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Big Picture, Little Details Get Attention At PARA Conference

Management topics ranged from the visionary to the practical during the Professional Audio/Video Retailers Association (PARA) Management Conference, held here earlier this month at the Marriott Hilton Head Beach & Golf Resort, where specialty dealers were urged to get ready for a proliferation of IP-based entertainment systems and a new generation of customers.

Outlining his vision of the specialty retail landscape in 2010, Ken Crane’s executive Steve Caldero claimed the future of specialty audio/video retailers “can be summed up in a few words: wireless, personal and involved.” The next generation of consumers, the sales VP said, “wants to be involved and to interact with their technology.”

Gary Yacoubian, chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA’s) PARA division, agreed that changing customers will force a change in dealers’ approach to business. “Specialty retailers have to be relevant to what our customer base is interested in, and IP-based technology is going to rule the roost,” said Yacoubian, president of MyerEmco AudioVideo.

Yacoubian also challenged conference attendees to take home at least five new ideas to help their businesses stand out from the crowd. He provided a glimpse of programs that CEA is developing for its 250 PARA retailer members, including a new Home Theater Specialist Certification Program and a new-hire exam designed to gauge the technical aptitude of future employees.

Retail owners and managers were also advised to maintain their focus on practical management issues while they prepare to sell new technology to new consumers. With that in mind, the conference served up a variety of experts to lead seminars on such topics as preparing financial statements, managing cash flow, using eBay, working with homebuilders, controlling inventory and creating a brand.

Author Jack Trout, president of marketing firm Trout & Partners, delivered a simple message about branding. If you don’t stand out from the crowd, he said, “you’d better have a very low price.” Trout focused on differentiating a brand through a variety of factors including product attributes, leadership, history and expertise, but he said dealers should concentrate on a single difference in their marketing plans. He led dealers through four steps to turn a differentiating idea into a full-scale marketing program.

In a separate presentation, consultant Mitchell Klein outlined ways to maximize profit from labor, which he called the specialty retailer’s “most valuable resource.” Although labor can be a profit center in itself, he said, it also can be a barrier to growth if not managed correctly.

During a panel discussion on successful market programs, panelists discussed topics ranging from advertising budget caps to the benefits of print and television ads. Keri Seward, marketing and merchandising manager at Bjorn’s Audio and Video, explained that one secret to success is advertising a concept rather than price. Bjorn’s president Bjorn Dybdahl advised attendees to build relationships with the media and with the community to attract customers.

In the final keynote, author Joe Pine explained that today’s consumers are seeking experiences at brick-and-mortar stores because goods and services have become commodities. People want to be engaged in an inherently personal way, he said. “Experiences drive everything else — people want to create memories and signature moments.”

The conference was the second held by PARA as a division of CEA.