Elly Valas, Nationwide: An Ardor for the Independent

Valas views her work with Nationwide as another way to help equalize the playing field between independents and mega-retailers, in more ways than just buying power.

“Major chains have whole teams to develop TV spots and do merchandising, advertising and training. If every independent (hired) someone to do each of those things, they’d be out of business,” she said. “Buying groups really help them do all this stuff to sell their product through. It’s about giving the little guy the scale, in many things, of the big guy.”

Guerrilla Retailing and Lessons from the Links, Valas’ two books, are among her proudest achievements. The latter compares business to golf, and was inspired by a dealer who said that he ran his business the way he played the game. “He explained to me that most people think they should run their businesses the way their competitors do,” she said. “If the competitor drops a line, they need to do the same. But a golfer doesn’t change his game because he’s playing Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson. You play your best game, and try to overcome your weaknesses.”

A subset of her passion for independent retailing is her specific ardor for family-run businesses. “I’m not nearly as enamored with the cool technology as I am with the people who bring it to market, the people who connect with customers and with vendors,” Valas said. “I believe in these family businesses that are under tremendous stress. But some of them are doing great. Polyanna that I am, I still believe small business is the foundation of America.” DS

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