TUSTIN, CALIF. — Bob Lawrence was a most unlikely candidate to lead BrandSource.
Twenty-one years ago, at the suggestion of his father- in-law, he applied for the top spot at what was then the Associated Volume Buyers (AVB), a protobuying group with 595 members and three employees. He arrived as a law-school graduate with no electronics background and 15 years’ experience as a manager at Maytag – a company that at the time didn’t recognize buying groups.
Over the next two decades, he helped build AVB into a $13 billion CE, appliance and home-furnishings powerhouse with some 4,500 members across the U.S. and Canada, and developed a central, nationallyrecognized franchise — BrandSource — under which his independent dealers could compete with big-box chains while still retaining their hometown badges.
Looking back over the years, Lawrence cited as his greatest accomplishment “Seeing a member be successful from implementing our programs.” Chief among those are the BrandSource co-brand; the group’s own in-house distribution network, Expert Warehouse; a private- label credit card program; and turn-key merchandising programs that provided dealers with easy entrée into the bedding and electronics businesses.
But Lawrence is perhaps most proud of the Brand- Source financing program, which provides members with shares of stock in the buying group co-operative. The program provides owners with both a retirement nest egg and a solution to what he perceives as one of the greatest challenges facing independents – succession – by allowing their children or key employees to buy out their businesses in membership units that owners can convert to cash.
In his farewell address to the membership at his last BrandSource convention as CEO, Lawrence explained why he thought it was the right time to step down.
After 21 years in the job, “it’s time for new perspectives and fresh ideas,” he said. “We have a lot of things in place and are on the precipice of great things.”
Lawrence left the members with his “Nine Steps to Success.” They’re well worth recounting here:
1. Surround yourself with the best and the brightest people.
2. Don’t think the grass is always greener elsewhere; it is what you make it.
3. Don’t cut corners.
4. Interact with people who truly care and it will exponentially grow your business and happiness.
5. Always be open to change.
6. It takes a long time to build a great business, and it requires long-term strategic thinking.
7. Complacency leads to failure; you can’t live on your laurels from last year.
8. Even great companies make mistakes, but they learn from them.
9. There’s still a lot to be done; no one should be satisfied with the status quo.
He ended his presentation in a tearful thank you to BrandSource’s members, board and staff for 21 great years, and joined on stage by his wife Judy, reminded everyone that it’s all about faith, family and friends.