Walker Edison has had a busy 2020, even leaving the COVID-19 pandemic aside, including naming Joana McKenna its president, and she told HomeWorld Business that the company has set the stage for bigger, better things in 2021.
Already, Walker Edison was one of the fastest growing major ready-to-assemble furniture producers in the United States. In August, Inc. magazine ranked Walker Edison as Number 1003 on its annual 5000 list, which includes the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.
With all it has had going on in the U.S., where it has been building facilities, staff and capabilities, Walker Edison was expanding a European business the company launched not too long ago.
Appointed Walker Edison president in June, and joining an executive suite with founders Brad Bonham, CEO, and Matt Davis, COO, McKenna brought a raft of experience to the president’s position having been vp/growth at Walmart, where she led marketplace business growth strategy, fueled development for that company’s e-commerce front and spearheaded a variety of other initiatives. Prior, McKenna held senior positions at Amazon and Johnson & Johnson. As such, she was well suited to working with Bonham and Davis in building on the strong momentum already established by Walker Edison, particularly as to development of private label programs, direct-to-consumer operations and the European initiative.
Of course, and despite the problems the COVID-19 pandemic caused trade shows, Walker Edison continued to introduce new products throughout 2020 across multiple segments including home office, entryway, sideboard, electric fireplace and drink service.
An important factor in coping with the 2020 market, McKenna said, was Walker Edison’s enhanced ability to compile, analyze and act on data, a central focus for the company through 2020. The approach supported the myriad initiatives and actions the company took throughout the year. Early in 2020, Walker Edison looked at the year ahead and identified opportunity, McKenna said.
“We’re an extremely data driven company,” she said. “We look at data from every aspect, whether we’re leveraging competitive intelligence looking at SKU performance or looking at market trends and global trends, we use data to leverage and understand everything from demand forecasting to allocation of inventory. Data is in everything we do and every conversation we have includes data. Because of that, we were able to position ourselves really well at the beginning of the year when COVID struck and a lot of suppliers were cancelling orders because they were concerned and didn’t know what was going to happen with COVID. We read the trends differently and put ourselves in a strong inventory position. I think that, coupled with hiring really great people— we’re investing heavily into all our teams from product design to supply chain— has allowed us to prepare for a strong FY21.”
Over the course of 2020, Walker Edison has continued expanding its capacities after moving to a new headquarters in West Jordan, UT in 2019. As the year approached its end, the company announced that it had made customer service its own department and named Olivia Frere director of customer service. She had worked in customer service for a decade, including as key account manager. But that was only one of several changes Walker Edison instituted. The company appointed Erika Henderson, former JLA director of design and Pottery Barn Teen product development director, head of design development, and Sharat Alankar, former Walmart head of marketplace growth strategy and operations, vp/strategy and analytics, a newly created role. Joshua Bradley, former Amer Sports Corp. businesses controller, has filled another new position as general manager/retail operations.
In a move to boost its human potential, Walker Edison held its first-ever Women of Walker Edison Leadership Summit on October 28.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on organizational design and talent architecture,” McKenna said, “understanding what our people do, what are their strengths, where are opportunities for improvement, making sure as we think about scaling each of our departments and organizations overall that we’re tapping internal talent, setting people up for success in their careers. We’ve realigned teams to make sure we’re using our people to the best of their abilities, giving them room for career growth. We’ve invested in business intelligence, advanced analytics and data architecture teams, which allows us to quickly scale and meet the demands for our business, leveraging more data whether it’s from third-parties or partner data.”
Even as it enhanced human resources, Walker Edison was building out the physical plant, completing a 20,000 square foot photo and video studio in its West Jordan corporate headquarters. It also debuted a new logo in 2020 to emphasize its “Live Outside the Box” brand message.
“We built a new headquarters here in the Salt Lake area,” McKenna said. “which includes a 20,000 square foot photo studio. I can’t say enough about the incredible work created by our merchandising team, photographers, photo editors and 3D renderers. We really provide an end-to end-service, so when we launch a new product, we’ve created all merchandising in house from the listing creation, content and SEO optimization. All the listings we create, product images and videos, all have been customized to create a curated experience across different platforms. It’s really an out-of-the-box solution. It cuts down on lead time and also gives us more control over the content and the end user experience.”
Although advancing its ability to use data in improving performance is critical to the company, Walker Edison’s investments in employees have been vitally important for growth, McKenna stated.
“We spent a lot of time this year investing in our people and their health and wellbeing,” McKenna said. “If I learned anything in my career it’s that if you invest wisely in your people, their production level will go up, and we are seeing those results through the investments we have made to significantly improve employee benefits, which has resulted in an upward trajectory of revenue and employee morale. I think all of that sets us up for great success as we head into FY21.”
Walker Edison has recently developed a customer experience team that will work with retailers to provide creative online merchandise and with the goal of consistently providing content that will resonate with the end users.
“A few months back we were able to hire a new head of product development and design, Erika Henderson, who has over 20 years of design experience in the home furniture space,” McKenna said. “She is spearheading the growth of our core catalog, and we are making big investment in her team, such as hiring additional designers, merchandisers, and then leveraging data on top of the creative ability of our designers. Additionally, we have migrated to designing on a five-season calendar, which means we are constantly in a design season. Right now we’re reviewing FY21 holiday, and we will continue to make investments into our product design teams as we monitor and respond to market trends.”
As Walker Edison analyzes data points, such as sales and market trends, it is ultimately focused on how consumers are shopping through the months of the year.
“I think we are well prepared from a product perspective for existing and new product launches as we head into FY21 and have spent an enormous amount of time aligning our product development with the consumer journey to make sure we’re going to meet the demand,” she said.
Counting on Innovation
Although some companies are approaching 2021 with the same kind of caution they did 2020, focusing on sure things and best sellers, McKenna said Walker Edison, with all the company has done and its digital commerce focus, is in a position where innovation should bring it success in the year ahead, with only one potential challenge darkening prospects around 2021’s end.
“E-commerce spend has been accelerated,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to revert. I think people are still going to love to go to the mall and walk around and do some shopping, but it is absolutely a time for innovation from a product, sourcing and procurement perspective. I think the biggest struggle we’ll see, and we’ve seen it this year and will continue to experience it into next year, is going to be carrier capacity restraints from a fulfillment standpoint. What are FedEx, UPS, USPS, DHL going to do to absorb the massive influx of online orders? I think if we can help solve for last mile, then carriers are going to be able to fulfill more consumers orders and support the accelerated growth of e-commerce. In the meanwhile, we are going to be cognizant of demand signals and make sure we are strategically allocating inventory through partner channels where we see the consumer demand accelerating.”
To an increasing extent, Walker Edison is looking at the entire supply chain with an eye to final fulfillment and consumer satisfaction.
“For us, end-to-end supply chain is one bucket,” McKenna said. “How do we think about sourcing? How do we diversify manufacturing so that we can close the loop in terms of time to delivery? Do we continue to source from China? Do we bring sourcing to South America or North America to bring it closer to the consumer in the U.S.?”
Bricks and mortar retailers will play a critical role in the development of the digital-commerce driven market to the extent they can effectively make their stores fulfillment centers, whether the product is going to the consumer or the consumer is coming to pick up the product. Walker Edison is preparing to effectively participate in a future where those factors are even more intensely in play.
“The interesting thing about last mile is where grocers or a Walmart has great opportunity,” McKenna said. “It’s kind of complicated but they can get there. How do you turn your store into a fulfillment center, and how do you carry the right mix of product? We’re already working on identifying what are our best-selling SKUs by region down to the county, city, town and zip code. How do you implement what we call a dark fulfillment center? Which means holding inventory close to where the end consumer is and leveraging advanced demand forecasting to know how much volume you will ship by week or by month. Then you work with true last-mile partners to deliver to the end consumer, thus cutting out your dependency on already constrained major carrier partners. I think that’s the future.”
The post has been updated.