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BrandSource’s Lawrence Optimistic About Independents

Orlando, Fla. – There is optimism and opportunity in a changing marketplace for independents, which were the themes of Tuesday morning’s keynote at the BrandSource convention by the group’s CEO, Bob Lawrence.

He told his members attending the conference, here, this week, that for them the market is “a good news, bad news, better news story.”

What he meant by that is that “the healthiest retail channel is independents. We’ve been here, going to be here and is the most stable channel out there.”

Lawrence said BrandSource, which has 4,000 members, has $11 billion in sales: $3 billion in CE via its ProSource operation, which includes the Progressive Retailers Organization (PRO Group) and Home Entertainment Source, and the rest consisting of major appliances, furniture and other categories, such as housewares and outdoor items.

He cited the problems of Best Buy, RadioShack and Sears and said that despite commentary to the contrary, “brick-and-mortar retailers are here to stay.”

He noted that today’s independents are “the survivors,” and acknowledged that they have traveled a rough road. “A decade ago there were 11,800 independent electronic/appliance retailers. Now there are 8,000.”

But he cited numerous media reports and surveys showing that brick-and-mortar stores “still dominate” due to the local immediacy of their locations, that 90 percent of all retail purchases still happen in physical stores, that “shopping is a hobby” for the millennium generation, and that now ever some web-only sites are opening up stores.

As Lawrence said, “The good news is great. The bad news is that things are going to be different.”

He echoed the comments of the previous day by David Pidgeon, president/CEO of Starpower and president of HES. Lawrence stressed that retailers “must adapt to technology. Apple and Amazon dominate online and the mobile [retail] platform is now growing faster than PCs. Consumers are embracing this new tool. Most consumers access a store’s app in the store. Retailers need to engage consumers on all levels.”

He noted that mobile “has become a vital piece of ecommerce marketing strategies,” with the use of mobile payments, billing, shipping … can make independents more connected to consumers and more efficient,” than ever before.

Lawrence urged his members that independents must “think in a multichannel way.” He said retailers must engage current and potential customers via websites, mobile and apps since “80 percent of the U.S. population is on the Internet,” and that the overwhelming majority checks it before making any purchase.

And in a plug for the group’s services, Lawrence said that the BrandSource app is now “the No. 1 appliance app at the Apple Store.”

He noted that mobile websites are vital to retailers, and pressed members to get involved in social media because it’s a key part of consumer research today.

The in-store experience has to be updated too, Lawrence said. “Can your sales team check specs, inventory, colors on a tablet with a customer, without going back to the desk and checking catalogs? If not, that hurts the in-store experience.”

He also pushed the point-of-sale systems available from BrandSource. “Take advantage of it. It can show vendors how effective we are in selling their products Our POS is in the Cloud. It is good and affordable, can track sales and give strong reports” to vendors so the group can provide the same type of info provided by big-box stores.

Lawrence also urged members to use the Expert Warehouse option for ordering goods and its Expert Protection warranty program, which is lower in price than traditional offerings.

“We have all these services for you now. It shifts the way a group ought to work for you,” he said, urging, “We have to look at all these efforts because all of us have to be multichannel” retailers.