2018 Buying Group Roundtable: Jon Robbins, HTSA
Retailers, in their never-ending quest to compete for customers’ hard-earned money alongside major big-box retailers and the ongoing threat of Amazon, can really use any advantage that comes to pass. For some, it’s leveraging their local connections within their community. For others, it’s providing a service that attacks a gap in the marketplace or does so at a level no major corporation could ever dream of.
Another strategy: Aligning oneself with a retail buying group.
Buying groups have a way of bringing this industry together for not only the promise of getting better deals on some of the top products in their particular category—though that’s, understandably, one of the biggest benefits for store owners. However, in addition to that, buying groups offer members top-notch education, the ability to network with and learn from some of the top minds in retail, and—maybe most important of all—share their battle stories with other retailers who are likely in a very similar situation to their own.
We recently approached the top executives in the space to let them do the talking. For our annual Buying Group Roundtable, we turned the tables around on those execs and posed some questions around their benefits, what they’re doing in the area of education, and what retail trends and challenges they’re keeping an eye on for next year.
Here’s what Jon Robbins, Executive Director of HTSA, had to say.
Dealerscope: What are the core marketing and sales strategy messages you are communicating to your membership this year? What should they expect, coming into your meetings – and what messages do you most want to be their main takeaways?
Robbins: We’re carrying on the messaging we came out with at the Spring conference. We’re going after the whole wellness segment. We introduced Delos [Darwin, the wellness intelligence platform for homes] there, and we’ve entered into a partnership with them. That’s our first step into that market: partnering with the proper people and getting our messaging out there to the design and architectural communities that we’re experts in wellness. And we’re spending a lot of time educating our people along those lines as to what wellness really is and what wellness building standards are, and how we can contribute to creating wellness in people’s residences. We’ll be working with them to educate our members about how to best provide wellness monitoring in high-end residences. And we’ll obviously continue with our lighting initiative; we’re proud that we were the first to announce what we were doing in the architectural lighting space; we’re continuing the education on that and providing some incredible opportunities for our members.
Despite the many CE/appliance/CI buying groups within the industry, there are dealers and integrators out there who are still unaffiliated with a buying group - or there are those who might be looking to change their buying group affiliation. What’s your elevator pitch (if any) to them as to why belonging to your group would make the most sense for them?
Obviously, we all know about buying groups’ financial advantages by creating programs that are group-based – but really, that’s secondary in our messaging, which is about best-practice-sharing and education. Over the last three years we’ve put a huge emphasis on educating our members’ teams to create better dealers – education for technicians, for categories, for doing better demos. We have the Tech Master Series where we’ve trained almost 200 people, at Maverick Technical Institute in Nashua, N.H. We have vendor master classes where we will [pair] members to various vendors. And we have entrepreneurial educational initiatives. I think our pitch is not so much just a financial play. We are a trade consortium and we live that. It’s not just a buying group; it’s about making our members better through best-practice sharing and education.
What category or categories hold the most profit potential for your membership? Is that different from last year – and if so, how?
Lighting is one. And it leads us to other, legacy categories, because we’re now in the conversation far earlier, and can talk to clients about what we’ve always done, whether it be sound, or networking.
In what areas will members need the most help from you next year – and how is that different from last year?
One of the biggest challenges that members are having is finding qualified staff and team members – skilled and unskilled labor. As the unemployment rate has dropped it’s become more challenging to find people – and we’re assisting in many areas. Our education helps along those lines. We’re attracting and retaining employees. When you educate team members, they’re far more likely to stay.
What marketplace issue or issues do you think will influence your members’ businesses the most (some possibilities: the economy, tariffs, the housing market, the results of the midterm elections, etc.) – and why?
The economy has been great and we’ve felt the benefits but we’re going into November with a lot of uncertainty. Of concern are tariffs, and few vendors have pro-actively broached the subject – in fact, only one or two [as of now] have said hey, you need to prepare and that there might be some price moves. I think the others are waiting to see if it actually happens. And an awful lot of the products we specify come out of China. I’ve got to believe they’ll be affected at some point.
Regarding the political climate, I think we’ll learn a lot by mid-November about how things will look, going into 2019.
Map out the rest of the year for your part of the group – will business be up or down, about how much either way, and what factors will most profoundly influence the outcome for members?
Last Spring conference, we announced the group was up over 30 percent for the beginning of 2018 over [the same period for] 2017. We anticipate we’ll be right in that area for the full year, and are continuing to see growth across the board, the way things look through August numbers. We’ve come a long way in the last three years and we are excited about the future.
Don’t forget to check out our other 2018 Buying Group Roundtable Q&A’s. Here’s the entire rundown: