ICFA executive director responds to CNN Apollo Awards column

An editorial by Alex Milstein, recently published in response to our announcement of the 2022 Apollo Awards nominees, suggested the list of finalists is essentially the same every year. He claimed this is because “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.”

Since 1959, these nominations have been a source of pride and accomplishment for those recognized. In a fair and balanced news story, or “Retail Intelligence for the Casual Furnishings Industry,” as Casual News Now brands itself, fact-checking, a complete understanding of the criteria for nominations and interviews with board members involved in the process would have been expected.

Milstein’s approximation of 350 casual specialty retailers is invalidated by IBISWorld, a global business analytics firm, reporting 20,771 outdoor furniture businesses in the U.S. as of 2022. There has been an increase of 2.2% over 2021 and consistent growth since 2017, disputing the assertion that our industry is shrinking.

A 60+-year review of the nominees of the Apollo Awards disproves the allegation that the same five companies have been nominated in subsequent years. Some retailers have been nominated several times and won more than once. Winners rarely lower their standards, consistently striving to improve.

Meryl Streep didn’t win her record 21 Oscar nominations by turning in the same performance each time. Conversely, the retailers that aren’t nominated aren’t “giving up and not putting as much into their business strategy as others,” as Milstein opined. They have very stiff competition!

The bar for nomination has always been high, making the Apollo Award extremely difficult to win and a tremendous honor for the stores that achieve it. The criteria are not limited to innovation as implied in the editorial but include an assessment of performance in several key areas.

Finalists must demonstrate outstanding accomplishments, plus active partnership with manufacturers and suppliers while maintaining an excellent credit rating with all resources. The finalist is recognized as an exceptional dealer of a wide variety of quality products in their trading area and a role model for others within the industry, as well as characterized by superior customer service plus innovative marketing and merchandising strategies.

Eli Hymer, ICFA Board Member, Chair of the Retail Council, and Department Manager/Buyer/Designer for 2022 nominee Gasper Home & Garden Showplace in Richboro, PA, shared a common ICFA membership reaction to the editorial. “For the 40 years I’ve been in this industry, the Apollo Awards have been the epitome of excellence, distinguishing successful retailers who did everything right. It’s a goal to which we all aspire. We’ve won twice, and the contention that the same people are nominated every year because there are so few good enough to win cheapens the award, damages our industry’s unity and devalues our organization’s integrity.”

“Our nomination delights everyone back at the store,” said Jessica Salisbury, ICFA Executive Committee Member, CEO, and Creative Director for Village Green Home and Garden, Rockford, IL, also nominated in the Single-Store Category. “It’s a huge deal for the team, an incomparable morale builder, and we all feel incredibly humbled to be recognized. It’s a nod to our work ethic, talent, passion, and pride in our business. We display the beautiful award in a prominent place in our store, and it compels many complimentary conversations with our customers. We work even harder the next year to prove our worth when we are nominated.”

On Wednesday evening, the casual furnishings industry is gathering at Navy Pier for the ICFA Awards Gala where two outstanding retailers will be celebrated with the 63rd annual Apollo Award. ICFA takes tremendous pride in recognizing retail excellence!

Jackie Hirschhaut is executive director of the ICFA.

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