Car Buying Groups Tuning Up Programs

By Lisa Johnston On May 8 2012 - 4:01am

NEW YORK — While all industries were hit hard by the recession, the car electronics sector took a special hit and some of its retailers are still struggling to climb out of that hole. The category’s buying groups, which count In Car Experts (ICE) and the Mobile Electronics Specialists of America (MESA) among its ranks, have spent the year trying to bolster the marketing and promotion efforts of its members.

ICE, which boasts 150 members and about 200 showrooms, said its members are still finding business to be challenging in the so-called recovery. Rob Elliott, ICE executive director, said the members in cooler climates, in particular, “found the mild winter to put a damper on remote-starter sales.”

However, ICE counts 19 vendor partners for its group, and Elliott noted that members’ business with those partners is up. He said ICE has been encouraging members to stay focused on average selling prices during the economic recovery, as well as their core vendor partners.

Elliott said “hot” drivers behind ICE dealers’ surprising growth include resurging demand for sound quality. “[The] need for content and convenience has been filled, and many consumers want the sound they get from their headphones, premium-sound OEM systems and home-theater systems,” he noted.

ICE members receive a variety of benefits for joining the group, including their own personalized website that is updated at least weekly by ICE, as well as marketing promotions, a preferred vendor program, credit card processors, mystery shoppers and discount programs they can pass off to their customers.

The 43-member Mobile Electronics Specialists of America (MESA) also services car electronics retailers and counts 15 vendor partnerships for its 133 retail locations. Executive director Ryan Gunter told TWICE that the first quarter of this year has been very strong for its members. Although the second quarter hasn’t been quite as robust, they are expecting it to be “the calm before the storm … we fully expect to pick back up.”

Integration has been the hottest growing category for MESA members, he said. “They still do well in the multimedia navigation business, but iPod and cellphone integration is an ongoing growing category for the members.”

Member benefits for this buying group include TV and radio advertising, exclusive promotions with MESA vendors, email and printed sales materials, very important relationship (VIR) programs, networking opportunities, monthly member conference calls, and access to cost-of-doing-business analysis.

Gunter said the group is getting ready to launch its digital signage program, which will place a 46-inch TV in all locations. The TV will be controlled by MESA from its home office, and is scheduled to have interactive capabilities within the first year.

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