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Nationwide Adds Dealers, Sales And Services

LAS VEGAS — The Nationwide Marketing Group rode a wave of dealer additions, rebounding appliance demand and “outstanding” furniture growth to add $1 billion in sales volume over the past 18 months.

More than half of those gains came from the furniture channel, driven by category growth and the addition of new dealers like Hudson’s Furniture in Florida and Stacy Furniture in Texas, group executives said. But appliances also put in a strong performance in 2013, delivering their best year since the category’s peak in 2005, while Nationwide’s CE growth surpassed last year’s industry average.

The positive sales trends, detailed at the group’s PrimeTime show here last week at the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands complex, are being fanned by a host of service and merchandising initiatives designed to help independent dealers exploit market share opportunities. The latter include waning sales volume at Sears, and the vacuum in Wisconsin left by American TV’s pending closure, executives said.

Set against that backdrop is an evolving management team as Nationwide enters the fourth year of a five-year succession plan with two leaders-in-waiting: newly promoted president/COO Dave Bilas and executive VP Jeff Knock, who are gradually taking the reins from co-CEOs Robert Weisner and Les Kirk.

The group has long stressed transition planning to its members, and Bilas said the leadership’s own measured changeover provides a good lesson for dealers to “take your time, don’t just flip your keys.”

Reporting to Bilas and Knock is a merchandising group comprised of electronics senior VP Tom Hickman; Knock’s successor Patrick Maloney, who was recently promoted to senior VP appliances; and Bill Bazemore, president of Nationwide Furniture.

Other senior execs include Jeannine Ghaleb, COO of the group’s Canadian wing, Cantrex Nationwide; senior marketing VP Rick Weinberg; member services senior VP Frank Sandtner; and James MacAlpine, member development senior VP and executive director of the group’s rent-toown division.

Weisner noted that Nationwide’s mandate since its founding more than 40 years ago has been to “help members get to another level in the business.” During that time the group has had to “move into other categories and reinvent ourselves,” like its transition 12 years ago into marketing services.

“You need to buy right, but we’re more interested in helping you sell right,” especially when full-line retailers use dealers’ product categories as traffic-driving loss leaders, he said.

Knock similarly stressed that management’s focus, beyond merchandising initiatives, is on maintaining member health through innovative services. The newest additions include:

• an expansion of a subsidized mobile info pad program for sales associates with the addition of a 7-inch Asus tablet for $40;

• a new point-of-sale system for smaller dealers that ties into the info pads;

• a partnership with 95 percent Share Marketing, a sales and management training firm;

• a partnership with EcoRebates, which provides dealers and their customers with a complete list of available vendor, utility, government and Nationwide rebates, broken out by ZIP Code; and

• a five-part digital marketing program, fully implemented for dealers by Nationwide, that includes website banners and vendor landing pages, nonpromotional social-network postings, customer encouragement of store reviews, and optimizing brands’ store locators with dealer logos.

Other support programs include NeXt Gen, a social and in-person networking effort under communications director Alex Knock that seeks to bring together the industry’s next generation of dealers and vendor managers.

Bilas said the group currently boasts some 3,700 members representing more than 10,000 storefronts, although Nationwide’s service offerings can readily drive membership to 5,000 dealers in 18 months. Most of those additions will likely come from the furniture channel, as only 25 percent of furniture dealers are currently affiliated with a buying group, he said.