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NATM’s Trawick Looks Ahead; Reminds Talks Present, Future

I just got back today from a one-day trip to Dallas where I attended the annual NATM Buying Group meeting and was greeted by longtime president and executive director Bill Trawick, who welcomed me laughing with a pleasant, “Well, if it isn’t Steve Smith! I haven’t seen you in 10 years!”

Well, not quite. Maybe five years. Senior editor Alan Wolf has been covering this annual event solo for us for the past five years, and due to scheduling conflicts I have been absent. But earlier this year I said I was going to attend and, boy, I’m glad I did.

The reason is that Trawick — who said he was 70 this year (I don’t believe it), is celebrating 50 years in this business, and was as feisty as ever in his speech to assembled vendors and members — had a lot of good news to report.

First off, NATM’s major appliance sales this year have “blown away” reported industry growth of about 10 percent. And when was the last time you heard a buying group exec quoting other buying groups? “We’ve heard about what Nationwide, NECO, Mega Group and BrandSource have said about their sales this year. We agree.”

Home Depot and Lowe’s — which he called “the lumberyards” — “can live off of 8 to 10 percent. We can’t.” What Trawick stressed, warming to the subject, is that his group is doing well in major appliances and that it “can deliver volume, mix and profitability. [Nationals] can’t.”

Trawick pleaded with majap vendors that “NATM can grow business and help you gain share.” He also agreed with something Bob Lawrence of BrandSource said earlier this year — that for independents, he sees definite growth in appliances and other categories during the next three to five years as consumers welcome independents’ expertise and service, among other factors.

And electronics/appliance dealers have learned to diversify with bedding and furniture creating growth and profitability in the past couple of years they lost from TVs and other CE product categories.

Regarding TVs, Trawick was half-serious in his dinner speech about making a career choice in selling the products, but he said the over-55-inch TV category is up in dollars and units. He also told TWICE that he expects big things from Ultra HD as the market evolves in 2014.

Trawick told TWICE and wisecracked in his speech that he “won’t retire from NATM” until suppliers “truly realize the value our members continue to deliver to your brands.”

In a historical note, he said that NATM, now 43 years old, has delivered profitability, sales and the ability to explain new technologies over the years to many of the same brands that were attending this year’s meeting.

“It may be a different generation, but it is the Hartunians of ABC Warehouse, the Abts of Abt Electronics, the Richards, Gregg, his father Gary and his grandfather at P.C. Richard, and our other members that continue the legacy to deliver sales and profitability to your companies and helped established the brands you sell today … and we will continue to do so.”