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Buying Groups Guiding Dealers Through Trying Times


It wasn’t too long ago that national bigbox
chains were the biggest challenge for independent

Enter The Great Recession, which has lowered all boats
and has now become the greatest threat to independentlyowned
CE and appliance

But just as before, buying
groups – confederations
of single- and multimarket
dealers who pool
their resources and share best practices – have come to
the fore with new merchandising programs, new business
opportunities, and the educational, marketing and backoffice
support that can make the difference between success
and succumbing in the current environment.

Among the industry’s leading buying organizations is the

Nationwide Marketing Group (NMG)

, which goes to
extreme lengths to ensure the long-term health and survival
of its members. Case in point: director of field sales and
member services Ed Knodle, who ran his own business,
Knodle’s Appliance and Electronics Center, in Sycamore,
Ill.; served as sales director of Standard TV & Appliance
in Portland, Ore.; and is a former executive director of the
North American Retail Dealers Association (NARDA).

Knodle brings his extensive management background to
bear as point man for an NMG retail SWAT team of sorts
that swoops in and resuscitates troubled dealers by imposing
basic business disciplines.

Knodle also teaches those principles at Nationwide’s triannual
Masters Mentor Summit, along with Bryant Group
principal Steve Bryant, and at the group’s first-ever Business
and Leadership Management Conference, held last
month in Dallas. The three-day conference was designed
to teach dealers the fundamentals of running a business,
and to ensure their continuity in the new marketplace, by
presenting 15 courses on such topics as email and web
marketing; merchandising; customer service; financial
management; and strategic and succession planning.

“We brought in the very best in the industry including
a pool of experts from Nationwide,” said Knodle, which
included Bryant and member services director Elly Valas,
herself a past president/CEO of NARDA.

Besides providing operational support,


the industry’s largest buying organization, also assists
dealers through the creation and development of a nationally-
recognized brand to help spur traffic. The brainchild
of CEO Bob Lawrence, BrandSource has been heavily
promoted on home-related cable shows, was a sponsor of
game shows like “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune,” and
most recently signed on designer and former model Kathy
Ireland as the group’s “brand ambassador.”

“BrandSource is the only industry-wide initiative that will
help the independent reverse a 10-year trend and create
awareness to help independents successfully compete
today and in the future,” Lawrence told attendees at the
group’s Spring Summit in February.

Meanwhile, BrandSource’s specialty A/V divisions,

Home Entertainment Source (HES)

and the recently

Progressive Retailers Organization (PRO

, are working together under the ProSource umbrella
to help its members evolve with the industry and
smoothly enter new connectivity-related categories like
smartphones, tablet PCs and content delivery.

Members must become “integrators that sell A/V. Products
that are commodities” – like HDTV – “are not the solution,”
HES executive VP Jim Ristow told TWICE during
the Summit. To help ease the transition, ProSource has
developed a Connected Source turnkey display concept
that allows members to show and demonstrate connected
systems in their stores at little cost, he said.

Ristow’s PRO Group counterpart Dave Workman is
continuing the discussion this week at PRO’s annual spring
meeting in Dana Point, Calif.


Home Theater Specialists of America

, which celebrated its 15th anniversary at its own
spring meeting last week at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass
in Chandler, Ariz., (see story, page 4) is pressing on with
plans to expand group membership and sales volume. The
goal: 70 members and $500 million in annual revenue to
further raise HTSA’s profile with vendors.

Other recent initiatives for member A/V dealers,
custom installers and system integrators include
customized websites, provided through an optimized
platform featuring new graphics, readily changeable
skins and enhanced search-engine marketing. The
group has also invested in e-commerce tools like
Google AdWords, banner ads and keyword searches,
and has positioned itself as an objective, unbiased
authority on home technology through a targeted
public relations campaign and how-to videos,
hosted by training director David Berman, placed on
YouTube and


The Internet is also the focus of a major initiative


. The 1,500-dealer furniture,
majaps, CE and mattress buying organization
recently introduced for its members WebFronts
Premium, an affordable e-commerce program that
represents a step up from MEGA’s basic online offering,
first introduced in 2007. The new two-tier
platform is highly customizable and offers virtually
unlimited product catalog capabilities, advanced
merchandising, price tools, an unlimited shopping
cart, advanced search engine optimization techniques,
an automated rebate center, and product
comparison features.

MEGA Group president Rick Bellows said Web-
Fronts Premium will give members a competitive advantage
by providing access to 10,000 SKUs and
uniquely accommodating each of the group’s for main
product categories within a shopping cart. “We had to
have an e-commerce site as good as any in the country,
and spent a lot of time developing a premier web
presence that will take a back seat to no one,” he said.

A group of a different feather is the

NATM Buying

whose 11 major regional dealers are largely
autonomous and often maintain their own programs
with vendors. Nevertheless, NATM’s cumulative
clout still provides competitive buying opportunities
with core CE and appliance suppliers, and members
relish the exchange of ideas and best practices.

To further bolster member dealers, NATM is considering
new tactics including operational initiatives to
reduce costs, and a direct-sourcing program to bring
in accessories and other categories from China. The
group has also extended its mix to gaming and PCs
and, following several trials of an exhibition space at
its annual meetings, will formally host its first one-day
vendor fair at the next conclave in September.

Perhaps the most niche-oriented buying group is

In Car Experts,

or ICE, serving the 12-volt specialty
dealer. With some 185 showrooms across 40 states
and over $250 million in annual revenue, the group
operates a consumer website featuring live expert
chat and automated coupons that was designed to
send pre-qualified customers to members’ stores. All
members are also provided with a hosted website
for their individual businesses that is updated weekly,
plus access to a generic TV spot shot in full HD.

Also servicing 12-volt dealers is the

Electronics Specialists of America (MESA),

25-member group with 88 locations in 24 states.
MESA was founded in November 2009 as a
member-owned organization that provides dealers
with fully produced TV commercials, radio advertising
and printed material, as well as group VIR
programs, pre-planned product buys with pre-produced
marketing materials, and opportunity buys
of vendor overstocks and closeouts. –

reporting by Steve Smith