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NATM Dealers Optimistic About Biz In Balance Of 2002

After ending 2001 on a winning note and enjoying continued strength through the first quarter, NATM dealers expressed confidence during their buying group’s annual meeting here last month that 2002 would be another banner year for better CE and white goods.

“Business is good,” noted BrandsMart U.S.A. president Mike Perlman. “Plasma and projection TV are very strong and white goods are showing increases.”

In fact, Perlman is anticipating an appliance bonanza this year as South Florida marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew — and many of the replacement products sold as a result of the storm near the end of their life cycles.

Meanwhile, Bernie’s, which just came off the most profitable year in its 54-year history, anticipates that 2002 will be “significantly more favorable,” said senior VP John Wilkerson. The reason? “Big TV is flying,” he reported, and it’s taking audio along for the ride. Also expected to boost earnings is the chain’s decision to exit the lower margin mobile phone and 12-volt categories. “We’re chasing profitable growth, not just sales growth,” Wilkerson said.

For Gordon Hartunian, president of ABC Warehouse, it’s the economy, stupid — plus a new generation of energy efficient majaps. “We’re on the right side of the economy,” he observed. “A lot of people have given up on other spending habits and are more inclined to pick up on new products like horizontal washers.”

For some NATM members, including Abt Electronics, robust business has necessitated larger facilities. This month the family-run retailer is expected to move its headquarters, warehouse and sales floor into a new 350,000 square foot facility. The move follows another solid sales year, in which appliances, especially side-by-sides, showed particular strength.

The merchants from Morton Grove also remain high on e-commerce. “We’re expecting 50 percent to 70 percent growth in our online business this year,” said chief merchant Phil Hannon. The Web site entered the black in 2000 and was “very profitable” last year, he said.

Another one-location dealer planning a major expansion is Nebraska Furniture Mart, which will open a 650,000-square-foot Kansas City store in 2003. “It takes the best of all of the ideas in our three Omaha buildings and combines them into one facility,” said video merchandise manager Mark Shaw.