Independent retailers and service providers from over 30 states and Canada learned how to compete more effectively in today's marketplace during the North American Retail Dealers Association's (NARDA) 2004 Fall Institute of Retail and Service Center Management, held here this month at the Oak Brook Hills Resort.
The three-day event, which was the first Institute directed by recently named NARDA president/CEO Tom Drake and his newly formed team, offered a broad range of skills-training opportunities from improving the customer experience and measuring conversion rates to running a profitable service department or company.
“You must develop a niche for which you are known,” advised opening keynote speaker Sam Abdelnour, Whirlpool's VP/North American sales. “The customer has a choice. Find a way to make that choice you.”
Skills-training courses included a hands-on peak financial performance workshop, a service profitability session, and a panel discussion on creating winning in-store events. The latter, moderated by TWICE's senior editor Alan Wolf, featured Bob Young, principal of Young's Appliance; Leon Barbachano, CEO of Allen & Petersen; and Mike Abt, president of Abt's Electronics.
Young described how his use of “guerilla radio advertising” — infomercial interviews aired live on local stations in which he talks shop and takes pot shots at competitors — helped generate a 57 percent top-of-mind awareness for his business within his market. Final cost after co-op support: $25 per broadcast.
Barbachano said he generates publicity and traffic for his three-unit Alaskan appliance and housewares chain by holding private sales, charity auctions, cooking classes, and live cooking demos and book signings by celebrity chefs.
Abt Electronics also holds private sales and in-store cooking classes using a moveable kitchen, as well as 12-volt audio competitions and photography classes. In lieu of vendor-sponsored events, which in the past have actually hurt sales, the family-run and family-friendly business entertains kids with a giant bubble maker and revolving ball, Internet-connected iMacs, and during the appropriate holidays, an in-store Santa and Halloween-costumed employees.
New features to the Fall Institute included a live customer focus group (conducted via telecast); a retail field trip to Bass Pro Shop and Sears Grand; and “The Scrimmage,” a lively business-simulation game played by teams of attendees.
The Appliance Consumer Service Task Force (ACSTF) also presented a panel discussion on warranty reform, while the group's leadership held its subcommittee meeting at the Institute to discuss inroads with white goods vendors. (A full report on the ACSTF's latest activities will appear in the next issue of TWICE within the Major Appliances section.)
Con Maloney, CEO of Cowboy Maloney's Electric City and a principal owner of the Round Rock Express minor league baseball team, hit a home run as the Institute's closing keynote speaker. Using sports as a metaphor for the business world, Maloney mixed retail know-how, humor and interesting anecdotes to inspire and teach attendees how to build successful teams capable of outperforming the competition.
Audio recordings of the 2004 Fall Institute sessions are available on CD and can be ordered online at www.narda.com.
The 2005 Spring Institute of Retail and Service Center Management will be held at the Chaminade Hotel and Conference Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., April 1-4.