Decor News Now recently caught up with David Koehler, the new president of Amini Innovation Corp., just a few weeks after he assumed the role at the company, based in Pico Rivera, California. We talked about Koehler’s priorities for AICO, how the company is evolving — and what buyers can expect from the style-setting global home furnishings source in the year ahead.
(We also asked him what AICO products are among his favorites. Although he says he loves “them all because they all have their own flavor and distinctive appeal,” he picked a few he thinks are current standouts.)
The job is new to Koehler but neither the industry nor the company are. Koehler is a 28-year furniture industry veteran who has been with AICO for 12 years, serving first as vice president of sales and, most recently, as executive vice president. He’s also held executive and sales roles for Theodore Alexander, Maitland-Smith and Sherrill Furniture.
One of Koehler’s overarching goals: “We want to be viewed as an arbiter of the most innovative designs in the world — a company that goes beyond expectations and delivers a value equation that’s second to none.”
Read on for more from our conversation.
Decor News Now: What are some of your initial priorities as you take on this new role?
David Koehler: “I think it’s important when you come into a role like this to listen first — to meet with and listen to the various teams within our organization. I think I need to take a deep dive and learn what is going well with each team and what needs improvement and change, so we build on our strengths. Then (we can) review our goals and strategies and plan with our respective teams. I’ve been here 12 years, but I think it’s important to look at the company with fresh eyes.
“I also believe it’s important to build a very healthy culture — a culture that has a foundation of working together, that eliminates frictions, that is constantly trying to improve and, really, a culture that goes beyond expectations and does ‘one more thing’ as Steve Jobs would say during his announcements. We need to do that ‘one more thing’ for our customers.
“We’re also investing in things that drive revenue, including investing in our digital transformation in terms of our digital sales strategies and social media platforms. We grew our following on Instagram by a pretty significant amount last year, but we’ve got to continue to do those things to invest in and build our brand.”
DNN: You replaced Martin Ploy, who had been part of AICO’s executive leadership team for 20 years before retiring in November. How might you approach the role of AICO president differently?
Koehler: “Martin is an iconic leader in our industry, and he has had a gigantic impact on my career. I consider him to be one of my biggest mentors, and I’ve learned an enormous amount working closely with him over the last 12 years. Our offices were literally right across from one another, and I would go into his office every single morning to discuss a host of issues. So, I learned from one of the best for sure. However, we all have our own styles, and we need to be who we are and lead with authenticity.
“… I think it’s important to communicate expectations and establish a leadership style as president. My style is one that brings energy and seeks to inspire and energize our teams to have a competitive edge, focused on execution and getting results. I also want to be very authentic and candid with everyone.”
DNN: What changes can buyers expect from AICO in the next year or two?
Koehler: “We will bring new, cutting-edge merchandise to our buyers and customers this year. At High Point in October 2022, we came out with a very large launch of new products — 20 new upholstery groups and two new case goods collections. We’re going to follow that up with a very, very large launch in April in High Point. And then, in the July Las Vegas and October High Point markets, our plan is to introduce a new lifestyle category for us that will feature multiple collections. It really is a new approach and new interpretation to the modern casual lifestyle for us.”
DNN: In announcing your promotion, Michael Amini, chair, CEO and founder of the company, noted that AICO has adopted an “aggressive growth strategy.” Tell us more about your plans for growing the business.
Koehler: “One of the questions that we have to answer is ‘Where are our opportunities to shine in the current environment?’ One of those (opportunities) is to be very aggressive with our new product development and bringing new products to the marketplace. Michael loves to create new merchandise, and innovation is central to who we are. So, our products are going to continue to bring innovative looks that deliver recognized value.
“Our near-term growth opportunities are certainly not going to depend on that hyper consumer demand that was stimulated during the pandemic and that, frankly, pulled a lot of the demand forward. Rather, right now we’re focused on acquiring more market share. … Retailers are looking for unique, value-driven products and are focused on creating a stimulating shopping experience that excites their customers and compels them to buy. We feel this plays to our strengths because when people are desiring innovative, unique, distinctive home products, that’s who we are. That’s where we shine.
“We’re also expanding our global sourcing and are now manufacturing in Turkey — new upholstery collections, plus occasional and dining groups. (Editor’s note: The company also manufactures in China and Vietnam.)
“We’re always on the lookout for opportunities where we can source. That’s in our DNA as a global company.”
DNN: The industry is going through a bit of a rough patch, with the housing market slumping, inflation still bothersome and economic uncertainty ahead. How is AICO’s strategy shifting to deal with such factors?
Koehler: “Certainly, there are storm clouds out there, and we have to face reality as it is. I would say that the macro-economic metrics are mixed right now. We do have softening home sales and rising interest rates, and that’s concerning. Inflation is still too high, but it has slowed in each of the last six months, so that’s a good thing. Gas prices are still too high, but they’ve come down since their peak in June of last year. At the same time, employment in the U.S. market is still strong, and wages are up. The supply chain is certainly stabilizing. … We’re positioning ourselves to capitalize on the windows of opportunity that we see for our business, both in the near term and the long term. Our business is largely that medium to high-end consumer, which tends to be a bit less affected during a (down) economy. And, while the housing market has softened, people are still going to buy homes and purchase home furnishings. We just need to be prepared to get that business.”
DNN: Amini founded AICO 35 years ago, and many Decor News Now readers are familiar with the company. What’s something buyers might not know about the business?
Koehler: “I want customers to view us as a company that cares about them and wants to help them be successful. We’re not here just to make the sale. We want to help them be successful.
“In addition, we are a source where they can come to see an extremely wide variety of styles in virtually all product categories for the home. We were once viewed as the company that did only case goods or only Old World, opulent, traditional styles. We are so much more than that now. We want to be viewed as an arbiter of the most innovative designs in the world — a company that goes beyond expectations and delivers a value equation that’s second to none. Our product assortment is really wide reaching. We’ve got a vast furniture portfolio, but also rugs, lighting, wall art, top-of-bed, throws, pillows, accessories. We can help our customers furnish every room in the home.
“We’ve reinvented throughout our history, and we’ll continue to do that to lead in the world of furniture and interior design.”
DNN: AICO has an extensive line and it may be difficult to choose, but I’m going to put you on the spot and ask you to name a few pieces or collections that appeal to you personally right now.
Koehler: “You stuck me with this question. I was scratching my head because our line is so big and offers many different styles and categories. Frankly, I love them all because they all have their own flavor and distinctive appeal, and I could furnish a different home with each collection. … But if I’m limited, say, for my home, I would select a couple of collections: Paris Chic and Malibu Crest. Paris Chic is an avant-garde look with a gorgeous espresso finish along with anigre and figured eucalyptus veneers. Malibu Crest has traditional styling but utilizes traditional crotch mahogany veneers. To me, it’s a synthesis of materials, beautiful design and execution. When it comes to lighting, the Symphony chandelier is a favorite of the moment.”