PRO Group Looks To Fresh Start In '03

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Following a trying year marked by weak sales and the departure of its second-largest dealer, The Progressive Retailer Organization (PRO Group) is welcoming 2003 with two new members, its first foreign affiliate and a fresh dynamic.

"The good news is the year is over," quipped executive director Roger Heuberger during the buying group's traditional CES soiree here earlier this month. "A lot of us had a lot of pain. It was a very trying year."

Among the challenges faced by PRO Group's high-end A/V specialists was "serious price deflation" in audio and DVD, with the latter down 30 percent in dollar volume despite gains in unit sales, Heuberger said.

Nevertheless, the group managed to end the year flat, with only four months of negative comps, due to strength in the custom installation, mobile, and flat panel display categories.

Another blow came with last month's departure of founding member Ultimate Electronics and its $700 million in buying clout, which forced PRO to revise its goals downward. Still, argued Heuberger, PRO remains a $1.4 billion organization with 220 storefronts and upwards of 300 custom install crews, "and that's nothing to sneeze at."

What's more, a new group dynamic has developed in the wake of Ultimate's exit, he noted, as such smaller members as Ovation, Vann's and Crutchfield "are stepping up and finding a new voice."

Other positives include the addition of two new members, Definitive Audio and ListenUp, and the group's first international affiliate, Audio Centre, based in Montreal.

In other PRO Group news, Now Audio/Video principal Ann Shactman was named VP/treasurer, succeeding Ultimate's Dave Workman. Ovation's Gary McCormick remains president.


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