Independent retailer buying group BrandSource brought its August-held member meeting to Dallas’ Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center, where it continued its celebration of both the 50th anniversary year of parent company AVB, as well as celebrated what CEO Jim Ristow told attendees was the spirit that has defined the organization since its founding, and that he said “makes us different: members help members”…. Idea-generation within the group, he said, is “member-down, not top-down.”
In his Day One keynote, Ristow noted how the group is building upon several standing programs introduced at its springtime Summit, while also unveiling some initiatives engineered to help dealers broaden their market footprints in merchandising – both in their showrooms and, perhaps most importantly, online.
“Your website isn’t your second store – it’s your flagship store, the most important store in your arsenal,” he said, pointing to member research conducted in July showing that business generation through the web, unlike sales through a physical store location, isn’t reliant on nearby population or what market your stores are in.
Ristow added, “You spend a lot of time and money merchandising your store, but less time merchandising your website. You must merchandise your website.”
To that end, BrandSource will offer LINQ4U, a program whereby LINQ, the centralized merchandising portal that is exclusive to BrandSource for its lines, and that helps to keep the dealer’s web site and in-store pricing consistent and up to date, will be set up for dealers for a one-time fee of $500, and can be managed for the retailer for a fee of $400 per month; signup opportunities were being offered at the show, he said.
Also, in response to members’ requests for a place where they could access buying group news and information as well as aggregated industry and vendor news - plus stories about fellow members’ successes – Ristow announced the launch of its own website, which went live during the show: YourSourceNews.com.
For all the focus on honing the caliber of dealers’ consumer-facing Internet presence, BrandSource isn’t at all ignoring leveraging online’s power as an agent of sales training. It is making available an all-new online AVB University educational series. It offers three buy-in levels for dealers. A free, Open level includes 30 sales courses designed with the help of online sales training technologies enterprise Cardone University. The Individual level includes 85 courses; the standard course fee is $997 but show pricing for signups was $99 for the first year. The Team level program – including 425 business and training courses along with transferable licenses and a manager dashboard, was available at a special show sign-up price. This level, usually $12,000 per year, was priced at the convention at $200 per month for the first five users and $40 per month for each additional participant.
Ristow also updated members on the AVB Store Makeover vendor-supported contest program, which was announced at the Spring Summit. Five winners have already been announced, with one of those winners just having the store’s exterior face-lifted. The experience garnered with these initial makeovers, he added, will help BrandSource to hone its approach to future ones. “The goal is to inspire other members,” he told us during a Q&A with media after the opening conference session, saying makeover videos will be posted on the new BrandSource web site. “Every member can do something, and we can help to show how it can be done in a low-cost, high-impact way,” he said.
Ristow also reported that production of the Zappo’s-type ‘expert” videos, announced at the spring Summit as part of the group’s Project Blackburn initiative, whose aim was to provide rich, informative online content to stimulate web sales, was well under way and that by Q4, the videos would begin populating to websites for viewing.
He noted that those dealers who signed onto the group’s digital price-tag program launched at that Summit received tariff relief of 10 percent on the cost retroactively, and that the group was encouraging members to buy into the program now due to uncertainty about future tariffs’ effects.
A new drive to encourage appliance retailers to get back into the groove of selling consumer electronics again – specifically, ultra-large-screen TVs – was also brought to membership at this show, via a turnkey partnership with Samsung. “Ultra-big-screen is a growing category,” Ristow noted, “and you can make money on it. This type of product needs to be delivered, which plays to our sweet spot as dealers. And 90 percent of these size TVs are delivered by brick-and-mortar stores. It’s a play for all of us.”
The show also shone a spotlight on members’ in-store sales personnel, via “heavy hitters” program that brought some of the most talented associates to the show to attend specialized educational sessions.
Ristow also offered some observations to media in attendance about the looming issue of tariffs and their imposition’s potential impact on appliance pricing. “There’s lots of concern” over what could be on the horizon, he said, “but we can only control what we can control. You can only worry over today and focus on yourself and your business,” he said, adding, “on a group level, we’re pro-actively talking to our vendor partners,” about possible scenarios.
Other highlights at the convention were the Stampede show-specials event, along with a wealth of marketing sessions, product trainings, and furniture dealer seminars – and of course, the vendor presentations on the show floor.
The group inducted three dealers into the AVB Hall of Fame, who were introduced by AVB Lifetime Achievement award winner, former Whirlpool executive Sam Abdelnour: Ron Bemis, of Bemis Appliance in Washington; John Horst, of Famous Tate Appliances in Florida; and Bill Pleasants, of Plaza Appliance Mart in North Carolina.
And a Marketing panel emceed by BrandSource CMO John White and including Mary Putman of GE Marketing, Allison Chaney of Instagram, Nathan Engels representing Pinterest and Patrick Tam of Google, addressed various methods dealers should be using to optimize online presence and get buyers’ attention. One of the simplest ways, suggested by Google’s Tam, was to make sure their Google My Business listing was always current. “You need a verified your listing to control it – your hours, your location,” he stated. “It’s often people’s first touch point with you - and it’s free.”