NEW YORK – While the nation’s largest-volume buying groups roil amid an industry sea change, there’s no less a hotbed of activity at the big-box NATM Buying Corp. and custom integration Azione Unlimited (AU) confederations.
For the latter, membership has hit new heights in 2015, so much so that Azione president and founder Richard Glikes has closed the books, at least for now, on new vendor members.
That particular chapter ends on quite the high note for the young group. In a major coup, Sony Electronics was the last company to join its vendor-member ranks, coming on board in March.
“Sony’s strategy is to focus on premium products, premium channels and premium partners,” said Frank Sterns, the vendor’s VP for the A/V specialty and custom integration channel. “Azione Unlimited, with its exclusive CI focus, is a perfect fit.”
For his part, Glikes acknowledged a “dramatic change in the way Sony has chosen to go to market with integrators, thereby making this partnership very attractive.”
The newest vendor member “creates an outstanding value proposition providing our group with high-quality products, margin, and local representatives to support our dealers,” Glikes said.
Sony’s addition brought the group’s membership to 40 vendors and 10 services providers, prompting Glikes to declare the extended moratorium on new manufacturers.
It also follows the addition of vendor member LG Electronics in December.
“Focus is a core value of Azione Unlimited; our goal is to ‘not divide the pie,’” he said. “We want to deliver growth and profits to our dealer and vendor members alike.”
The dealer roster has similarly been growing by leaps and bounds. An even dozen have joined the three-yearold education and buying group since January alone, bringing the total of custom retailers and integrators on board to 115.
According to Glikes, the breakout is 7 percent retailer to 93 percent integrator. But regardless of discipline or brand, “Surrounding yourself with smart people is a recipe for success,” Glikes said. “We continue to learn, share and grow with the aid of astute mentors.”
Meanwhile, NATM, home to 10 of the nation’s largest big-box regional CE and appliance retailers, is embarking, like BrandSource, on a new course following the departure of its longtime leader.
Last December Bill Trawick ended his 15-year run at the helm by handing NATM’s reigns over to Toshiba, Thomson and DSI Systems veteran Jerry Satoren. The new executive director has since moved the group’s headquarters – and its operations director Michael Maund – from New York to new, more centralized digs in Irving, Texas.
Under Satoren’s watch NATM has also assumed a new structure, put in place by Trawick, which shifts more of the group’s buying decisions to its members, and demands greater support of core programs from its five largest dealers.
To that end, three committees made up of the group’s principal dealers were formed to merchandise the TV, appliance and home office categories, with feedback provided by the five smaller retailers.
The intention, Satoren said, is to present a more unified front to manufacturers, and make larger commitments to their merchandise in exchange for more favorable terms.
Satoren, who has a strong background in CE but limited exposure to the appliance industry, is being assisted in his new role by a four-man executive board that includes president Scott Hymas of R.C. Willey; VPs Gregg Richard of P.C. Richard and Mike Abt of Abt Electronics; and ABC Warehouse’s Marty Hartunian as treasurer.
Going forward, the industry can also expect a steppedup recruitment effort from NATM as it looks to fill unrepresented markets in pursuit of a national footprint. To help expand its ranks, the group has relaxed its $100 million sales minimum and its restriction against overlaps of member territories.