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HFA Reports: Retailers Speak about CSR

Furniture World Magazine


Room & Board and Ashley Stores of Central Nebraska discuss the strategic significance of CSR for home furnishings retailers.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a critical aspect of modern commerce in an era where businesses are no longer judged solely by their bottom line. For home furnishings businesses, having a CSR program is an ethical imperative and a strategic choice that can engage employees, attract customers and benefit communities. The Home Furnishings Association talked to Room & Board Home Furnishings and Hometrends LLC, dba Ashley Stores of Central Nebraska, about the importance of developing a CSR program and how it can positively impact these key stakeholders.

Room & Board

Emily McGarvey, director of sustainability, and Nancy Greatrix, chief people officer, explained that “Room & Board’s corporate social responsibility framework is based on the three foundational ideas of “Better Products, Better for People, and Better for the Planet.”

Within the Better for People category are four pillars: sustainability, related to reforestation and education; community, helping to tackle homelessness and housing insecurity; belonging, which focuses on Room & Board’s work in the LGBTQ community; and Art & Design, its commitment to provide access to art, especially contemporary art. Every year, Room & Board puts together a Sustainability Impact Report to help communicate their sustainability programs’ strategies, goals, and yearly actions and how they impact people and the planet.

Hometrends LLC

Carson Rowh, owner, and Sarah Luther, director of talent and employee experience, shared how the CSR philosophy at Hometrends has become a mission for its business. Rowh explained, “Our core purpose is to have an exceptional impact on our team members, customers, partners, and communities. In 2019, we created a mission to ‘Serve 500,000 Families by 2030.’ This mission was inspired by a book called ‘Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business,’ by Danny Meyer. We believe that each stakeholder group serves and is served by other stakeholder groups in a virtuous circle. When company shareholders serve their employees well, company employees understand their responsibility to serve customers well. This circle extends to suppliers, vendors, communities served, and then benefits come back to shareholders. If we do this well, the business will grow, and remain healthy and sustainable over the long term.

“We allow each store to choose to serve nonprofit organizations that align with our values of sustainability, reducing homelessness, the LGBTQ community, etc.” - Nancy Greatrix, Room & Board

“We measure our impact by counting customers served, employees/team members served, and communities served in terms of dollars, goods, volunteer hours and services donated. From that larger goal, we develop quarterly, one-year, and three-year goals for business outcomes we need to hit to achieve the target of 500,000 families.”

Enhanced Employee Morale and Engagement

Implementing a CSR program can significantly boost employee morale and engagement. When employees know that their company is actively contributing to social and environmental causes, they are more likely to feel proud of where they work. It leads to increased job satisfaction, a sense of purpose and productivity.

Rowh noted, “Research on employee satisfaction and retention at Hometrends LLC shows that having a purpose bigger than just earning a paycheck is important to our employees. The engagement score of 84% on our last employee survey and our employee turnover rate at a 5-year low tell me that they feel their roles are contributing to something bigger and more meaningful than just corporate profits or even their own pockets. As we’ve increased our giving and the frequency and seriousness of how we talk about ‘Exceptional Impact,’ we’ve seen that our people take pride in our mission to give back to the communities and people around us. They’ve come to believe that Hometrends is an organization with a heart.”

“Our core purpose is to have an exceptional impact on our team members, customers, partners, and communities. In 2019, we created a mission to ‘Serve 500,000 Families by 2030.’” - Carson Rowh, Hometrends

Room & Board was included in Inc.’s Best Workplaces Survey. More than 90% of staff members say they are proud to work at Room & Board and believe the organization will succeed in the future. Greatrix shared, “About 20 years ago, we started our Community Partnership Program, which includes staff member volunteerism. We allow each store to choose to serve nonprofit organizations that align with our values of sustainability, reducing homelessness, the LGBTQ community, etc. As a corporate entity, Room & Board helps initiate these relationships with donations for the first couple of years. After that, we leave it up to our staff members to volunteer in their local communities. When they think about others and give of themselves, I believe it makes them better people. Nurturing our staff members’ ability to give back to the communities where they live and work is at the heart of our philanthropy.

McGarvey and Greatrix just completed their work on a staff survey that gathered information on diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We learned from the 71% of our employees who took the survey,” Greatrix said, “that 90% were pleased with the organization, and 86% shared their belief that Room & Board was giving back to the community in a meaningful way.”

Attraction and Talent Retention

Attracting and retaining top talent in a competitive job market can be challenging. Strong corporate social responsibility can be a valuable selling point for recruitment, allowing companies to choose from a larger pool of qualified candidates. Furthermore, employees who align with a company’s values are more likely to stay, reducing turnover and the associated costs.

“Our sustainability work and giving back to communities are important parts of Room & Board’s recruitment process,” noted Greatrix. “We find that potential hires are very concerned about the environment and want to work for a well-run organization that gives back in meaningful ways. I chat with our new employees to get feedback about their choice to work here. Many of them say it’s because of the sustainability and philanthropy programs. We believe that individuals seek purpose in their work and expect their employers to actively engage in making the world a better place.”

Hometrends also found that their CSR program improved hiring. “When I engage with potential employees on the phone or at job fairs, our Impacting Families initiative is the first topic I mention,” Luther said. “People always want to know what our company is all about. The reaction I usually get is, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool that a furniture organization has a mission like that.’”

Professional Development

CSR programs offer unique opportunities for employees to develop new skills and gain valuable experience. Whether organizing community events, participating in sustainability initiatives or managing charitable partnerships, these experiences contribute to their personal and professional growth. Hometrends tracks how many families their employees have impacted by calculating volunteer hours and blood donations. “We give employees one hour of company time off each month for volunteering if needed,” Luther explained. “And we let them know that we appreciate their contributions, which are a big part of Hometrends’ impact!”

“Our sustainability work and giving back to the communities are important parts of Room & Board’s recruitment process.” - Nancy Greatrix, Room & Board

Customer Loyalty

Consumers are increasingly mindful of the social and environmental impact of their purchases. A well-executed CSR program resonates with customers and creates strong emotional connections. When customers see a commitment to causes that matter to them, they are likelier to remain loyal, resulting in higher customer retention rates and increased customer lifetime value. This information can be transmitted in many ways, including in-store signage and retailers’ websites.

Ensuring that customers know what Hometrends is doing and how those efforts impact the communities they serve is important, Luther told HFA. “We display our mission of ‘Impacting 500,000 Families’ front and center in all our stores and on our website with information about how far we’ve come toward meeting that goal,” she explained.

Competitive Advantages/h3>

In a saturated market, a CSR program can set a home furnishings business apart from the competition. Customers are increasingly looking to support companies that share their values, and a CSR program can be a significant differentiator.

McGarvey explained that “Room & Board’s sustainability efforts set us apart from our competitors. Our Urban Wood Project takes reclaimed wood out of cities and turns it into heirloom-quality furniture. On the operational side, we’ve been doing a lot with waste diversion, sending less to the landfill, reducing trash expenses and increasing revenue from selling baled cardboard and plastic.”

Community Benefits

As a business engages with the community through CSR activities, stronger relationships with residents and organizations build naturally.

Nancy Greatrix explained, “I used to sit down with our founder, John Gabbert, for a year-end review. We would go over the financials and donate to the communities where we lived and worked. That’s become a part of Room & Board’s culture and business philosophy. Today, we donate approximately 2% of profits to more than 70 nonprofit partners across the country, emphasizing sustainability, community, and the arts.”


Increased Customer Engagement

CSR programs help to engage customers on a deeper level. When they see your business actively participating in social and environmental causes, they will want to help. This engagement can lead to a sense of community and shared purpose.

“An example is the food drive benefiting Hometrends’ local Salvation Army. For every five pounds of food donated, one family is impacted,” Luther explained. “Our delivery teams are having fun with this. They bring a donation crate into customers’ homes when they deliver and set up furniture, making it easy for customers to raid their pantries to donate to the cause. It’s a win-win for everyone!”



There are many positive outcomes for businesses that incorporate CSR programs. We have seen how CSR programs can improve employee morale, customer trust and loyalty. They positively impact local communities. So, what CSR program will you build for your business? Perhaps it’s time to take meaningful action and adopt strategic measures to enhance your corporate social responsibility initiatives.

“CSR needs to be more meaningful than just writing a check,” concluded Room & Board’s Nancy Greatrix. “There is something intrinsic about giving of yourself and your staff; it becomes a part of a wellness plan for the soul!”


The Home Furnishings Association is proud to serve the industry with the latest education and information that impacts your business. Learn more about membership and resources at www.myhfa.org or by calling 800.422.3778.


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