The 2009 Accessories Resource Team (ART) Conference provided attendees with plenty of inspiration to “Rejuvenate, Reinvent and Recreate,” this year’s theme.
The annual conference took place May 28-31 at the Naples Grande Resort & Club in Naples, FL — a shift from the event’s traditional August date due to scheduling conflicts with other industry events. The 58 attendees, down from the usual 100 to 120, were treated to a whirlwind weekend of competition and camaraderie, with team-building challenges a la “Survivor” keeping attendees motivated, and a special focus on the retail side of the business, including the much-buzzed-about store makeover exercise.
The conference is a great place to see the uniqueness of ART in play: The organization’s ability to bring together all the different sectors of the industry, from merchandisers to sales associates to manufacturers, says Colleen Visage, President of ART and Director of Product Development for Progress Lighting. “Once you attend one of these conferences or events, you truly get it. That’s really what it’s about – the synergy between the product all the way up to the sale,” she says.
Attendees were broken up into three groups from the start to encourage a sense of immediate bonding among the largely “Type A” personalities. “It’s an intensely creative group,” says Visage. “It’s really these relationships that you get that you are able to nurture and leverage. It’s definitely a career enhancer.”
On the weekend’s agenda were plenty of feel-good competitions, such as the song skits challenge (pictured here) in which the groups had to write lyrics to the tunes of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch” incorporating the conference themes.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. The conference offered several thought-provoking and timely educational sessions, including “Best Practices & Surviving in a Slow Economy” and “Retail Makeover — Store Design and Product Placement” presented by Barbara Crowhurst, “Rebuilding your Personal and Professional Growth Motivation” by Joyce Rennolds. In addition, attendees participated in ART’s first category roundtable discussions, in which retailers, manufacturers and industry professionals had the chance to discuss challenges and share insights with their peers.>/p>
“I thought it was really quite an exceptional experience for someone who was in the retail business because the focus from the presenters was on becoming better in terms of your whole business operation and even to just rebuilding yourself personally. It was incredible,” says attendee Jack D. Fleischer, President of Hermitage Lighting Gallery.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the conference was the store makeover challenge, in which the three teams were tasked with both creating a new marketing campaign for one of three local retail stores — Peachtree Designs, Garden District Naples and BJ Kileys — and re-merchandising the stores. John Zylstra, co-owner of BJ Kileys for the home, one of the three stores that received the merchandising and marketing “makeover”, says he learned a lot from his peers. “My reason for participating is that we can all benefit from new ideas and new concepts. None of us know everything,” Zylstra says. “The experience was energizing and fun. It gave me a chance to look at things with a fresh perspective.”
And that’s precisely the point, says ART Executive Director Sharon Davis. “There’s a lot of Alpha personalities in that group who are used to doing it their way. What I think we got out of it is a different perspective,” she says. “What I think we got out of it is a different perspective. Truthfully [the exercise] does teach the very basic rule of learning to work together. You learn to work with people that maybe in a million years you might not have worked with before.”
For Fleischer, who participated in the marketing half, the store makeover exercise was an opportunity to merge theory and practice. “It really was a hands on experience. It takes the practical presentation and helps reinforce through hands-on work,” he says. “That’s something that you just don’t get at other conferences.”