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TWICE One-On-One With NATM’s Jerry Satoren

DALLAS – Jerry Satoren, the longtime CE sales executive who was recently named executive director of the NATM Buying Corp., believes that industry trends and members’ market strength will enable the group to grow profitably during the holiday season and beyond.

Satoren, a veteran of Thomson Consumer Electronics, Toshiba America Consumer Electronics and most recently DSI Systems, officially joins the $7 billion buying group of top regional CE and appliance retailers on Sept. 15. He succeeds Bill Trawick, who has led the group for 15 years and will retire on Dec. 31.

In this exclusive TWICE interview, conducted in advance of NATM’s annual group meeting in Dallas next week, Satoren speaks to NATM’s strengths, addresses major industry issues, and describes, in his words, the “big shoes” he has to fill in following Trawick.

TWICE: How will your background as a manufacturing and distribution executive help you lead NATM?

Satoren: One of the biggest aids in my new job will simply be the length of my experience. Over my long run in the business, I have gotten to know just about everyone in it, especially on the retail side. And if you spend all that time trying to do the “next right thing,” you ultimately earn trust and respect. These things are prerequisites to being successful in any leadership position, but particularly in this type of role.

My many years as a supplier to NATM have also afforded me a very broad knowledge of the competitive challenges and needs of the larger regional retailer. And after all those years of being the seller, I have learned to listen. That skill has been an important discipline in whatever success I have had with NATM members as customers. It will be equally key with them as constituents.

Finally, the last few years in distribution changed my interaction with most suppliers from competitor to customer. It has been an education, and it will be invaluable in my work with NATM’s merchants. So if you add it up, I think this package of experience is really why the group has selected me for this slot.

TWICE: How has the role of buying groups changed in this industry during your career? What do members, and suppliers, need from groups now?

Satoren: Clearly, the role of the buying group when I first began in the business was solely to dangle large combined buying power in front of manufacturers in an effort to negotiate a better price and program. Today, price and program are still a priority, but many U.S. retailers are also looking for buying groups to provide help with services ranging from logistics to advertising and just about everything in between.

We have seen some groups evolve in this direction, providing those goods and services for a much lower cost than their members could otherwise achieve on their own. This by far has been the biggest change.

From the supplier perspective, I don’t think needs have really changed that much. They still need a return on their investment in the form of increased volume and share within the group, along with a better product mix.

TWICE: What do you think makes NATM unique among the industry’s buying groups?

Satoren: There is no doubt that the profile of NATM’s members is what makes it unique. Each and every member is a highly visible household name in their respective markets. In almost all cases they are the appliance and/or TV and/or home-furnishings share leader in their trading area – including big-box chains.

There is no other group that can offer more volume per storefront to its suppliers and, with so few members, can act as one when given a reason to do so. As NATM looks to add members to fill in its national footprint with retailers that fit the “market leader” profile, it positions itself to become even more unique.

It will be able to offer its suppliers a way to reach a higher percentage of the U.S. population with more trained salespeople and more floor demonstration, affording them the opportunity to present and sell the better mix of product they covet in a more cost effective way.

TWICE: Will this fall’s Ultra HD promotions by TV vendors have a significant impact for NATM dealers? And are you concerned that 4K prices may fall too low in the fourth quarter?

Satoren: Yes, I believe that this fall’s Ultra HD push will make a difference for all retailers and especially NATM members. The TV business has finally shown some signs of improvement in recent months, and with affordable, but not cheap Ultra HD pricing in play on larger sizes, consumers are going to buy.

I also think that with the tablet category finally cooling down, we will see some of these consumer dollars come back into the TV space this holiday season. So NATM members, and their ability to sell better products, should be poised.

As for pricing, I am not too worried this year. I think there will be a very nice balance of average selling price and increased sales volume in the Ultra HD category.

TWICE: With Sears losing market share in major appliances to Lowe’s and Home Depot, has NATM been able to keep and grow its fair share of majap business?

Satoren: In many ways the appliance business is evolving in a way that has benefitted NATM. With the very innovative and compelling products coming to market these days, especially in the areas of design and connectivity, the shift in share in the big-box channel has created an opportunity for NATM members to take advantage, once again, of its selling floors and the ability to up-sell. It is safe to say that NATM is pleased with the current state of its appliance business and is very bullish on its prospects for the near future.

TWICE: Are NATM members embracing home automation? Do members think that wearables could be a profit generator, or at least a traffic driver, during the fourth quarter?

Satoren: Yes, members are embracing home automation and wearables as well as adding other new categories as they adapt to an ever-changing marketplace to meet the needs of their customer base and improve bottom-line performance. I certainly believe wearables will be a very hot space in Q4 that will generate a ton of store traffic along with a significant level of sales. Further, due to the relatively low transactional costs of this type of sale, there should be enough volume this year to make this competitive category a profitable one as well.

TWICE: Bill Trawick has headed NATM for 15 years and has worked in the industry for five decades. He’s been your customer for a long time. What have been his key contributions to NATM and the industry during his career?

Satoren: Bill has made many contributions to our industry over the years. Early on, you have to look at the success of the retailers he was involved with. In his first three-and-a-half decades, he worked at Intercounty Appliance, P.C. Richard and Conn’s. All three are still here today and are as strong as ever. I don’t think that is a coincidence. He left his mark as an expert merchant, retailer and businessman.

As a young salesman in those early days, I personally learned by observing him that integrity, class and being a straight shooter were in fact valuable virtues for getting things accomplished, not signs of weakness.

Over the last 15 years at NATM, he has used all of his knowledge and experience to not only keep all of his members in business, but make them better. He has worked tirelessly on their behalf as an advisor, facilitator, negotiator and partner, and has worn whatever other hat he may have been asked to wear to make them stronger. It has never been about him, and always about the members.

Indeed, Bill has set the standard for what the role of the buying group executive director should be. When he moves into the next phase of his life at the end of this year, I will certainly have big shoes to fill. A daunting task but fortunately for me, I have been one of the lucky recipients of Bill’s guiding influence over the years.

Steve Smith is TWICE’s editor at large and was its longtime editor in chief.