|The Road Not Taken
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Reflections of an Elder Tribesman
As one of the "original originals" in the futon business, I can report that the New Orleans Futon Expo was a small milestone for our little tribe. In the fifteen year history of this wandering event, it was the first time our nomadic group returned to a host city. For us old-timers, even those who don't usually ramble on about the old days, it seemed necessary to make comparisons.
Back in 1989, the Futon Conference was already a "big" event. Two full days of seminars and speeches and lunches and dinners at a fancy hotel, the New Orleans Intercontinental. And, to cap it all off, the futon trade show. Spread among six or seven meeting rooms, it boasted over twenty exhibitors. This futon thing was becoming a big business!
Fast-forward to 1998. For those of you who missed it, this year's Futon Expo was a little quiet, but it was still hu-u-u-u-ge compared to 1989: about a hundred exhibitors, and held in a convention center. It's been some time since the futon show was held in a hotel.
To me, as I compare the two events, it's amazing to consider the people. Many of the futon folks I knew back then are still in the business today, maybe in a different or re-named company, but still around.
Bob Fireman, for instance, was spearheading a fast-growing company called From The Source. The company is gone, but Bob is around. He's still in the business as a futon manufacturer, importer, and retailer.
Nikita and Joanne Grigoriev had a company called Simple Design ten years ago. Shortly after that long-ago New Orleans show, they sold their best selling design to From The Source and laid low for a while. Their present-day company is called Nikea, and they manufacture futon frames in Richfield Springs, New York.
Tilt Chair was a prominent exhibitor back then, another company which is no longer around. But the partners, Dave Chadbourn and Pete Dodge, are still with us in the futon business. Dave owns futon frame maker Welcome Home with wife Kathy, while Pete owns Dodge Associates, a design and consulting firm. National Woodcraft and Lofa Sofa exhibited together in 1989. Years later, they were at opposite ends of the building, but both are still active. That's Jerry Goldman of Tri-Gold and Mitch Wapen of Lofa Sales, their newer and better futon companies.
I recall that Burlington Futon had a small space at the end of the room in 1989, trying to interest futoneers in densified polyester batting. At that time, most futon stores made their own futons in the back room. Most didn't like the idea of putting synthetic materials like polyester or foam into their natural cotton product. Mark Binkhorst was ahead of his time. He later decided to focus on making futon covers, and today Burlington Futon is one of the best in the business.
There are others I remember from that event who still bum around in the futon business: John Buster (Bedworks),Ron Massey (Horndove), Irma McInnis (Dream Designs), Nancy Taylor (Dream On), and Dave Garretson (that's me!). There are more.
The President of the Futon Association that year was an energetic woman, Robin Reid of Omni Softgoods, who painted us a picture of the futon industry's bright future. It was true for many of us, and Robin herself continues to be a strong force in our growing business. But it would be a different outcome for the six industry leaders who served with her on the Board of Directors. None of them are in the futon business today.
It was a similar story for dozens of our tribes people, the bright-eyed pioneers, manufacturers and futon shop keepers, who got this business going in the 1980's. What happened to them? Most had trouble adapting as the futon business became bigger. Back then, the typical futon retailer was a little shop in the trendy part of town, decorated with kimono robes and shoji screens. Very few of those shops exist any more.
One by one, they were afflicted by bad luck, bad health, bad judgment, bad partners, bad marriages. Some were distracted by new romances, new babies, new interests, new opportunities. One way or another they moved on, and so did the futon business, without one another.
Now that our tribe has become wise to the ways of High Point and mass merchants, we realize how very small our futon world used to be. Ten years ago, we thought our futon business was becoming an industry. To our surprise, we grew up to be a residential furniture segment.
You may run into little clusters of us at trade events. If you happen to catch us telling stories about the "old" days, you don't have to avoid us. The moment passes quickly. We may touch on the past but our futon tribe is planted firmly in the present. That's why we're still around.