The NECO Alliance group held its annual Expo for the second year in a row at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino this week, attracting over 1,400 attendees. Presented to the membership was a host of buying opportunities underpinned with an exhortation to them to view their businesses with a fresh eye – and a willingness to adapt, in the face of what Executive Director Anthony Bruno suggested to attendees is a barrage of challenges to their well being.
Bruno cited a healthy 2019 overall for membership, with $2 billion in annual retail sales and a fourth year in a row of record growth. But he noted that dealers would do well to heed numerous factors that could both directly and indirectly affect their businesses. “With more manufacturers selling direct to consumers, the warehouse clubs, [the influence of] social media, and changing consumer demographics,” he said, “you need a plan that adapts for all that.”
To that end, this 484-member group representing 560 storefronts was asked by Bruno to reflect on “what your story is – it’s your store, your culture, your DNA that makes you exceptional as entrepreneurs. With today’s challenging retail environment, you need to look at your plan to sell assorted models with the highest margins, and decide which brands support your culture and your business model.”
Bruno touched on some prominent items on a checklist of “musts” NECO presented to membership in order to “Execute Your Plan to Win!” – the theme of this year’s show.
“Today,” he said, “if you’re not in digital, in social media, you’re not going to resonate with the newest customers,” as he encouraged retailers to review their websites to make sure they fully reflect their businesses.
“You need electronic price-tags,” he added, emphasizing that technology’s ability to present a consistent message across the board, both on the showroom floor and on the web. With ever-more-frequent pricing variations given the promotional pricing fluctuations presented by vendors, “it’s easy to miss a change. If your floor is not priced correctly, the consumer could quietly walk out. Digital price tags help things stay consistent. They’re a necessity, not a luxury.”
He encouraged dealers to pro-actively seek out setting up vendor trainings, which could be “the differentiator between you and a Home Depot or a Lowe’s.” Further, he posed to dealers that they needed to pay as much attention to their in-store appearance as to its website presentation. “Your website may be your Number One line of defense [against competitors,] but when consumers come into the store, what do they see? If you walk into your store through the back door every day, you may not see it – walk in through the front door, for a change. Are your bathrooms clean? This is low-hanging fruit,” he added, but needs attention and review and requires taking “quiet time – finding the time to plan. One hour a week, think about your business; take notes; then pick two actionable things and try them. By executing the basics, you will usually win.”
The Show offered a mix of educational tracks, including a seminar on improving store design, where Martin Roberts, principal of the New York- and Connecticut-based design firm of the same name, presented several store makeover case studies, highlighting the transformations using but commentary and “before” and “after” photos of the businesses. Also featured was a motivational presentation by Jason Dorsey of The Center for Generational Kinetics, who did a deep dive into differences between Millennials and the rest of us – and how to target-market to them and other buyer demographics.