BrandSource’s annual Summit, held March 1 through 4 at Nashville’s Opryland Resort and Convention Center and co-located with the ProSource Summit, was, first and foremost, a buying, educational and networking event – but it was also the occasion where parent organization AVB celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Echoing the message of an AVB history video that opened the proceedings by characterizing it as “a 50-year-old company that acts like a startup” was AVB BrandSource CEO Jim Ristow – who was also celebrated at the Summit for his 25 years of service. “We’re just getting rolling,” he proclaimed.
While the meeting was framed in the spirit of a startup, though, the group’s membership and revenue figures are far from where they stood at its inception all those years ago. By the end of 2018, membership stood at nearly 4,000, many with multiple storefronts, and retail buying power, at $19.5 billion, he said. The 2019 gathering also drew more depth of bench from attending vendors, and in aggregate, Ristow said, attendance was up 30 percent from last year.
Besides accessing buying opportunities, those who came were privy to a roster of programs and educational tracks designed to enrich the knowledge and capabilities of the most web-savvy dealers whose stores also emphasize the buying experience – and to bring others up to speed with their member peers on both digital marketing and cutting-edge showroom merchandising. Emphasis was also placed on synching in-store and online messaging for maximum synergistic benefit.
Ristow noted opportunities ripe for the picking by the BrandSource independents due to the woes of retailers like Sears and MattressFirm. “We’re better situated than anyone” to take advantage of the DIFM (Do It For Me) consumer contingent,” he said.
The biggest challenge is in “how the customer will find you,” he said. “Ninety-two percent of consumers are online, looking for the integrated services you provide. Are you there for them?” he asked dealers in his Summit State of the Union remarks.
Solutions put before members included several programs, some of which tap into the resources of in-house digital marketing agency AVB Marketing’s deep well of capabilities. Here are highlights:
Project Blackburn – Characterized by Ristow as “game-changing…a “360-degree solution. You need to do digital for that 92 percent of searching customers… they will shop where it’s the best experience and it’s easiest to shop.” The aim: to provide rich, dynamic web site content – and some of that, in video. “Product videos in our [industry’s] space are almost non-existent,” he noted. He used as an example of how it’s done right in other product universes by airing an online video for a pair of shoes on Zappo’s site, where the video was narrated by the retailer and not the shoe vendor. The concept as he outlined it is to first generate well-written descriptive copy and then to use members’ “best of the best” salespeople, flying them to AVB Marketing’s Sacramento offices to record the videos and then upload them for website use. “Independent retailers are good at demonstrating and talking product in an experienced way. This [translates] that skill from brick and mortar to online,” John White, chief merchandising officer, said.
AVB Makeover: Store Edition – Similar to the Extreme Makeover TV show concept, the group is launching this vendor-sponsored initiative that will involve a competition whereby six BrandSource members who win will enjoy a three-day store makeover. A video of a makeover done for Minneapolis-based Plaza TV and Appliance was shown as an example of how a facelift can transform a store - and also energize the associates who work there. Various pricing levels of makeovers, topping out at around $30,000 for a full overhaul and descending in price from that tier to less-expensive facelifts that could include something as simple as a basic paint job will be made available to members.
Trust the Tag digital price tag program – A cost-effective program designed to encourage members to adopt the use of three-color digital price tags to help them keep consistent and up-to-date pricing messages both online and in store before consumers. “The amount of labor to just change price tags is amazing,” Ristow said.
The featured keynoter at the Summit, Jason Dorsey, president of The Center for Generational Kinetics, spoke on the importance of understanding the generational dynamics between and among Millennials, Gen-Zers, Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers and about how to leverage these dynamics in business.
And a presentation by White focusing exclusively on marketing touched upon a wide range of related topics including digital marketing, online retail and video engagement. “It’s no longer enough just to run paid advertising,” he told the audience. “It all starts with your website. The lines between online and offline have begun to blur and you need to adapt – to pursue one holistic approach – an omni-channel experience.” He noted that 22 percent of industry purchases are done online and that that number would increase to 28 percent in three years and 35 percent in five years. “Becoming an easy option for the consumer is the name of the game,” he said.
Next March’s Summit is slated for The Venetian in Las Vegas.