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Nationwide Marketing Group kicked off the industry's series of buying group meetings last week with its semiannual buying convention, PrimeTime!, held this year at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, here.
The event, which came on the heels of the International Builders' Show at the nearby Orange County Convention Center, drew more than 3,000 attendees comprised of independent majap, CE and furniture dealers and their vendors. The turnout represented a 15 percent increase in registration over Nationwide's last show in Orlando, the group said, positioning this PrimeTime! as its largest East Coast meeting to date.
The highlight of the convention, the PrimeTime! vendor show, attracted some 180 exhibitors and filled 126,000 square feet of PrimeTime! show floor space.
This PrimeTime!, Nationwide espoused the strength and unity of group members with the theme "The Power of One." Ed Kelly, the group's president and director, said, "It's our mission to go one step further, past size and buying power, and be the ultimate resource for independent dealers. We want to be their companies' 'Power of One'. We put all of our energy into our members' success. We want to ensure they have everything they need to not only compete, but win, in today's aggressive marketplace."
Indeed, Kelly downplayed group sales volume during an interview with TWICE.
"The total sales volume of all our dealers is north of $11 billion, but the numbers have become meaningless because they don't accurately reflect how much business is actually generated by the groups," he said. Kelly believes store count is a better barometer of growth, and pegged the number of Nationwide doors at more than 7,500, representing 2,800 dealers, an increase of 286 members over 2006. New additions included B&B Appliances, Handy TV, Jersey Jim Towers TV and Sun Appliances, and comprised both previously unaffiliated dealers and those changing venue.
"I never have seen this level of interest," Kelly said, with the last quarter especially active. He attributes the growth to the rapid pace of change in the industry, both in technology and marketplace dynamics. "It's confusing for dealers," he said. "They don't know what to do. Just look at the Whirlpool-Maytag merger. Dealers don't know how to react."
One such area of rapid change is flat panel pricing. Jeannette Howe, who heads Nationwide's one-year-old, 400-member custom install division, Specialty Electronics Nationwide (SEN), said LCD and plasma prices are expected to drop another 30 percent to 40 percent this year. "Prices dropped when there was no allocation, and this year there is inventory," she said. So what's a dealer to do?
"Audio is still a profit center," she said, "and if you can attach sound to flat panel and manage your installations, you can do well." Indeed, custom install represents a "smart" opportunity for white goods dealers, who are already delivering and installing products in customers' homes. SEN is easing dealers into the category with packaged programs and discounted Web-based training in distributed audio, home theater design, structured wiring, lighting control and home networking through Bedrock Learning. For the more seasoned installer, SEN has created programs with such suppliers as Anthem Electronics, Control4, D-Tools, Integra Electronics, Monster, Paradigm, Tributaries and TripLite, many of whom participate in the group's Warehouse Direct mixed shipment initiative.
Kelly said dealers can also leverage the group's furniture prowess to balance flat panel price declines by offering customers cabinetry in which to house plasma and flat panel TVs.
Elsewhere at the show, Nationwide announced a new revolving credit program with Wells Fargo Financial Retail Services, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo Financial, which will make it a preferred provider of consumer financing for the buying group.
"Our members participating in this program will immediately have access to the assortment of financing alternatives on the Nationwide promotional calendar. We are very impressed with the Wells Fargo Financial Retail Services team and look forward to working with such a professional group of individuals," said Les Kirk, Nationwide's executive VP.
Other highlights included the group's Nationwide's PrimeTime! University, a series of business seminars and strategy sessions led by leading authorities on sales and marketing who offered insight and education targeted towards the needs of today's independent dealers.
Keynoting the convention was Vince Papale, the former Philadelphia Eagle whose inspirational story was told in the feature film "Invincible." Papale shared his journey from humble working-class beginnings to professional athlete and successful businessman, and compared the teamwork behind a successful football franchise to Nationwide's Power of One concept. — Additional reporting by Steve Smith
Nationwide coverage continues on p. 67.