Ashley Furniture CEO tells how the company has made room for technological advances – Winona Daily News




MENOMONIE (TNS) — Ashley Furniture Industries hopes to use technological advances such as iron man suits, autonomous driving vehicles and robots to ensure future growth of the Arcadia-based company.

Todd Wanek, president and chief executive officer of Ashley Furniture, said Thursday at UW-Stout that companies must stay on top of technology to maintain growth and reach consumers.

The company is looking at iron man suits for factory workers and vehicles that drive themselves in distribution centers.

“You almost double your lifting capability by putting on this suit,” Wanek said. “It’s amazing technology.”

Ashley Furniture also plans to install 500 robots in its factories in the next 24 months.

Ashley Furniture employs over 700 IT professionals around the world, who also help shape how consumers shop. The company’s website has up to 120 million visitors each year, and the company sends out 1 billion personalized emails a year.

Stores must change as technology changes, including offering virtual layouts of rooms so customers can see how furniture will fit in their room before they buy.

Computer generated images are expanding so customers can see how certain fabrics look with a rug, Wanek said.

“We are evolving into a technology company,” he noted.

Wanek’s father, company founder Ron Wanek, also attended the event and said the U.S. as a whole is becoming complacent.

“We are not preparing our country for the future in areas of technology and science,” he said.

Todd Wanek spoke at UW-Stout as part of the Cabot Executive in Residence program. The program is named for Arthur R. Cabot, a successful pet products manufacturer. His son, Scott, is a 1978 graduate of UW-Stout.

Scott Cabot said Wanek, who graduated from UW-Stout in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial technologies, “demonstrates what is possible.”

Chancellor Bob Meyer said the Cabot program is designed to expose students to successful businesses.

Meyer called Todd Wanek an “exemplary role model of what competition means and can do for our country.”

Todd Wanek said his father was the son of a sharecropper. Ron Wanek went on to work in a stereo speaker cabinetry business and started in the furniture industry in 1970.

The company follows free market competition with the consumer in charge seeking the best value.

“We have to make sure we are delivering the best values to consumers every day,” Todd Wanek said.

Ashley Furniture produces more than 300,000 pieces of furniture a week, about 26 million pieces a year. The company has 17.5 million square feet of manufacturing and distribution space. This year alone 2.5 million square feet of manufacturing and distribution space was added in the U.S. and Vietnam.

The private company wants to grow about 10 percent a year, Todd Wanek said, noting Ashley Furniture exports to 123 countries around the world.

It is a $5.25 billion business this year, with 26,000 workers around the world.

The company seeks out employees’ ideas and wants employees who want to grow and succeed.



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