1 great idea from the Furniture First Symposium

Most retailers are missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of CARES Act-related tax credits. Jamie Winter of Furniture Mall of Kansas uncomplicates the process of what companies need to do to get them

ORLANDO, Fla. — After a three-year hiatus from what had been an annual get-together, members of the Furniture First buying group showed just how eager they were to work —and network — during their three-day Symposium 2022 here.

The May 23-25 event at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionshipGate drew nearly 330 people, including leaders from more than 100 of the group’s retailer member companies as well as many of its supplier partners. The latter included some 63 vendors, who sponsored various portions of the Symposium (sponsorship slots sold out in less than a two-hour window, says Furniture First’s Darby Hawkins). Throughout the event, attendees picked up all sorts of tips and tools to prosper in these new, tougher times of inventory backlogs and softening demand. 

Jamie Winter

More on that to come next week, but we’ll start here with one great idea that rose above them all from member Furniture Mall of Kansas, voted winner of the group’s Best Idea contest. Furniture Mall Co-owner Jamie Winter teased his pitch before voting began with the simple title, “Call Angelique,” before getting down to the brass tacks. But once he did elaborate, it was easy to understand why the Topeka-based company walked away with the $1,800 in prize money ponied-up by fellow group members.

Most of the retailers in the room stand to gain much more — hundreds of thousands of dollars more — with that one simple phone call to Angelique

Winter started by asking everyone at the dinner to raise their hands if they received a first round PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan, part of the federal government’s economic relief, aimed at keeping retailers and other businesses and their employees afloat during the early phases of the pandemic. A room full of hands shot up.

What about PPP No. 2? he asked as hands went up again

“ERC for 2020 and 2021?” 

That’s the Employee Retention Credit that came out with the CARES Act, a refundable payroll tax credit that Winter said most people don’t know about, and indeed, just a few hands went up when he asked who in the room had taken advantage of ERC.

Collecting on it is a complex process so the response was understandable, but Winter’s brief presentation was all about removing the complexity by showing how industry players can place the burden of the work involved in collecting on an expert.

There are three ways to qualify for ERC, he said:

Businesses that have a significant sales reduction could qualify (but that could be a tricky proposition, considering that the sales hit stores took during the pandemic was pretty short-lived).

Businesses that were significantly affected by Covid orders, such as governments mandating closings or reduced hours, can qualify (again, tricky).

And lastly, businesses affected due to any vendors affected by Covid-related government orders. This third option is where the money resides, according to Winter.  

“Who in the room does not qualify?” he asked the crowd rhetorically. “Everybody in  here was affected by some vendors, by extended lead times, extended prices during this Covid period. So pretty much everybody in the room qualifies.”

And the potential payout? 

Winter said a company can get a maximum payroll tax credit of $5,000 per employee for 2020. And for 2021, it’s $21,000 per employee. He used a 25-employee company as an example, noting how, with a little work, this could potentially mean a $650,000 tax credit for that business.

Furniture Mall has two separate corporate identities, one for its Kansas operation and one in Austin, Texas, where it has partnered with the owners of Austin’s Couch Potatoes on Furniture Mall of Texas. For Kansas, the company received ERC of 1.5 times the value of its PPP No. 1 loan. He didn’t share the actual numbers, but said it represented a “significant impact to our financial situation.”

And in Texas, where the newer store has been adding a lot of employees, the payout was three times the combined PPP 1 and PPP 2, “a complete game changer,” he said.

But here’s the thing: It’s “crazy complicated” to figure out on your own, he said. The CARES legislation is 800 pages long, and it has been significantly updated four times. Winter is a tech-savvy, details-oriented guy. He spent a lot more time researching ERC — trying to wrap his mind around it — than the average retailer. By the end, he was pretty confident Furniture Mall qualified; he just couldn’t figure out how to prove it or even where to fill out a form to get it.

He even contacted a handful of accountants. They all said the retailer probably qualified, but, apparently, ERC was too complicated for them, too, because they wouldn’t touch it. 

Enter Angelique. Over the course of his research, Winter said he found several companies across that country that specialize in this — helping retailers and others get the ERC they’ve got coming to them. The best part is they’ll do all the work for the retailers. They’ll want a list of vendors, of course, and they’ll want to know where the goods are produced. But beyond that, “They will do the research … and they’ll get you qualified,” he said.

“It’s a pretty simple process but you pretty much have to have an expert do it,” he told the dinner crowd.

Which gets us back to why he flashed that stage screen with “Call Angelique” at the start of his presentation. Angelique Garcia works with corporate tax consulting company Warner-Robinson, which Furniture Mall has used previously on various projects. Most of these specialists charge 25% of whatever credit the client gets back. But with Angelique and Warner-Robinson, Winter pre-negotiated a discounted rate of 15% when someone from the furniture industry calls and mentions Jamie Winter — and that’s whether or not they are members of Furniture First. And if they don’t quality, there’s no charge, Winter added.

It could mean hundreds of thousands in the bank, if not more, for even the smartest retailers who can’t quite figure it out on their own. All they have to do is call. And with that, here’s the last page of his presentation:

Clint Engel

Clint Engel is a veteran home furnishings industry journalist and executive editor of Home News Now. Please share your feedback with him at clint@homenewsnow.com

View all posts by Clint Engel →

One thought on “1 great idea from the Furniture First Symposium

  1. Thank you for this article, Clint. Incredible information for retailers all across the country.
    Again, thanks for sharing – keep up the good work!

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