With the furniture business going strong and new appliance technology accelerating replacement cycles, prospects for the Best Brands Plus (BBP) buying group look generally good for the remainder of this year, BBP members told TWICE at the group's annual meeting last month in Orlando, Fla.
Also helping to boost sales has been BBP's National Banner store program, through which stores are remodeled to present a unified BBP brand image.
About 70 of BBP's 1,000-plus storefronts are participating in the National Banner program so far, according to Jerry Honea, merchandise manager for BBP's furniture division. Honea said 10 of those participating stores have been redone inside and out, with new exterior signage and identification on delivery trucks; new interior flooring and paint using BBP's recommended colors; and revamped merchandising on the sales floor, in-cluding new marketing banners and merchandise layouts conceived by designer Randall Ramos.
Several dealers who have participated in the program -- such as Best Brands Plus president Steve Combs of AAA Appliance in Little Rock, Ark., who totally remodeled his 10,000-square-foot store using its guidelines -- reported higher volume and a larger percentage of higher-end sales after the changes.
Retailer Sam Marconi of Springfield, Ill., changed the name of his business to Sam's Best Brands Plus after building a new store through the Banner program, "We're doing two-and-a-half times the sales we did before," he said. "Best Brands Plus has given us an identity and done a lot for us."
Retailers at the BBP meeting, whether involved in the Banner program or not, generally reported strong 1999 sales, particularly in white goods. Tim and Jeanne Scott of Coastal Appliance in Cape Coral, Fla., for example, said they are considering adding another appliance line this year.
"Last year was a pretty good one for us," Tim Scott said, "with laundry appliances and ranges, particularly smoothtops, doing especially well." And with a major remodeling project using BBP's Banner program just wrapping up, they are optimistic about prospects for 2000. "People love the new look," said Jeanne Scott, "so I think we'll do well."
Robert Reeves Jr. of Crawford Appliance in Greenville, S.C., also pegged laundry appliances as top sellers at his store, along with the new crop of built-in refrigerators. With built-ins in general doing well, he plans to create a series of kitchen vignette displays to showcase the category, probably by the end of this year.
Royce Alford of Alford's Home Furnishings in Ward, Ark., saw a boost in appliance sales, which represent about 25% of his volume, but a dip in electronics sales. "Electronics are only about 10% of my business as it is," said Alford, "but I think the category fell off last year because I didn't stock as much merchandise as the previous year, thinking I'd have trouble meeting the prices of the nearby chain competition."
Another Arkansas dealer, Jimmie Jones of Jones Home Furnishings in Newport, said his overall volume -- 60% furniture, 30% appliances and 10% electronics -- fell off about 1% last year because a local plant shut down. Jones predicts that with the area's economy still smarting from the closing, "we'll probably do the same this year as we did in 1999."
Coming off a strong 1999, Ray Gadke of Weygant's Appliance in Platteville, Wis., is quite bullish about prospects for this year.
"Last year I had real good sales growth in laundry and refrigeration," he said, "and I think that momentum will continue this year, unless something negative happens with the stock market or the overall economy."
Gadke said he is considering adding mattresses to his furniture inventory sometime this year but will keep his appliance offering the same as last year.
The annual meeting was also the first for Key Northeast, which merged with BBP on February 1. The former Key America chapter, led by executive director Jim Sendrak, expands the group's ranks into the New England states. Sendrak, a former merchandising VP with Bernie's and Silo, joined the BBP staff as a field marketer for eight Northeastern states.