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Attendance, Attitude Upbeat At Nationwide

Nationwide Marketing Group’s semi-annual buying convention, PrimeTime!, drew 30 percent more attendees when it was held here in late August, according to the $10 billion buying organization.

Over 3,400 independent dealers from roughly 600 members and vendors attended the show at the Venetian Hotel, here, representing a record turnout. Ed Kelly, Nationwide’s president, told TWICE soon after the show, “I’ve never been at a meeting that has been so upbeat. Overall business for our members has been good.”

Contributing to the record turnout was the addition of new member dealers and two recently added divisions, Rent Direct-Nationwide, representing the rent-to-own channel, and Specialty Electronics-Nationwide, which serves the specialty A/V dealer.

This year’s show theme, “I Am Nationwide,” placed the spotlight “on those who have made this organization what it is today,” said Kelly. “Each one of our members has their own stories, their own struggles, and their own success. By highlighting their stories throughout this event via our success story contest, in our member meetings, at our PrimeTime! kick-off event, and on the show floor, we are able to give dealers inspiration and new ideas through proven strategies utilized by their peers. It’s the ultimate form of networking.”

Kelly did elaborate on market conditions by saying that “Business in certain parts of the country is softening, but in other areas it is still going strong.” Nationwide members are concerned about the housing slowdown that has affected majap sales, but Kelly added that through “the second quarter our appliance sales are up 10 percent.”

For those Nationwide members that are involved in consumer electronics, “flat panel HDTVs continue to show nice growth. Even if there is a possible slow down, we should be able to maintain an increase for the year.”

Still, to make sales you need product and shipments coming in from overseas can cause logistical problems. “Instead of getting let’s say five trucks of 42-inch flat panels and mixing them for shipment to our members with smaller sizes, we might get smaller amounts of product. If we aren’t careful we could lose a week or 10-days on a shipment.”

But Kelly is less concerned about probable price cuts for flat panel because “we are reaching much higher growth in units and we’ll be happy with a substantial increase in business.”

On the major appliance side the challenge is with higher prices due to raw material and energy costs. Kelly said that his members are able to pass along the higher cost because “unlike years ago when there were hardly any feature improvements in major appliances or price increases, consumers today are now willing and able to pay more for a fully-featured product.”

Turning back to the convention, it featured 179 vendors and member service partners who filled 188,000 square feet of show floor, including newest vendor partner Bosch, the premium major appliance manufacturer. “The addition of Bosch as a vendor partner further complements the lifestyle appliance offering available to Nationwide members,” Adam Thomas, Nationwide’s marketing VP for appliances said during the event. “Bosch’s market strategy, along with our national alliance, will further strengthen our members’ brand portfolio.”

Kelly told TWICE that on the CE side of the business Nationwide has added Hyundai for flat-panel TVs that will be supplying the group with HDTVs in plasma and LCD from 42-inches down to 20-inches.

In Specialty Electronics Nationwide, managed by industry veteran Jeanette Howe, the upscale CE division has added 20 new brands and Howe is on the prowl for two or three more, Kelly said. He noted that the group had added 100 to 125 more members to that division giving it a total of 306 retailers.

Nationwide added stations on the show floor for MemberNet OMS, the group’s new order management system, allowing dealers to place orders on the spot with key representatives. Launched in February, MemberNet OMS “was carefully developed with today’s independent dealer in mind,” said Les Kirk, Nationwide’s executive director. “Through MemberNet OMS, Nationwide members essentially have a one-stop shop for nearly 100 brands 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can ship multiple brands through our Warehouse Direct program to over 95 percent of the country within 48 hours.”

Nationwide also unveiled new and enhanced member service programs including MemberNet TV (offering closed circuit HD programming for members’ stores); MemberNet Rewards (a sales incentive program); the Masters Methods (a specialized sales training program for managers and HR professionals); and MemberNet2 (the group’s enhanced member Web site).

The MemberNet TV service is ready to rollout in 30 to 40 locations at a time, Kelly said. Full operation for the group could take a year.

Rick Weinberg, national merchandising manager, appliances, also announced a new effort, “Independents for Independence,” that emphasizes energy efficiency programs such as Energy Star. The program will offer dealers point-of-sale materials and targeted advertising and training to help promote energy efficiency on their sales floors.

Kelly added that MARTA members who attended their first Nationwide show provided an “outstanding reaction” to the event and its PrimeTime! University program.

The next PrimeTime! convention will be held Feb. 11-14, 2007, at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, Fla. — Additional reporting by Steve Smith