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BrandSource Taking Page From ProSource Playbook

ORLANDO, FLA. — BrandSource debuted its new CEO and outlined how its ProSource strategy will be the model for the overall group during its annual Summit & Expo held here earlier this month.

Jim Ristow, who helped develop the organization’s former Home Entertainment Source division into ProSource, the specialty and custom CE group, addressed BrandSource members as their overall CEO for the first time. He succeeded Bob Lawrence, who retired at the end of last year.

Ristow and the management team at BrandSource want to take the ProSource playbook, which has made it the biggest CE buying group in the industry with nearly $4.6 billion in sales, and apply it to the overall group’s major appliance, furniture and TV categories.

“We have a recipe for success [from ProSource]. We saw the trend coming 12 years ago. Old-school buying groups were dead. ProSource is based on small, medium and large dealers,” Ristow noted.

And in TVs, which BrandSource’s electronics/appliance stores sell, Ristow said ProSource sales “were up 22 percent last year.”

He said the approach should be “to leverage big but act small,” meaning the group will still hold its two national shows per year, but will also hold regional events and dinners, conduct inside sales and field store visits, and form regional committees and boards.

“ProSource has become the gold standard for luxury CE and… the national alternative” for suppliers in that category, Ristow noted.

He commented that BrandSource is “very good right now, but it is going to get better with small, medium and large dealers and will be the ‘gold standard’ for major appliances, furniture and TVs.”

Aside from the challenges BrandSource’s independent electronics/appliance retailers face from Lowe’s, Home Depot, hhgregg and a beleaguered Sears, one of the major problems is that independents “are closing their doors,” due to a lack of succession planning.

In an effort announced last year, BrandSource has continued to work with California State University in Fullerton to analyze the problem and develop a turnkey success plan for independents that will include short- and long-term planning; creating a pool of potential buyers including fellow members; financing; and other tools.

“The industries we serve – appliances, furniture and TV – are strong and growing and most independents should thrive” over the next several years, Ristow said.

He added, “We have a recipe for success and an aggressive upbeat attitude. We have to grow or die, not just stay in the same place. We will be the gold standard for major appliances and furniture.”

A key category for the 2,000 or so BrandSource members is major appliances, and John White, who has added the title of chief marketing officer to appliances executive VP, reminded members, “Ninety-three percent of overall retail purchases are from brick-andmortar, especially for our categories. Therefore we must focus on the shopping experience.”

White urged retailers to look at their stores with fresh eyes every day and ask, “Why would customers come into your store?” He said from bedding to furniture to appliances “it is easy to shop from home,” but with these categories “You need to ‘kick the tires’ and experience the products first hand.”

He showed a video of a remodel of Douglass Appliance in Danvers, Mass., sponsored by Maytag, in which 36 hours of work and $1,500 of paint and redesign led to a 25 percent increase in sales. (See clip at

“There is no ‘secret sauce’ to redesigning your stores,” which should include store signage inside and out, White noted. “Just put on your glasses and take a look at what needs to be done.”

He said retailers today “should have a convenient upgrade in point-of-sale systems,” namely tablets. He also reminded members that customers “want help in making a decision”; that retailers should have “a variety of products and brands in each category”; and that “the in-store experience has to be enjoyable. We will never win the better-price competition [every day] but we can provide a better experience every day.”

That doesn’t mean that e-commerce doesn’t mean anything anymore. “You have to come up with an online strategy that matches the in-store experience and will ensure that consumers will buy from you,” White advised. “Give them a reason for shopping with you.”

He added, “You have to have a combination of everything” when marketing today, which includes “Web, social networks, print, TV – things are changing very fast so watch competitors, suppliers and fellow members” for suggestions.