In the wake of an escalating coronavirus situation, elbow bumps replaced handshakes as the best-practices greeting of choice among members, vendors and buying group executives at the March-held AVB Summit 2020 in Vegas at the Venetian and Palazzo Hotels. Beyond this measure – an effort to ensure a safe conference for all – the meeting had every earmark of a celebration of a banner year just past of sales and member growth.
“BrandSource grew market share for the fourth year in a row and grew membership,” AVB CEO Jim Ristow reported to members in his State of the Union address. But his overall message was as much about forging ahead with 2020 strategies as it was about citing numerous 2019 benchmarks of success.
Ristow urged those members without a serious ecommerce presence to get one in 2020. “Your website needs to be your flagship,” he told them, while citing a white paper study showing online as the buying method of preference of consumers. To that end, he directed members to sign on with AVB Marketing’s transactional, Google-optimized site – “the machine behind the curtain,” as he put it. The Alta 360 platform, which has been offered by the group since last year, is designed to drive 30 percent more traffic than rival web platforms do, according to studies. He said members using it grew their business an average of 200 percent between January and September 2019. “Customers want to buy online, but not from box stores – from someone local… We need to take care of that customer,” he said. Moreover, according to a group-issued statement outlining the strategy, ecommerce adoption can work for members as “a turnkey function, with AVB Marketing providing assistance with inventory, payment, website design, delivery and installation and other online functionality.”
In a separate presentation, AVB CMO John White dove deeply into the importance of a functional, robust, easy-to-navigate website. “It’s not about making you an e-tailer,” he told the audience. What it is about, he said, is optimizing the website experience, since “it’s where 90 percent of our customers look before they even pull into your parking lot…. In three to five years, the web will account for 25 percent of sales. You need a plan… You have to embrace this technology; consumers expect it… Seventy-five percent of consumers expect to use new technology to transact – it’s no longer just a ‘nice to have.’”
Showroom Kitchen Vignettes
At the meeting, optimizing the showroom experience was afforded just as much attention as ecommerce as a way to drive sales.
One especially noteworthy program being launched is a BrandSource kitchen vignette solution, which builds on the group’s earlier-introduced showroom upgrade program that included adoption of digital price tags and store makeovers. The six kitchen vignettes, which will include smart-home-enabled products, Ristow said, will entail the participation of vendors in the design of bundled appliance packages in different sizes, shapes and colors, making it easy for dealers to sell complete kitchen suites – and easy for consumers to buy them. The designs will be modular, with products and logos easily swappable, and the group, due to bulk buying, has secured vignette pricing for members at deep discounts of up to 50 percent.
“It’s time for members to jump in with both feet into smart house – building the ecosystem in the home,” Ristow told media in post-speech remarks, after having told members in that speech that “You’re in the smart house space, whether you believe it or not,” as a way of explaining the inclusion of smart appliances in the vignette displays.
Other smart home category initiatives involve the addition of Google Nest-connected products to AVB’s Expert Warehouse product portfolio, including Wi-Fi mesh routers, Nest hubs, mini speakers, learning thermostats, doorbells, security cameras and Nest Protect smoke alarms. A press release stated that these solutions, combined with members’ ability to provide installation and home networking services, will create synergy, allowing them to compete effectively in the growing mainstream smart home category. Further cementing this initiative as part of a whole solution is BrandSource’s tech-support program partnership with Allstate for 24/7 customer assistance for all connected products under its extended warranty plans.
'Mirroring ProSource, its AVB affiliate group, BrandSource is now providing members an affordable healthcare option at a savings of as much as 40 percent below industry rates, according to a statement. The GAIN (for Group & Affiliate Insurance Network) program permits members to take coverage via Cigna or the PHCS network and provides them a choice of five plan levels.
Also, to help members simplify and sort through the plethora of available group programs, a “Checklist for Success” summary of programs and services offered was rolled out and distributed to members. Using the laminated list, members were encouraged to review its contents and to check off programs they were currently using, while also reviewing additional programs available to them. The list also offers contact information for securing more details.
Ristow told media in attendance that there has been “a ton of positive momentum” within the group over the last five years. “Members are talking to potential members and everyone is focused on growing their businesses… The main message is we’re providing the tools to help them succeed not just for today, but for the future.”