PARA Planning More Inclusive 23rd Conference

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The Professional AudioVideo Retailers Association (PARA) has revamped the format and pricing structure of its 23rd annual conference to encourage dealers to bring more senior managers than they have in the past.

"We want dealers to use the conference as a strategic management retreat and bring the whole team," executive director Deborah Smith said of the conference, scheduled here for May 1-5. "In the past, many owners brought senior managers, but the entire program was owner-directed. Now we have more programs for senior managers: the buyers, sales managers and custom-division managers.

PARA made the changes, said PARA president Charles Bock, because the PARA board found that "members who brought people got a lot more out of the experience than guys who came by themselves." Owners who come alone face the challenge of translating what they learn to the staff, he explained. Dealers who come with a team, on the other hand, are "able to implement more of what they learn, and the conference pays for itself."

Reflecting the change, PARA is calling the conference "Power Teams 2002 — Build Your Management Team for Profit and Growth."

"We're still an owners/presidents organization, but we're doing this as a service to owners," Smith noted.

To encourage dealers to bring their management teams, PARA reduced conference prices for managers who join their operation's owners in attending the event. The association is charging $199 for each staff member. An owner or president pays $799 to attend. Last year, PARA charged $699 per owner, $650 for a second attendee from the owner's company, $600 for the third, and less for additional attendees, Smith said.

The strategy is working, Bock said. "Conference registration has been ahead of normal," he said in early April. Dealers are bringing in more staff members, and in some cases as many as three to four, he noted.

Last year, about 500 dealers and suppliers attended.

The conference changes were brainstormed at a strategic planning session held by the board last October following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Because of the "staggering economic uncertainties" of those days, Bock said, the board determined that "the most important benefit to members this year would be to reduce the cost of coming to the conference and make sure dealers get the help they need [at the conference]."

The desire to encourage dealers to bring staff members was so urgent, Bock said, that PARA set the registration fee for a dealer's staff members at $199 even though the price doesn't cover the costs of hosting the additional people.

The board also decided at the conference to reduce membership dues for calendar 2002 to help members and expand the member base, said Smith. For the largest dealers with more than $3 million in revenue, for example, annual dues went to $1,000 from $1,800.

"We [PARA] have also tightened things up," Bock added. The association is also dipping into reserves this year, he said.

Nuts-and-bolts workshops: Besides changing conference pricing and topics, PARA is adding more in-depth nuts-and-bolts management workshops with workbooks and take-home materials to let managers implement what they learn.

"Dealers told us they want more in-depth information with a different format," Smith said. "They want a combination of the visionary and the hands-on."

As a result, the association is organizing five management-training workshops: two for owners, one for buyers, one for sales managers, and one for custom-install managers. Two are two hours long, while three are four hours long.

One workshop will help owners create open-to-buy programs and cash-flow plans. A second owner's workshop will help dealers create an annual marketing plan for a custom-only or a hybrid custom/retail business.

For the third consecutive year, PARA will host a buying workshop that includes such topics as narrowing your product mix, achieving higher turns, managing cash-flow, managing open-box and discontinued merchandise, and improving return on investment.

The sales-manager workshop will train sales managers in setting sales goals, tracking salesperson performance and motivating salespeople.

For custom-install managers, a systems and operations workshop will school participants in managing workflow, managing change orders and writing job descriptions.

The workshops, Smith said, are designed for "people who want to grow," particularly the association's new custom-only members. "A bunch now do $1 million to $1.5 million but can't grow beyond that because they have no organization or systems," Smith said. "That's how many successful PARA dealers started. It's a repeat of the '70s and '80s when hobbyists woke up and realized they must become businessmen."

Keynote topics: Besides workshops, two noted business consultants will deliver keynote presentations. Consultant and author Marcus Buckingham will present the findings of a study linking specific qualities of good managers to productivity, profits, customer satisfaction and employee-turnover rates. A second Buckingham keynote will outline how owners can discover an employee's natural talents, then provide the employee with specific skills and knowledge to nurture those talents.

In his keynote, Fred Harmon will outline five major changes that will take place in the business world during the next 10 years, including changes in demographics, marketing and organization. He'll discuss strategies that dealers can use to compete in this new environment.

Other events include a success-story session in which members outline their successes in marketing, store design, operations, and the like. Technology sessions include a presentation by HDNet founder Mark Cuban on the future of HDTV programming, and industry consultant Mike Heiss will offer advice on simplifying the sale of new technology.

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