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Nationwide Group Sees Growth Opportunities

Dallas — The Nationwide Marketing Group, the $11 billion majap, CE and home furnishings buying organization for independent dealers, rallied its 3,000 members to step up their marketing and promotional activities in the face of a weak housing market and soft economy at its biannual PrimeTime! convention here this week.

The effort, which includes a focus on higher-margin products like high-efficiency laundry and

120Hz LCD TVs

, could help extend the group’s four consecutive years of market share gains in majaps and its double-digit growth in flat-panel TV in 2007, Nationwide executives told TWICE.

Specifically, the group’s white-goods sales grew between 1.5 percent and 2 percent in unit volume last year, compared with an industrywide decline of 5 percent, while sales of flat-panel TVs and related accessories were up more than 10 percent in units. Sales in the new year also started off strong, with two-thirds of the group’s 175 core Brand Builder dealers up in January, and 70 percent up in February, said executive VP/director Robert Weisner.

Nationwide also sees opportunities for its members on the service side, as vendors cut back on their training programs and consumers voice dissatisfaction with national chains. Indeed, in a survey of 500 shoppers who had previously purchased a major appliance at Sears, many cited a lack of attention, a dearth of pre- and post-sales service, and a dislike for shopping malls as reasons for taking their business elsewhere, Weisner said. The survey, commissioned by Nationwide and conducted by America’s Research Group, also indicated that 75 percent of respondents would consider purchasing their next major appliance from an independent white goods dealer, while only 40 percent did so.

The other 35 percent didn’t believe that independent dealers provide the right selection, competitive prices, or support services, Weisner said. By correcting those misperceptions, independents could conceivably increase their market share from 33 percent to 40 percent over the next 24 months. “We have a major opportunity to grow share without having to steal business,” he noted.

Nationwide president and director Ed Kelly added that consumers are using the housing market lull to reinvest in their homes by remodeling their dens and kitchen, which plays into members’ strengths and will compensate for any downturn in their homebuilder business.

Nationwide dealers’ consultative sales floor will also prove an advantage during the analog-to-digital broadcast transition as consumer confusion grows. “Our dealers’ phones are already ringing off the hooks,” said Jeannette Howe, executive director of the group’s Specialty Electronics Nationwide (SEN) A/V specialty division. “Local dealers need to be the experts.”

Elsewhere at the show, Nationwide announced new programs with Epson Home Cinema and Sencore HDTV calibration tools for SEN dealers, while first time exhibitors Samsung, Audiovox and Universal Remote Control made their convention-floor debuts. Samsung, as well as JVC, have also joined Nationwide’s Warehouse Direct distribution program, which is maintained by distributors Almo, DSI and SED.