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PARA To Mark 25th Year At April Conference

The Professional Audio Video Retailers Association (PARA) expects a rebound in attendance at this year’s annual management conference compared to last year when a slow economy and the Iraq war conspired to reduce turnout.

The economic recovery, combined with incentives available only to participants, will help boost attendance at this year’s April 21-25 event, said PARA executive director Deborah Smith, who will preside over her 12th and final conference before leaving the association to start a consulting company.

Although the event will mark the end of Smith’s tenure at PARA, it will also mark the start of the association’s next quarter century following its founding 25 years ago as the Professional Audio Retailers Association.

PARA was the consumer electronics industry’s first management association for independent specialty audio retailers, and founder and first president Walter Stinson was the driving force behind its creation. Stinson is a PARA board member and president and co-founder of the Denver-based Listen Up audio/video specialty chain.

In 1979, Stinson and like-minded specialists formed PARA to improve the business skills of independent audio specialists when the economy was in disarray and major consumer electronics suppliers had significantly tightened their credit terms. Since then, PARA evolved with the changing audio times. PARA targeted its education and support programs to help members position themselves to thrive when high-volume chain stores grew increasingly aggressive in the market. PARA later provided guidance to help members transform their businesses into home theater businesses. Most recently, the association has been helping dealers diversify successfully into the custom home installation business.

To that end, this year’s conference will offer seminars and workshops on such topics as creating a home-network strategy, making money on installation labor and marketing to builders and architects.

Other topics reflective of the times include developing a high-end gaming strategy.

For the silver anniversary conference, Jim Taylor, author of The Visionary’s Handbook, will headline as the first day keynote speaker. He will outline methods dealers can use to reinvent their companies while simultaneously running their businesses.

Also on day one, six differentiation-strategy seminars will focus on such topics as creating a luxury-market strategy, creating a home-network strategy and creating a new-technology image. Other topics will include developing a high-end gaming strategy, reinvigorating the audio demo and marketing to builders and architects.

A day-one technology panel will forecast the paths that the future convergent home will take. Participants will include representatives of Microsoft, Intel, US Tec, Samsung and the Blu-ray Group.

On day two, keynote speaker and author Robert Sutton will help owners identify blockages in their company culture that prevent them from implementing changes. PARA will also devote part of day two to the issue of making money on installation labor. Topics will include job costing, the development and review of proposals, and how to order and stage products.

On day three, author Robert Spector will explain how to create a customer-service strategy using eight principles implemented by upscale retailer Nordstrom. Later that day, consultant Fred Newell will outline ways to use email and direct mail to implement a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy.

To entice dealers to attend the conference, PARA will offer conference attendees a 12-month, no-interest, no-down-payment consumer-credit program with no transaction fee for one weekend. Dealers who take advantage of the one-weekend CitiFinancial program will be able to save $5,000 to $30,000 based on typical transaction fees of 12 percent, Smith said.

For each attending company, PARA will give away one Strategic Planning and Custom Operations Manual, a nuts-and-bolts book that identifies steps and includes the forms needed to run a company. It will include sales-management charts and business forms, including project-management paper-flow forms.

At least half of the 500-page manual will be released at the conference, said Smith. The book will normally cost $349.

Other benefits for attending include a jazz duo performance on the first three nights and a last-night blues party sponsored by Monster Cable, which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary. The blues band is The Freemonts.

PARA can be reached at (617) 739-9877 or .