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‘New, Improved’ NARDA Focused On Education, Information

Lombard, Ill. — Six months after assuming the reins of the North American Retail Dealers Association (NARDA), president/CEO Thomas Drake is ready to implement a new educational and informational focus for the 60-year-old industry group.

Following the January departure of his predecessor and longtime NARDA fixture, Elly Valas, the group’s board of directors was looking to take the organization in a new direction, Drake said.

“The board encouraged significant change,” he recalled, and after several months of determining NARDA’s position in the marketplace, the group has re-emerged with a new mission and an attendant rebranding effort that began in early July.

“We want to be an education and information organization,” Drake said, noting that many of the business-to-business services that NARDA had previously offered were now being provided to dealers through their buying groups.

To help implement the new imperative, NARDA recently hired Whirlpool and Unisys veteran, Bill Sobel, as director of education.

Although the association will continue to offer certain basic b-to-b services, its emphasis will be on its NARDA Institute, University and Vision programs. The latter can be described as dealer self-help groups, where retailers gather, share confidential financial data and establish performance benchmarks and long-range strategic objectives for themselves. Aided by NARDA diagnostic tools and visiting experts, the merchants serve as their own consultants and coaches, and track each other’s progress through monthly phone calls and quarterly meetings. There are currently three groups in session, Drake said, with a fourth to be added soon and a possible fifth in the works.

NARDA University, a new accredited program set to launch this fall, provides modular courses in various retail disciplines, together with real-world, on-the-job assignments. Each “student” is assigned a coach, and like NARDA Vision, the courses include lots of interaction with classmates and facilitators, Drake said, with graduates earning NARDA certification. “There’s nothing out there quite like it,” he observed.

Drake also hopes to offer an online learning program next year, while continuing to improve the group’s institutes. “We’re making them more dynamic,” he said. The next event, the Fall Institute of Retail & Service Center Management, will be held Oct. 9-11, 2004 in Oak Brook, Ill. Keynotes include Cowboy Maloney’s CEO Con Maloney and Sam Abdelnour, VP/North American sales for Whirlpool, while the itinerary calls for store tours, simulation exercises and many first-time speakers.

The group is also looking to expand its information offering, which currently includes compensation and cost-of-doing business studies, by adding new reports on key industry metrics.

On the marketing front, Drake is demonstrating the changes at NARDA by implementing a new logo, relaunching the group’s Web site with new features and improved navigation, redesigning its monthly magazine, the “NARDA Independent Retailer,” and moving the distribution of the NARDA newsletter from fax to email.

He has also initiated Web-based “pulse polls” for improved member feedback, and is reaching out to other industry groups, including the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), as well as buying groups and service organizations to build relationships and, possibly, a number of partner-based programs.

“We want to be the education group in the industry,” he said.