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Consumer Reports Issues Declaration Of Independents

Yonkers, N.Y. — In a rare convergence, not one but two separate reports were released this month on the state of major appliance retailing.

Both provide incisive but strikingly different takes on white-goods sell-through.

On the one hand, there’s TWICE’s own annual ranking of the top major appliance retailers. Working with longtime market research partner The Stevenson Company/TraQline, we targeted the industry’s 50-largest dealers by dollar volume.

As you might expect, national big-box chains dominated this listing, given their thousands of locations and awesome buying power. Indeed, just the five biggest players alone – Lowe’s, Sears, Home Depot, Best Buy and Sears Hometown Stores – accounted for nearly 75 percent of Top 50 sell-through in 2014, while the home improvement channel – ridiculed by independent dealers as “lumber yards” – controlled 41 percent of Top 50 share.

But that’s not the whole story.

Consumer Reports, in its regular series of subscriber satisfaction surveys, looked not into who sold the most refrigerators and washers, but who sold them best.

Their criteria included service, knowledgeable sales staffs, ease of checkout, post-sale support, selection, product quality and competitive pricing.

This time, as you might again expect, the rankings were somewhat different.

Earning most-favored retailer status for the umpteenth year was Abt Electronics, which was cited by the magazine for its superb selection, free delivery within 100 miles of its lone, 100,000-square-foot Chicago-area store, and high grades across the board.

Why are we not surprised? Only last month Abt topped TWICE’s first-ever Retail Power rankings, wherein we noted that the family-owned business has been a local favorite for decades, and not just for its vast selection and competitive prices. “The sales floor is something of an amusement park, with a Las Vegas-like atrium and enough attractions like a 7,500-gallon salt-water aquarium, indoor windmill, giant-bubble machine, interactive butterfly generator and fresh-baked cookie kitchen to keep kids busy while parents shop,” we observed.

“Add to that a customer-friendly vibe that’s an extension of the Abts’ own zeitgeist and you have a winning retail recipe that appears to be recession proof.”

Co-president Jon Abt said the company is “honored that so many Consumer Reports readers know our store and our e-commerce business and have given us high marks in all categories in this survey.”

But Abt also acknowledged the No. 2 winner on Consumer Reports’ ranking: The independent retail channel as a whole.

“We believe that this shows how much people value independent retailers, whose focus is on providing great service from a knowledgeable and friendly staff,” he told TWICE.

Indeed, even during the darkest days for the independent dealer, when Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot and were seemingly destined to vanquish the channel, buying group executives were confident that a high level of service and an assisted sales floor, coupled with the competitive pricing and marketing support their organizations could muster, would ultimately see them through.

“Seeing that three NATM members [Abt, Nebraska Furniture Mart and P.C. Richard & Son], in addition to the independent channel in general, finished among the top seven appliance retailers in customer satisfaction is certainly no surprise to me,” noted Jerry Satoren, executive director of the NATM Buying Corp. “Major appliances are not commodities and the decision and purchase process is a much more involved one for consumers. Appliances are a core business for us, not a traffic driver.  So we provide unequalled expertise on the sales floor, a broader and more premium product selection, local market knowledge, and a superior experience in the consumer’s home.

“These survey results just validate what we have always believed is critical to exceeding customer expectation,” he said.

Patrick Maloney, appliances senior VP for the $15 billion Nationwide Marketing Group (NMG), believes that service and a winning in-store experience is something that’s baked into independents’ business models. “This dedication to the process is not something that happens by chance; it is practiced daily and built into the fibers of each organization,” he told TWICE. “The independent retailers of NMG have worked long and hard to exceed customers’ expectations, and the latest [findings] from Consumer Reports prove that these efforts are not in vain.”