Twice a year, thousands of independent electronics and appliance retailers come together for the combination buying conference, retail tutorial, and pragmatic pep rally that is Nationwide Marketing Group’s PrimeTime meeting. The group, which has nearly 2800 members, is the largest appliance, CE and furniture buying group in America, and it has the sway of a mammoth retail operation. Providing direct sourcing, promotional and warranty programs, sales training, a speedy distribution system, and most importantly, buying power, Nationwide is the infrastructure that is keeping many Mom & Pop CE/appliance shops functional. And the man who was partly responsible for its origin is the late Lee Guttman.
The leaders of Nationwide stroll the vendor floor of PrimeTime meetings like benign uncles, offering advice, encouraging words, and a quick joke.
The senior of the uncles these days is President Ed Kelly, a straight-shooter from Winston-Salem, N.C., who isn’t afraid to say things like, “If these dealers don’t get their websites updated, I’m going to strangle ’em.” A founding member of Nationwide, Kelly has spent years earning his bluster. Still, when you ask him to speak about Nationwide’s first President, Lee Guttman, Kelly says his own charisma pales in comparison. “People would sit on the edge of their chairs when Lee spoke,” he remembers. “They knew he was always going to say things that would help them.”