NATM Dealers Open Doors

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Fueled by low interest rates and strong cash flow, NATM members are opening new stores and/or relocating and renovating older ones in order to better display new CE technologies and higher-end appliances.

Here's a look at some of the dealers' big doings:

ABC Warehouse: The 39-unit Michigan chain is opening one new store this year and relocating two according to president Gordon Hartunian. Elsewhere, the company is "getting all the DLP inventory we need" thanks to fastidious forecasting and planning, and is covering its home networking bases by outsourcing to sub-contractors.

Bernie's: The Connecticut company is embarking on a five-year strategic growth plan that calls for opening at least one new store a year with an eye toward expanding outside its market, said senior VP John Wilkerson. First up, the 11-store chain is consolidating four distribution centers and three offices into one new 185,000-square-foot warehouse and showroom facility in Enfield, Conn., that will also serve as its new corporate office. Bernie's is also relocating its Springfield, Conn., store, opening as many as two units in Fairfield, Conn. and will remodel the balance of locations beginning with a "radical overhaul" of its flagship Manchester, Conn. store that will double in size.

Boscov's: The mid-Atlantic department store recently opened two new units, in Harrisburg and Altoona, Pa., and plans to build three or four more in 2005, said Ed McKeaney, senior VP/general merchandise manager. Boscov's runs its CE and majaps businesses "like we're an independent," he said, given its incentivized sales structure, 50-tech in-house service center, and emphasis on extended warranties. Yet a recent private sale promotion hit 2 million customers, underscoring its unique status within NATM. McKeaney, formerly a member of Nationwide, noted that his new affiliation makes for "a better marriage."

BrandsMart U.S.A.: The five-store Florida chain has commenced construction of its first Atlanta location, a former GM assembly plant in Doraville, president/CEO Michael Perlman reported. The store, set to open within the next 12 months, will measure 122,000 square feet, including a 78,000 square foot showroom, and will be supported by a 200,000-square-foot regional warehouse, expandable to 1 million square feet. The extra capacity will come in handy, as the company is planning one new Atlanta store per year "for the next few years," said executive VP Larry Sinewitz. The market can support 10 to 15 BrandsMarts, he estimates.

Conn's: The newly public company will open the fifth of 18 planned stores in Dallas this month, and has renovated the balance of the 46-unit chain with new lighting, fixturing and a power track floor plan, said senior VP/merchandising David Trahan.

Cowboy Maloney's: The 13-unit Mississippi chain is looking for two new locations in Jackson and is scouting a third in the Southern part of the state. "We always look for a 'Cowboy Deal,'" explained president Edward Maloney, "but haven't found the right location at the right price." Meanwhile, the company has refitted most of its locations with larger built-in appliance areas and displays, and has installed five manufacturer vignettes in three stores with two more units on tap for later this year.

CEO Con Maloney said high-tech TV is generating a lot of business, while white goods continue to be strong. "Appliances are always going to be good," he noted. "We refer to the category as 'mother,' and we say 'Mother always takes care of us.'"

Queen City: The 11-store Carolina company is opening one new store next quarter and is relocating an existing unit to a larger facility under construction next door. CEO Chip Player is also retrofitting his current store base "to achieve a more uniform look."

R.C. Willey: With same-store sales in positive territory, the 12-unit furniture, appliance and CE chain will open a Reno location — its third in Nevada — in spring of 2005, said CEO Scott Hymas.

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