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Dealers Deploying Different Strategies To Counter Tough Times

Independent dealers are employing a variety of strategies to help carry them through the challenging economic environment.

Nebraska Furniture Mart, for one, has begun allowing customers to use its private-label credit card to make purchases on the company’s e-commerce site.

“During these tough economic times we want to make it as easy for our customers as possible,” said executive VP Bob Batt. “If your refrigerator goes out, you can’t wait for the economy to turn around — you need to go out and buy a new refrigerator.”

Online shoppers using the company’s revolving credit account will continue to have the option of deferring interest payments for 60 days, and will be able to take advantage of longer payment terms when such promotions are offered, the NATM dealer said. Currently, the retailer is offering zero-percent financing for 21 months on purchases of $299 and higher using the company’s credit card.

“Nebraska Furniture Mart customers love the fact that we offer interest-free financing,” added Jeff Douglas, the company’s Internet marketing manager. “It makes it very easy for them to buy … whatever they need especially when it’s interest-free for an extended amount of time.

“Unlike others,” Douglas continued, “we welcome new accounts, we provide our own credit, and have plenty of it available.”

Systemax, the IT manufacturer and retailer, is also taking a different tack, by bringing elements of the online experience into its brick-and-mortar stores. Its Retail 2.0 concept, currently implemented in two of its CompUSA locations, features Internet-connected computers that are discreetly coupled to select products. The PCs provide product messaging while in idle mode, but a tap of the keyboard brings shoppers to an “item details page” that describes features, provides configurations and offers demonstration videos for the store’s laptops, desktops, printers and flat-panel TVs. Systemax plans to convert half of its 28-unit store base to the new format this quarter, with the balance of its TigerDirect and CompUSA stores to be retrofit by June.

For Paul Sherman, owner of Peoria, Ill.-based Sherman’s stores, the not-so-secret formula for thriving in a down economy is sticking to the basics — a strategy that helped increase sales 10 percent in 2008.

“Many dealers are not sticking to the basics,” Sherman said. “Everyone in business is having the same reservations, but the worst thing you can do right now is pull back.”

Indeed, Sherman continues to move full speed ahead in 2009, beginning with the planned completion of a new 30,000-square-foot distribution center in March, and the grand opening of a 29,000-square-foot store in Peru, Ill., set for May.

“We are grateful that we are growing,” said Sherman, a member of the Nationwide Marketing Group. “While the economy in Central Illinois has been stronger than most, our growth is largely due to the way we do business” and to the programs and support of his buying group, he said.