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BrandSource Building Toward Digital Future

Eight months into his tenure as BrandSource CEO, Jim Ristow is retooling the $12 billion buying group to remain effective in a rapidly evolving retail and merchandising landscape.

Building on a foundation laid over two decades by his predecessor Bob Lawrence, and working with a charged-up board of dealer directors, Ristow has moved quickly to reorganize the group, set new merchandising goals, and revamp its marketing agenda.

The latter, announced at the group’s convention and expo at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas last month, includes a new strategy for the BrandSource branding program – a legacy Lawrence initiative that lays an overarching national badge over dealers’ local identities.

While Ristow reiterated his belief in the BrandSource brand, and chief marketing officer John White cited stats showing that majap dealers do better with it than without, gone will be the big-budget TV tie-ins and commercials.

Instead, Ristow said, BrandSource will be employed “much more surgically,” ostensibly using social media tools.

“We will build the brand where it can make members money, not spend money to build the brand,” he told attendees to a thunderous round of applause.

Also high on the agenda is a turnkey digital marketing solution for members that monitors their co-op ad budgets, submits co-op claims, provides pre-approved ads, and optimizes websites for Google and Facebook traffic.

Ristow said the new program addresses dealers’ annual $5,000 in unspent co-op dollars and $10,000 in underutilized funds on average, while energizing their digital efforts.

The initiative will launch with nearly all appliance and bedding brands on board, to be followed by CE and rent-to-own vendors.

The program will play out against the backdrop of a new online infrastructure that includes a more robust backroom and redesigned consumer and member sites.

The new backroom is easier to navigate, provides more product information (plus videos) and will allow members to track their volume and vendor rebates, Ristow said, while the new consumer site is cleaner in appearance; is optimized for mobile for improved Google search rankings; and sends customer queries direct to dealers via geo-coding, rather than funneling them through BrandSource.

Members’ e-commerce sites are also in play, having been newly optimized for furniture and custom install, with rent-to-own to follow. Ristow said one-third of members currently piggyback on the group’s e-commerce platform, accounting for 60 percent of majap volume and 1.5 million page views, and half of the membership will soon be on board at the current rate.

Ristow set another lofty goal within furniture, where he plans to double the group’s mattress business over the next three years through promotional opportunities, shared containers, special purchases, and the aggressive growth of its furniture membership under sales president Tom Bennett.

BrandSource has also brought in industry veteran Ray Allegrezza, former chief editor of one-time TWICE sister publication Furniture/Today, to assist executive VP Mike Allen and members as a home-furnishings consultant.

Organizationally, Ristow has integrated the Resource- Plus division, formerly MARTA, into BrandSource’s Power Dealers tier under director Bob Thompson, and has broken out Bennett’s sales/recruitment function into three separate teams.

He’s also placing a new emphasis on the rent-to-own Trib Group division, where there’s untapped opportunities to share infrastructure, vendor programs and best practices, and next spring will roll out a blueprint for succession planning, based on proprietary research provided by Cal State Fullerton.

The big-picture goal, Ristow told attendees, is to render BrandSource “the most relevant entity in CE, appliances and furniture” by making its members prosperous and building business for vendors.

“We’re not there yet” in achieving best-in-class merchandising programs and services across the board, he acknowledged, but are well on the way.

“We’re redefining what buying groups do … and are preparing for the next generation of retail,” he declared.