Steve Smith On Feb 25 2013 - 1:00am

The Future Is Bright, But Challenges Remain


If you were wondering about the future of electronics/ appliance retailing, it is bright and fundamentals of the economy for 2013 are strong.

No, I didn’t visit some alternate universe. I just returned from BrandSource’s “Summit” in Orlando, which included its Home Entertainment Source (HES) meeting, where the independent retail channel was called the “healthiest” and “most stable” of all by Brand- Source CEO Bob Lawrence.

With all the talk about show-rooming and online retailers, and the notable problems of Best Buy, RadioShack and Sears, “brick-and- mortar retailers are here to stay,” he said. But independents must continue to adapt.

Lawrence introduced Joe Higgins, a longtime Whirlpool executive who retired in December, who talked about the economy. Higgins made the point that “things can change quickly,” but gave a long list of economic indicators that show that 2013 may be “the first step of a journey” toward a “10-year period of growth.

For you “fiscal cliff” fans out there, he also quoted Dr. David Biltzer, a top economist from S&P Dow Jones McGraw Hill, who said, “Long-term growth looks good, even if we fall off the fiscal cliff.”

Higgins said that the recession, which began in 2008, hit appliances, electronics and furniture “harder than most industries,” and with housing starts and housing remodeling making a comeback, the rebound for these industries will be higher.

But before you begin singing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” Lawrence said, “The bad news is things are going to be different.”

Consumers are different than five years ago: the technology is different, and the way everyone shops today is very different.

Independent retailers are going to have to embrace mobile shopping as a “new tool.” They will have to have an app for their stores and be active in social media to “engage your consumers on all levels,” Lawrence said.

David Pidgeon, president/ CEO of Starpower and president of HES, said in his Summit speech, “The consumer has changed, marketing methods have changed ... We have to figure out ways [for consumers] to get into our stores, so we have to be on the web, make customer feedback a priority.”

On the product side of the equation, independents just can’t sell boxes anymore. Jim Ristow, executive VP of HES, told his members that they can and should “dominate in legacy [CE] categories.” But he told TWICE, “We used to just sell hardware — now we are selling connectivity via the Cloud with virtual content, connecting every device and making it seamless and personal.”

In outlining a laundry list of new ways to attract and interact with new and existing customers, Pidgeon asked this question in his speech: “Are you looking to survive or overcome?”

And he bluntly answered it by saying, “You have to overcome, because if you are only looking to survive, you will not.” Pidgeon closed by saying that as times change, “you need to change with it. Never stop evolving. Tough times never last, but tough people do.”

All things considered, that’s pretty good advice.

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