podcast | Aug 7, 2023 |
Alex Shuford of Rock House Farm predicts ‘a smooth landing’ for suppliers this fall

The last time Alex Shuford was on The Business of Home Podcast in 2021, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times: The industry was riding high on the home boom while grappling with supply chain issues and out-of-control lead times. Shuford, the CEO of Rock House Farm—the family of eight furniture brands, which includes Century, Hickory Chair and Highland House—compared his company’s struggles to those of a trendy restaurant on Saturday night. There was a long line of starving customers waiting to get in, but the wait kept getting longer, even for those at the front of the line.

Now, the situation is reversed: Lead times are far better, but demand has cooled. Despite the lull, Shuford is optimistic that the fall—and High Point Market in October—will bring a new wave of demand to work through this inventory glut. “The best way to begin to wash that bad taste out of the mouths of our customers is with some new and exciting product,” he says. “That will make a difference in my business in 2024. In 2021 and early 2022, if you had furniture, you could sell it and make money. Now, it’s: Do you have the right furniture?”

On this episode of the The Business of Home Podcast, Shuford surveys the state of the home industry, speaking with host Dennis Scully about the shifting power balance between retailers and designers, leadership lessons from the pandemic, and why, despite short-term turbulence, the future is bright.

Crucial insight: The fact that designers, not retailers, dominate the crowd at High Point Market points to a power shift. “The vertically integrated retailers like RH have not just carved a niche out, but they became apex predators on that landscape, and we’re seeing the classic retailers grappling with this generational shift of ownership questions,” says Shuford. This shift in the ecology of the industry is pushing him to focus on building a bridge to designers but without alienating other customers. “With the rapid pace of transparency evolution in the industry, I think in three to five years you have to be there—because if you’re not, you’re going to be evolved out of the distribution network. … If you’re a great furniture store, you better also have a designer that can provide the service one to one at the home of the consumer.”

Key quote: “I’ve had this question recently from a couple of interior designers who are afraid [that AI] is going to undermine their value. If your value is rendering rooms, then you probably should be nervous. But if you’re a designer who has built their practice on in-person interaction—being at the job site, being a counselor to the couple and being a designer for the room—I think you have a very bright future.”

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode was sponsored by Loloi Rugs and Thibaut.

The Thursday Show

Meanwhile, on the latest episode of The Thursday Show, Scully and BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus dissect the most recent news in the design industry, including lights out for incandescent bulbs, the collapse of a major trucking business, and a look at what’s going on with Florida real estate. Later, New York Times real estate reporter Ronda Kaysen discusses the rise of modern farmhouse style.

Listen below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode is sponsored by Four Hands.

Homepage image: Alex Shuford | Courtesy of Rock House Farm

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