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Nationwide's Growth Due To More Programs, Changing Market

8/25/2013 08:00:00 PM Eastern

DALLAS – Nationwide Marketing Group’s PrimeTime! event at the Gaylord Texan, here, earlier this month highlighted changes involving the marketplace, the organization and consumers, which are all creating opportunities for profitable growth for its members and vendors.

Nationwide reported sales growth in major appliances, consumer electronics and other categories so far this year, and new sales training efforts, such as social-media marketing, Info-Pad and NeXt Gen efforts, to attract and keep younger independents interested in the business.

All of this resulted in record attendance for the summer convention. Robert Weisner, CEO of the group, said that member/vendor attendance reached 4,000, “a 25 percent increase, making it the biggest summer show in our history.” It featured 1,100 member and vendor companies and 190,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Weisner added that this is impressive since both the NECO division from the Northeast and its Cantrex Nationwide division from Canada did not attend due to scheduling conflicts.

He noted that the group’s annual sales continue to be “around $14 billion” and that Nationwide’s new membership goal for 2013 has been “between 400 to 500 members. So far we have 291,” and Weisner expected to add “20 to 25” new members at the show.

He said that Nationwide feels “we have more assets built for more people for all phases of our business. We want to be seen as the place to be, and independent dealers continues to be [the retail channel that] shines. More vendors come to independents now to sell product and see their investments [in technology and products] get paid off.”

The mix of Nationwide’s business is still led by major appliances – about 50 to 55 percent, with CE at 20 percent, furniture and bedding (a key growth category) at 20 percent, and the remainder being “other” categories such as barbeque grills, electric generators and the like, according to Dave Bilas, executive VP.

In speaking about the major appliance business, Bilas said, “Our close rates are high. Vendors are coming our way because [closing sales] is easier to do here than with big-box stores that do not have an experienced sales staff.”

He noted that surveys are now indicating that “younger consumers are attracted to independents. Gen X and Gen Y want to shop in the community, shop locally … for environmental reasons and for service.”

Les Kirk, COO, quoted Consumer Reports, saying, “Independents are seen as servicing consumers the best vs. national chains, so we are in the forefront.”

And many consumers are looking for an alternative to Sears, Bilas said. “Sears customers used to be served there. They could come in and look around, kick the tires. Well, we do that very well. There is a correlation between Sears losing share and us gaining it.”

Bilas added that Nationwide members are adding categories, noting, “Appliance/electronics retailers are taking on bedding.”

Bill Bazemore, Nationwide’s furniture VP, reported “double-digit gains” in the category and said he is “putting more CE and appliance members in furniture.”

Weisner said that today, 50 percent of Nationwide’s membership “is in furniture, but it is a moving target.”

He stressed: “Appliances, furniture and CE is now a winning format, along with lighting and other categories.” That is similar to the growth shown by Conn’s and the decision by hhgregg to diversify its selection in furniture and bedding.

Marketing has been a key tool in entering new categories and building business in existing ones.

Rick Weinberg, marketing senior VP, noted that Nationwide’s marketing program has become “more robust … in the past decade. In 2013 we added more print, more HDTV commercials from Primedia, more digital services, more web assets, more mobile solutions and more consumer rebates, which have resulted in more members achieving their goals.”

Frank Santner, member services VP, said Nationwide is providing more digital resources so members can engage with new and existing customers online via smartphones, tablets and PCs via live chat or social media.

“Omnichannel or multichannel, no matter what you call it, the channel is filled with traditional retailers that focus as much with digital marketing as with brick-andmortar [marketing],” he said.

Santner said the challenge is that “our members do not have the in-house assets to handle this development themselves.” The goal is “to make it easier to work on digital easily.”

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