Two weeks ago, the International Casual Furnishings Association( ICFA) announced its 2022 Apollo Award finalists—10 retailers that stand out for their excellence in the sales and marketing of outdoor furnishings.
The list looks strikingly familiar to last year’s list of finalists—and that’s because it essentially is.
In fact, in the single-store category, the only new finalist this year compared to last is Patio Productions.
What about the multi-store finalists? The list is almost exactlythe same as last year with the exception of Sunnyland Outdoor Furniture, Patio Place at Ski Haus, and Elegant Outdoor Living.
This isn’t new—a quick look at the past few years’ finalists shows it’s mostly the same 10-15 stores as finalists for several years now—so what’s happening here?
Let’s be clear, this is no fault of the ICFA or its members. The finalists are chosen by ICFA members, but any store can be nominated—whether it’s an ICFA member or not.
The problem seems to be the lack of successful stores to choose from. This says something more about the entire casual industry in general. As we know, casual specialty retail is shrinking, and if innovation is lacking with the few retailers left, it makes sense that the finalists would be similar each year.
There’s a reason ICFA members voted for these retailers—they really do excel at selling casual furnishings. But think of how many other outdoor retailers there are in the U.S. There may not be hundreds, but the ICFA has over 130 retailer members, and that’s certainly not every store in the country.
So let’s bring the total up to 350 casual specialty retailers— why are the same five retailers the only ones deserving of the award for years in a row?
To me, that signals an issue in the industry. If the same five retailers keep being nominated, are they going to be the only ones who survive and thrive over the next 10 years? Are other stores giving up and not putting as much into their business strategy as others?
I personally don’t think so. What appears to be happening is that other retailers aren’t making themselves known well enough in the industry to be considered for nomination. Retailers need to do a better job of marketing themselves within the industry. Show the industry what you’ve got! (Here at Casual News Now, we’d love to help you share your story with the industry.)
There also seems to be an important award missing from the gala—full-line retailers. We know how many full-line retailers have gotten into the category over the last few years, so why not include them as part of the industry?
We know they sell large amounts of outdoor—sometimes even more than casual retailers— and from what I’ve heard from others in the industry, many aren’t worried about competition with the full-line guys. So if they’re part of the casual family as well, we should recognize them as such.
Some in our industry have called the ICFA awards gala the “patio prom,” but there’s a serious advantage to winning a prestigious industry award: Recognition.
Even just being listed as a nominee brings attention to your brand and can bring in new business opportunities. Winning an award opens doors to new business and new contacts, and employees get a sense of satisfaction from it, so staff morale and motivation might improve.
Obviously, the goal for many retailers is to sell to the end consumers, but if you make yourself known within the industry, there are so many more opportunities available, and the Apollo Award is just one award of many.
Casual retailers should also put themselves out there more within the industry to connect with other retailers, share business strategies and get tips from them on what’s working and what’s not. Learn about how they educate their salespeople, how they merchandise their spaces and what they do to stand out.
The casual industry is like one big family, so don’t be afraid to jump in and be a part of it. The industry can and should look to the Apollo finalists as mentors, but they should also strive to receive prestigious awards that recognize their hard work.
And wouldn’t it be fun for everyone to see others are succeeding as well?