," Foley said the living museum, co-founded by John D. Rockefeller, influences designers today and will continue to do so well into the future. "I know designers who would love to look at Williamsburg's collection of drawings and folk art," she said. "People talk about ‘Williamsburg blue.' Williamsburg is our American legacy and what they are doing today is as relevant as what they did 40 years ago and will be doing well into the future."
Lifetime Achievement Honor
J. Todd Figi
J. Todd Figi, patriarch of a gift industry family and the founder of Figi Giftware, is the recipient of the Icon 2011 Lifetime Achievement Honor by unanimous action of the Icon governors at their sole discretion and initiation.
The Honor affirms and celebrates Figi's life following his Jan. 9, 2011, death at 66. Figi first made his mark on the industry more than 40 years ago when he created namesake Figi Giftware, which quickly became one of the world's leading gift companies manufacturing everything from photo frames and wall décor to refrigerator magnets. Figi's 1969 startup with a line of candles sold from the back of a van - in part inspired by his life in a farm commune, where he made candles as a hobby - set his prodigious career in motion. In 1974, he moved to San Diego, and in a 1988 interview with the local paper, The Tribune, Figi said he went from "selling his wares at swap meets and fairs to going to gift shows wearing three-piece suits."
From those humble origins grew a company that would eventually employ more than 200 sales representatives and operate factories in the U.S., Mexico and China.
"Todd Figi and the gift industry are synonymous," noted George Kacic, vice president of Ganz, GHTA board chairman emeritus and an Icon Honors founding partner. "The company he created, the products he conceived and produced and the sales organization he built literally laid the foundation for the industry as we know it. Todd's mark on who we are is indelible and enduring."
Figi was chairman of the board of trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, president of the San Diego chapter of the Young Presidents' Organization and served as chairman of the California Gift Association. Figi was also active in many local and national charities, and was frequently recognized by the mayor of San Diego for his commitment to the city and its quality of life.
"Rarely do we encounter a creator, visionary leader, entrepreneur and brilliant salesman in a single presence," said Jeffrey L. Portman Sr., president and COO of Americasmart. "Todd Figi was that single essential professional, empowered with boundless energy and an unmistakable passion for life. His contagious fascination with all things new creates the legacy we celebrate."
Use of technology resources to promote products and services, reach customers and increase sales.
Independent retailers increasingly are looking to social media and e-mail as mainline marketing channels but may need assistance in using these tools to sell gift and home décor products.
"We wanted to make it a snap for independent retailers to use social and email marketing to get customers in the door and sell through the products they buy from vendors and sales agencies," said Snapretail chief executive officer Ted Teele. "Our mission is to use our industry knowledge, access to meaningful data and powerful strategic relationships to provide an easy way for local, independent retailers to market their products."
The Snapretail solution: TrafficBuilder, an affordable, easy-to-use digital marketing system that gives retailers the ability to create high-impact emails, Facebook or Twitter posts in minutes. Snapretail's content library, which boasts thousands of vendor product images and descriptions as well as almost 800 vendor-supplied marketing campaigns and 200 template designs, allows retailers to have ready-to-use marketing at their fingertips.
By May 2011, following its November 2010 launch, there were nearly 500 paying TrafficBuilder subscribers and more than 80 vendors. Retailers have sent more than 2.7 million emails through more than 4,000 individual campaigns with an average email open rate of more than 30 percent.
Brandwise, Lakewood, Colo.
Use of technology resources to sell product in conventional (in-store/in-showroom) and electronic environments.
In today's electronic world, getting connected is everyone's goal, but that's often easier said than done. So Brandwise created BWconnect, the only wholesale shopping platform that keeps the rep/retailer collaborative relationship intact, is completely transparent and honors the existing rep/supplier commission agreement.
"The benefits and convenience of incorporating online capabilities are undeniable for everyone involved," said Paul Bishop, vice president of marketing and communications. "We saw that it could lead to a major shift in the way business is done, affecting the rep/retailer model and the value of that relationship. We decided that it would be a strategic, forward-thinking investment in the health of the gift and home industry's future by Brandwise to develop an online hub where retailers, reps and suppliers could all converge to do business. It also ensured that the value of the reps' relationship with their retailers would be as relevant online as it is face-to-face."
The site was up and running in 2010, and the company has far exceeded its goal of signing 50 suppliers, 1,000 retailers and 250 reps from key agencies.
Ann Gish, New York
Brand-new (original, first-to-market) designs.
For more than 20 years, Ann Gish has made it her business to be a leading designer of luxurious contemporary washable silk bedding, decorative pillows and tabletops that define practical elegance.
But in the spring of 2010, the designer and her eponymously named Ann Gish Inc. went admittedly "outside my design box," and introduced digital print chiffon pillows.
"This was a complete departure for me," said the New York City-based Gish. "But they look great and modern - and are at a great price point. This certainly kept the boredom at bay!"
The five pillows - all in Hawaiian themes - are done digitally, which is a cost-effective way to use many colors in complicated patterns, she said. "Using digital on chiffon creates beautiful, evocative and either smeary or strict patterns. The benefits are cost, speed of replenishment and ability to do gazillions of different prints and colorations."
Welcome Home Brands
Brand-new (original, first-to-market) designs.
Specialty products manufacturer Welcome Home Brands' core business always has been about traditional gifts, tabletop, accessories, kitchenware and bakeware creations. But, by partnering with Japanese-based Temma Shiki, it became the first company to introduce an extensive and innovative line of oven-safe Paper Bakeware to the United States.
"Paper bakeware is an international trend because it saves time and adds fun and convenience to baking," said Rich Aslanian, co-founder and co-chief executive officer. "We saw this as an open niche."
The line is being introduced to the Container Store this summer and to more than 2,000 specialty retailers and national retailers this fall. The Paper Bakeware line is designed to provide the same quality as metal pans in a convenient, stylish and space-saving design. Another goal is to make it easier to give homemade baked goods as a gift because there is no need to ask for the pan back.
"Our challenge was to duplicate the functionality of metal pans while adding new convenience, style and versatility to home baking," said Sam Sheppard, co-founder and co-CEO. "But these are extremely convenient to use. Simply pour the batter into the paper mold and slip into the oven. It's oven safe to 400°F and also freezer safe."
Store development (new/expanded/redeveloped/repurposed) to strengthen business community.
Brothers Thompson and Beau Lange, trying to develop a prime location for Homescapes Carmel, ran into opposition from preservation groups. The tiff and ensuring publicity caused sales to drop 20 percent from 2006 to 2007 - with no help from the economy, of course.
But the brothers chose a different location, which ended up not only revitalizing their business but the neighborhood as well. And now the new Homescapes Carmel is bringing a fresh sense of excitement to the community as well as the store's bottom line.
The brothers took over the long-vacant 12,000-sq.-ft. Saks Fifth Avenue Men's Store in Carmel Place. With a very tight budget and short build-out time imposed by the lease, Homescapes Carmel re-imaged the dark, windowless store into a light-filled urban, deconstructed showroom. Built to LEED specification, Homescapes Carmel showed its commitment to sustainability in both its storefront and product lines.
"Sustaining a brand that promotes affordable, aspiration products without letting the credit crunch and cash-flow issues created by the recession show to the customers was hard enough," said Thompson Lange. "But to do it while essentially being out of business while building a new location in 2010 almost did us in mentally, physically and financially."
Homescapes Carmel opened in December 2010. The store features a design studio, a wine-tasting room (partnered with Scheid Vineyards), and a Book Corner (partnered with Assouline Publishing). The expansion allowed for hiring a visual merchandiser, two interior decorators and converting two part-time employees to full-time.
"The excitement is paying off in out bottom line," Thompson said. "In 2011, we project to reach 2006 levels of $1 million-plus gross, with an upward trajectory for the future."
Cause-related product promotions and sales benefiting organizations in need.
Couple a troubled economy with a store owner with a compassionate heart, and it can create problems. "We were on a daily basis being asked for contributions for local charities, and of course, we were always donating something," said Kim Glover, marketing director of clothing, home décor, outdoor and gift boutique A. Dodson's. "But we were often caught by surprise, and we were always reacting. We wanted a way to have more control over our contributions and make them even more meaningful."
A. Dodson's came up with Round Up, where customers are extended the invitation to "round up" their purchase to the nearest dollar. Each month three charities compete for "rounded-up" funds, with customers voting for those most in need via Facebook and Twitter. Charities have included the Suffolk Humane Society, the Lupus Foundation and Physicians for Peace.
The program gives the store control over its charity donations and solves the problem of having to turn down or accommodate every request that comes through the door. "We simply ask them if they'd like to be one of our three charities of the month," said Glover. Even charities that don't win are exposed to the store's 4,000-address email database and 1,700 Facebook followers. Average donations have been around $200 a month. The program has been so successful that A. Dodson's is now matching the monthly tally.
York, Pa. and Nairobi, Kenya
Development of cause-specific product benefiting institutions or organizations in need
Acacia Creations was established to provide income and training to help raise individuals and communities out of poverty in Kenya and Uganda. That's a pretty lofty goal, but for Nairobi, Kenya-based Acacia Creations, it wasn't enough. The company, whose U.S. headquarters is in York, Pa., created Barefoot Trade Bracelets, with the proceeds helping send Kenyan children to school.
Founded by Maura Kroh, Acacia Creations hires craftsmen in Uganda and Kenya to turn recycled magazines and glass into wearable pieces of art. Operating under fair-trade principles, a percentage of each sale goes directly to the employees, and with their wages, their earnings are five times the average in their country.
However, the company wanted to make a permanent impact and felt that could only be achieved by education. Thus, Barefoot Trade Bracelets were conceived. One dollar from each purchase pays for tuition, uniforms and books for a Kenyan child.
Launched in January 2010, Acacia hoped to sell 1,000 bracelets, which would help five children for several years. Instead, almost 8,000 have been sold providing an education for 20 children.
"Barefoot Trade Bracelets have shown that even small amounts - like $1 per bracelet - can add up for a big, far-reaching impact," said Kroh. "I sincerely believe that consumers are more willing to part with their money when they know it is making a difference. Make the decision to give back, and your customers will reward you. In the end, everybody wins."
Recognition of a single individual demonstrating distinguished achievement in an active career.
Todd Litzman clearly remembers the days of helping reps handwriting their orders. So he helped develop scanning. And he's been helping sales reps and companies in the gift and home industry every since.
For more than 14 years, Litzman has been driving technology innovations across the gift and home industry by listening to its needs and consistently creating and providing solutions and tools to help suppliers and sales reps sell more, increase efficiencies and enhance the retailer's buying experience.
Currently the president of Brandwise, Litzman has made a career in developing, installing and supporting computerized point of sale and inventory management systems. As founder and president of Showroom Solutions, Inc., he grew the company from a basement business in 1997 to the largest provider of B2B, sales force automation, CRM and data consulting to the wholesale gift and home furnishings segment. Showroom Solutions merged with Brandwise in 2005.
His company has continually added services and tools that help with each step in the sales channel - from the showroom floor to the road, from back office functions to executive business intelligence and online where the revolutionary BWconnect service allows retailers, reps and suppliers to converge and collaborate.
Litzman and his wife Jannetta are long-time supporters of Gift for Life and the Gift and Home Trade Association.
One of his colleagues said of him, "Todd is a man of his word and cares as much about all of our businesses as we do, which is pretty amazing considering the level his company has achieved. Change is very difficult for people, and I think one of Todd's greatest strengths would be putting people at ease and instilling in them the confidence to go forward with all the advantages that technology brings."
Stone Mountain, Ga.
Recognition of a single individual demonstrating distinguished achievement in an active career.
Marcia Miller started her company with six terra cotta figurines 25 years ago. Today, Mud Pie boasts sales of $60 million with more than 5,000 products sold in more than 14,000 stores, including Nordstrom, Dillard's and Hallmark Cards. Mud Pie is Macy's top-selling giftware line.
"When I started, failure was not an option; our backs were up against the wall financially," said Miller. "But I'm a risk taker, not a quitter, and we knocked on doors and had the right products."
Mud Pie's product line ranges from greeting cards to jewelry, picture frames, candles, desk accessories, clothes, tableware, collectibles and knick-knacks. About 30 percent of its product mix is general gifts; 35 percent baby gifts, 20 percent holiday and 15 percent fashion.
Miller intends to keep on going and growing and plans to reach $100 million in sales within five years. She recently sold a minority stake in the company to Boston-based Lineage Capital, which is helping fund future growth as well as offering business advice. "I want the second generation and key executives to play a larger role," she said. "I want to maintain the creative vision, and we'll see where it goes from there. I want to get more involved with a family foundation."
GHTA President's Honor of Excellence
In recognition of a company, or an individual, demonstrating the highest standards of excellence by making a significant contribution to the growth and health of the gift and home industry, as set forth in the GHTA Mission.
David Kiersznowski and his wife Demi founded Demdaco in 1997. The Leawood Missouri-based company offers a wide selection of gifts and collectables, and a vast array of seasonal items that were added when Demdaco acquired the Silvestri brand in 2007. In 2010, it merged with Big Sky Carvers, a Montana-based outdoor lifestyle company with a product line of more than 1,500 wood carvings and sculptures. The company has corporate showrooms in Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and Las Vegas and a distribution center in North Kansas, Mo.
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