Elly Valas, Nationwide: An Ardor for the Independent

Long before the term ‘glass ceiling’ was coined to describe impediments to the career advancements of women, Elly Valas, Nationwide’s Member Services Director, broke through the consumer electronics industry’s version of it.

Valas earned the moniker of trailblazer back in 1992, when she was named president and co-CEO of NARDA (the North American Retail Dealers Association), the electronics, appliance and furniture trade organization.

The group’s management actively recruited Valas, impressed by her more than 20 years of experience in the retail, sporting goods, CE and home appliance industries. Since then, she has built a reputation as a book author and Dealerscope columnist, and as a business consultant who is regularly sought by independent retailers of all sizes.

“She’s an evangelist who cares deeply about the independent channel,” said Jeannette Howe, executive director of Specialty Electronics Nationwide. “There’s a passion in her that goes beyond what the industry has to offer. In many ways, I consider her a mentor and a hero. A lot of her time is now spent with independents, helping them turn around their businesses and fix the things they need to fix. She’s not afraid to tell a dealer they need a coat of paint, or new carpeting, or a new salesperson, or succession plan in place. She’ll tell people the difficult stuff because she believes in it.”
Retail was something Valas grew up around. Her father, Harry, ran Denver’s Valas Stores and she worked there from 1973, after leaving the sporting goods business. “Those were the days when we actually dug out a crawlspace in our store basement and finished it to show big-screen TV because you had to show them in the dark,” Valas said.
Industry figures like Earl “Madman” Muntz, a friend of her father’s who pioneered car audio; and RCA’s Jack Sauter, Bill Boss and Joe Clayton left indelible impressions on Valas. Among her mentors in shaping her work with independents and her management style, she counts her dad, Jerry Gart, who ran Gart Bros., a leading sports retailer in the Rocky Mountain region; and NARDA’s Zeke Landres. Being in the trenches with retailers is something Valas loves.
“I was never an ivory tower guy,” she said. “I always love being part of the team, wherever I am. When I do a consultation, I try to spend time with the salespeople as well as the owner or manager. And the hands-on aspect carries over to my writing, talking to the people out there.”

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