MARTA’s appointment of Warren Mann as executive director earlier this month was the final piece in a management puzzle that had dogged three of the nation’s largest buying groups this year.
For MARTA, Mann’s appointment ended a five-month-long search for a successor to Jerry Dreyer, the executive director who left the retail cooperative in January.
"We are fortunate to have an individual with Warren Mann’s experience leading our membership at this time," said MARTA chairman Elmer Karl. "He has worked on both the vendor’s side of the table and the retailer’s side.
"As we enter the next millennium with its many challenges, various trends seem to favor independent, selling-floor retailers. Our members felt that Warren was uniquely qualified to coordinate the group’s development in these directions.’’
Mann’s decision to leave NATM, where he has been group director since leaving Sansui as a senior VP in 1992, was prompted in turn by the appointment of Conn’s Bill Trawick to succeed Saul Gold, NATM’s founding executive director.
Trawick’s appointment settled the issue of succession as the 30-year-old buying group also girds itself for the next century, while inadvertently resolving MARTA’s management needs as well.
Still without an executive director, albeit by choice, is Key America, the third group to be roiled by executive changes since the start of the year.
Three months after longtime executive director Mel Hunger resigned to head Nationwide’s regional NECO group, Key has decided to dispense with the position altogether and has divided its duties between president Murray Provine and treasurer Karlh McCallister.
As for Mann, in Phoenix last week for his first MARTA meeting since joining the group, the move – and his pending relocation in August – stirs mixed emotions.
"I’ve had seven really good years at NATM," he recalled. "I’m very fond of the strong relationships I formed with members and am proud of the work we’ve done together on merchandising solutions.
"But I think the most pleasant part may have been working with vendors," he continued. "It was a superb opportunity to learn the product side. After I ended my 12-year run with Sansui, I didn’t know the first thing about TVs and had never worked in retail. But I got a Ph.D.-level training in white goods. I learned so much in a really good way.’’
Mann said he probably could have stayed on at NATM in a "nice number-two role for a long time" under Trawick, but decided to "gamble on this opportunity, which doesn’t come around that often. I’ll try not to look back.’’
Indeed, Mann’s agenda at MARTA will leave little time for reminiscing. "I’ve got a lot to learn," he acknowledged, beginning with each of the cooperative’s 128 member retailers, compared to the 17 stores that comprised NATM. "We’ll have to work on communications," he added.
Moreover, "MARTA operates quite differently" by necessity, Mann explained, given that its 600 storefronts produce roughly the same sales volume as NATM’s 250 units. But in that diversity lies MARTA’s greatest strength.
"MARTA can offer a national presence, with fuller national coverage than NATM, and has the kind of strength that national accounts won’t ever have," he said. "There’s not a lot of flexibility within chains in terms of regional differentiation, but MARTA members can come up with independent decisions and adapt programs to their local markets.’’
Mann hopes to bring some of the lessons learned at NATM to his new job, including the development of long-term strategic partnerships with key vendors. "I’d love to see if things like that can be done at MARTA," he said, although he will be careful to "adapt what I’ve learned to fit their operation, rather than make wholesale changes. But I’m enthusiastic about going out and seeing what the art of the possible is.’’
Though MARTA had hoped to officially announce Mann’s appointment at the group’s annual meeting June 2, the announcement was delayed in order to provide NATM with appropriate notification. Trawick is expected to name Mann’s successor as NATM group director after he takes office in January.
MARTA was founded in the Detroit area in 1965 by 12 independent retailers. Today, the retail cooperative enjoys sales in excess of $3 billion annually.