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Archive for the ‘school industry’ Category

By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group

As a manufacturer in the school furniture market, the NSSEA School Equipment Show is our biggest show each year.  We talk all year about what our plans are and what we are hoping to get out of it.  We have had a good show this year.

I think most people who are here would agree that the show seems to be smaller than last year’s show. It felt like the traffic in the aisles was way down, and the booth “footprint” felt smaller.  If you came here hoping to set up your booth and draw in new prospects, this had to have been a disappointing year.  None of that, of course, is not a good thing.  However, as a manufacturer of furniture that is too big and heavy to drag around the country showing off to your dealer-partners, we use this week to show new ideas and products while training new dealer sales people.  And this year was a bonus for us since we recently added two new sales team members, so they got to meet many of their key contacts this week.

Our top 30 dealers account for over 90 percent of our sales and most of them were here this year.  If you wandered by our booth you saw a very busy place most of the first two days.  Relationships were renewed or created, there was some “surprise and delight” new product ideas, and generally we had a great week.

One more thing that I found interesting was the number of people in the show hall “before hours.”  I don’t remember seeing so many groups taking advantage of that time for dedicated group meetings in their booths before.  And while there is some extra cost involved, it is a great way to have uninterrupted quality time with bigger groups of customers.

Hope you were in Phoenix this year, too, and that you had a great week, too!

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By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group

We are beginning to do the last-minute, mad-dash preparations for this year’s NSSEA School Equipment Show in Phoenix.  The planning for this event actually began for us the month after last year’s show.  We met with our whole sales team and talked through the 2009 show in terms of what we thought went well, what products showed well, and what we thought we should do differently the following year.

At that time we decided to commit to the same amount of floor space as we have for the past several years, and made some early decisions as to what we might want to show again in 2010 and what kinds of new products we might want to highlight.  Then we set that whole planning process aside for a few months.

In midsummer, we pulled out those early plans, dusted them off and started laying out our prospective booth and placing furniture in it.  In early September, I thought we were solid with the furniture we would show.  Then, when our sales team met later in September, we made some changes to show some new and different products.  The plan actually changed quite a bit!

The result is that this year, in addition to showing some old standby products that will have a “freshened” look, we will be showing several products we have never shown before.  We will even show a product category that we have been building for a few schools that people would not normally associate with Fleetwood Group furniture.

And that is part of the fun of this show!  Since over 30 percent of what we build each year falls into the category of “specials”, we are always creating ways to meet unique needs of our customers, so we always have something new to show.  All the manufacturers will be doing the same kinds of things, trying to show what they are capable of, and what kinds of creative solutions they have brought to market or are about to.  And, of course, relationships are renewed with old industry friends, and new ones are forged… a dynamic that is more important in this business than in any other I have been a part of.

Rumor has it that a number of manufacturers are sitting out the show this year, and many dealers are attending with fewer of their team members.  We are hopeful that people will rally around this show and make it a worthwhile event for all.  The event needs a certain critical mass to be viable, and even in tough times an event like this one is a kind of crossroads where commerce is centered, and being there is important in and of itself.  Like so many other things in life, this show is probably a “use it or lose it” event.  Let’s support it!

See you in Phoenix!

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By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group, Inc.

Just following up on last month’s blog, here is a perspective on what is going on from the little slice of the industry we see here at Fleetwood: June orders were off substantially while we just finished a record quarter of shipments. Early July has shown an uptick in orders and order potential, but it has been spotty. It looks like we may have a significant step backwards in this year’s furniture sales. Schools are still trying to figure out where the money they need to operate is coming from. Will they be getting any “Obama-bucks”, or not? Will their state step up and fund their needs, or are they going to have to make drastic cuts? The uncertainty appears to be putting a damper on orders.

Here in Michigan the state just approved making $100/student cuts to funding education, so some schools (like Grand Rapids Public Schools) have mailed out lay-off notices to many teachers. And they are warning that there may be more lay-offs forthcoming if the state decides to trim further. Some states have approved budgets and spending and we are beginning to see orders from them, while others are still awaiting news on funding.

The effect on us is that we have to cut back on hours worked in our plant, and people have to cut back on their personal spending, both of which will reduce tax revenues for the state, which will make the issue worse. The picture isn’t bleak, but it certainly has gotten darker.

People in sales (like me) tend to be overly optimistic, and that can blur our judgment about what’s really going on. Still, while the very short term is going to be down, I am optimistic that we will get through this economic “malaise”. The question now is will that be sooner or later? From our education-supply corner of the world, let’s keep it positive and work harder than ever to support our school customers and position ourselves to come back strong when the opportunity presents itself.

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