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Nationwide Show Draws Record Crowd

The Nationwide Marketing Group adroitly rebounded from the loss of its planned Superdome venue in New Orleans to stage the buying organization’s largest ever PrimeTime! meeting and convention last month at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, here.

Under the theme “Fast Forward: 2006 and Beyond,” the $10 billion independent dealer confederation kicked off its biannual confab with member attendance at an all-time high (about 400 dealerships) and with a record roster of some 200 exhibitors in tow. Total attendance was approximately 3,500.

President/director Ed Kelly began the proceedings by announcing that Nationwide grew nearly twice as fast as the white-goods industry last year, and that the economy and the group’s vendor and customer bases are perfectly aligned to propel members to new sales and profit highs.

“The economy is strong, the consumer wants your goods, and manufacturers are bringing out new products,” he said. “That’s healthy, and just as we predicted four years ago that business would be great, we now see nothing but straight-up growth.”

Kelly pointed to consumer electronics as a key propellant in that expansion. “Consumers electronics has exploded,” he said. “We told you four years ago to get into this category. Now we can’t even get enough product, and electronics is poised to take off like a rocket this year.”

Other harbingers of increased prosperity: the lowest rate of business failures in history last year, and storefront expansions by independent dealers. “For the first time in years we’re hearing, ‘We’re opening stores,’” Kelly said. “It has become profitable [to be an independent dealer], and kids are entering the family business.”

Executive VP Robert Weisner concurred. “As I visit members around the country and speak to them daily by phone, I constantly hear of record months, new stores, remodeled showrooms, new product categories and modernized distribution centers,” he said.

Weisner later lauded the group’s dealers for their exceptional performance, and cited Nationwide’s “great partnerships with vendors, who have been wonderful working programs.” He also exhorted members to look beyond their traditional core categories. “We will continue to search out products to help your stores grow,” he told attendees. “Sure there are new electronics products and high-end appliances, but there are also other categories our merchandising guys think you should look at.”

Indeed, a diverse range of products from 41 first-time vendors not typically associated with the brown- and white-goods world appeared on PrimeTime!’s 175,000-square-foot exhibit floor, including entries from the lawn and garden, cookware, jewelry and motorbike categories. Also exhibiting was MovieBeam, The Walt Disney Company’s revived video-on-demand service.

Other areas deserving of consideration are outdoor grills and floor care, Weisner noted. “There’s more profit in a $499 vacuum sweeper than in a flat-panel TV,” he said.

Elsewhere at the show, Nationwide launched a sales training initiative known as “Steve Bryant’s MASTERS Method,” a new DVD and online selling skills learning system, available around the clock to any sales staffer at any Nationwide member company. According to Bryant, principal of The Bryant Group, an Atlanta-based marketing, advertising and A/V production company, the free program includes nine separate 10- to 15-minute learning modules detailing a “tried and true road map” for developing trust, increasing customer satisfaction and boosting sales.

MASTERS itself, Bryant noted, is an acronym for “meet, ask, show, tell, encourage, reach, and see ’em again and again.”

Bryant was also screening the group’s current collection of high-definition television commercials for dealers at the show. The ads, initially available to Nationwide’s largest-volume dealers only, number upwards of 70 iterations, and include holiday-specific spots and a series that pokes fun at Best Buy, Home Depot and Sears. The customizable commercials are available to all members for a nominal fee of between $399 and $599, which covers the cost of seamlessly inserting dealer logos and voiceovers into the footage.

Elsewhere, the Venetian venue marked the first convention since Nationwide and Furniture Marketing Group formed a strategic alliance last year, creating what the groups describe as “the nation’s largest furniture marketing organization” with $2 billion in buying power. The alliance was reflected on the show floor, where roughly half of the exhibit space was filled with various home furnishings.

Also at the PrimeTime! event were members and officials of RentDirect Nationwide, launched last year as a purchasing and marketing organization for independent rent-to-own dealers.

Other highlights of the confab included keynote addresses by Max Wasinger, sales and marketing senior VP for Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America, and Jim Campbell, president/CEO of GE Consumer & Industrial (see story, p. 50), and Nationwide’s series of PrimeTime! University retail seminars, held under the auspices of educational consultant Elly Valas.