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2012 Hall of Fame: Jay Buchanan

Jay Buchanan, Electronics Division Director, Nebraska Furniture Mart

January 2012 By Nancy Klosek
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Figuring out how to be a big retailer while maintaining the personal values that matter most to consumers is always difficult. There is a long list of stores that have tried but failed, but Jay Buchanan has managed to strike that balance at Nebraska Furniture Mart.

Even before the recession, when customers were already time-starved but not as dollar-conscious as today, Buchanan, electronics division director, and his team were re-thinking NFM's brick-and-mortar layouts. The stores are mammoth but far from sterile. "They have soul," said Buchanan. "It's that extra ingredient where it doesn't feel like a corporate experience. It's taking technology products and making them appear as heroes, making them digestible."

That design approach has resonated so well with NFM's customers and vendors that there is a 1.9-million-square-foot Dallas store in the planning stages and due to open in 2015. While details are still being finalized, its half-million-square-foot electronics showroom, just as at other NFM locations, will house multiple single-vendor stores-within-stores. NFM's store layouts are a blend of departmentalization and adjacency, with a series of diagonal main drive aisles that pull customers through the store without overwhelming them.

"It is very sensory," said Buchanan. "It becomes a natural kind of thing, not a forced thing. It causes customers to explore. The departmentalization has a strong core, and the core is a hub that becomes a magnet for people. We use the perimeters of those departments, with powerful end caps, to have people look at products in a sea of merchandise on a granular level. You lose that overwhelmed feeling but you don't lose the engagement and the pull effect of each department."

Buchanan has been involved in CE for 30 years. During the last 26 he has focused on NFM's CE Division, offering a "differentiated customer experience, whether it is a simple retail transaction or an advanced whole-house integrated system." His early involvement in redefining NFM's strategy, as well as the company's costly investments in showroom design, warehousing, marketing, human capital and the Internet, are among the keys to NFM's success.

Buchanan also credits part of that success to his membership with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which he mines for networking opportunities and unique research.

"I found new colleagues in the membership ranks that are innovators, who understood customers, the business, and how to best solve problems," said Buchanan, who is past vice chair of the Audio Video Retailer Division and current chair of the Retailer Council. "As I better understood the association, the more I gained."

Buchanan is also known to give back as much as he has gained.

"It's like he lives, sleeps and eats retail. He speaks retail and absorbs retail information like a sponge," said Kerry Moyer, CEA senior director. "He even teaches the business of retail. Retail, for Jay, is not only a business it's a science. Studies, numbers, facts...Jay's my go-to guy."

Buchanan is inquisitive by nature and always has his finger on the pulse of products, technologies and business practices. A desire to improve his already strong marketing skills spurred him to go back to school in mid-career for an M.B.A. in marketing and management sciences. He also credits several mentors, including his father, Russ, and Louie, Ron and Irv Blumkin, his three bosses during his NFM career, with having shaped his growth.

"At a time where retail is tough, Jay, with his team, continues to reinvent the sales floor to remain relevant and compelling to the consumer," said Eric Bodley, vice president at Perfect Path, who has collaborated with Buchanan in the last 12 years on various CEA committees, including the Retailer Council. "He is spot on with his approach, not only in brick and mortar retailing but with his experience on where CE retailing has its roots, where it is presently, and where it is headed." DS



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