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NATM Upbeat On Majaps, CE Sales, Indie Acceptance

DALLAS — The NATM Buying Group reported that total annual sales for the 11 member electronics/ appliance group will be $6.5 billion, about the same as last year, but with dramatic growth in appliance sales and improved profitability across the board.

Bill Trawick, president and executive director of NATM, was upbeat about independent retailing in electronics and appliances and especially in the group’s major appliance growth. He said the mix between the two main categories is now “about 50/50,” but the gains in white goods have been substantial.

“Major appliance industry sales are up 9 or 10 percent this year, and we far exceeded that,” Trawick said, noting that business is up with all of its appliance suppliers. He cited the decline of Sears, the upswing in the housing market, and “tragic national disasters” that have forced thousands of homeowners nationwide to replace appliances, for the growth.

When asked about suppliers, Trawick said NATM measures CE and major appliances as group sales, and that Whirlpool is its largest major appliance brand and its third largest in total sales, including CE. He added that Sears’ sales of Whirlpool products are down, along with Home Depot and Lowe’s. “We may have picked up share from them.”

He added that while, for all its problems, Sears is still No. 1, NATM’s appliance sales are now close to that of Home Depot and Lowe’s.

The largest supplier to NATM is now Samsung, according to Trawick, followed by LG, because they both deliver CE, major appliances, and tablets and home office products.

Turning to the TV business, “we have hit bottom,” Trawick said. “A number of members are not only matching dollar sales but exceeding them along with unit sales compared to last year.” The over-55-inch TV category has been “very strong for us,” Trawick said, and unilateral pricing programs put in place by top-tier manufacturers “have been very good for us. We have selling floors and need to sell profitably.”

NATM’s top executive said he also sees growth in Ultra HD TV, adding, “The clubs, the national chains can’t sell these TVs as effectively as we can.”

He said there will be pricing promotions for the rest of the year, but serious price cuts won’t happen until low-end suppliers enter the over-60-inch market.

Trawick, an outspoken critic of TV pricing over the years, said that at last year’s meeting, “we discussed with our members that we would support three brands and the other four might not be around in a year. Now, three of four of those brands we didn’t think we’d do business with are resurgent, which is a complete turnaround.”

While TV and CE sales “are not what they were five or six years ago” due to demand and, in some cases, the reluctance of suppliers to continue to build unprofitable TVs, “there may be shortages of key models after Christmas and into the fourth quarter.” But “if you forecasted correctly, you will get product.” However, typical “opportunity buys” may not be there for the taking this year.

Trawick said Black Friday will be more aggressive this year than in 2012, while Michael Maund, NATM operations director, said it will be aggressive “in tablets, home office — really across the board in all of the [CE] categories.” But Trawick stated, “Will [NATM promote] in all categories? Each year we try to be competitive,” but not across the board.

Maund added that in the tablet and home office area, members have been aggressive in getting higher-ticket items than the rest of the industry. “Our floor salespeople have been able to explain two-in-one detachable products.”

Trawick said the key to NATM’s strength continues to be “11 members that have 225 storefronts, and we dominate the markets we play in. We continue to ‘act as one,’ as we say, and that has value to our suppliers.”

When asked about members’ expansion into other members’ territories, Trawick said, “It is not an issue now, but could be down the road.” He noted that Conn’s would be moving into Las Vegas, R.C. Willey’s backyard, among other plans by a handful of other members.

Overall, Trawick feels good about his group’s prospects and about the independent channel as a whole. “We’ve heard about what Nationwide, NECO, Mega Group and Brand Source have said about their sales this year. We agree.” He said consumers have learned to appreciate independents’ expertise and service, and suppliers “know if they work with [independents] that we can sell profitably.”

He added, “We are very optimistic about white goods and upbeat on the TV side of the business,” for the balance of the year and into 2014. The only concern Trawick has is “what is going on in Washington. Beyond that, we are very optimistic and in a buying mode.”