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Nationwide’s Double-Digit Growth Shows Strength of Independents

Nationwide is a buying group of 3,500 independent retailers representing $15 billion in annual retail buying power that celebrated its 50th PrimeTime conference and buying fair in New Orleans this week.

Gloomy headlines have dominated stories about retailers in the first quarter. Macy’s and JCPenney have reported store closings, Sears had a disastrous holiday season for consumer electronics and major appliances, RadioShack filed for Chapter 11 and hhgregg, a once strong regional electronics/appliance chain, filed for bankruptcy and is looking to sell its assets by April.

It seems as if only Amazon, and a handful of other national retailers, can make any money at retail, especially in electronics or appliances.

But if you visit the Nationwide Marketing Group you will find that there’s plenty of profitable sales growth in electronics if you carry the right product mix and expand upon it, reach out to consumers and have an educated staff that can explain, sell and service these products.

Nationwide is a buying group of 3,500 independent retailers representing $15 billion in annual retail buying power that celebrated its 50th PrimeTime conference and buying fair in New Orleans this week. PrimeTime has become a twice annual event for the group, which sells everything from 4K UHD TVs, to washers and dryers, upscale barbeque grills, mattresses and furniture.

Samsung’s Family Hub 2.0 refrigerator got attention at PrimeTime

Tom Hickman, executive vice president in charge of electronics for Nationwide, says the group’s 1,300 members who sell the category had a 20 percent increase in sales dollars in calendar year 2016 versus the previous year.

The main reason was due to higher price point TVs, large screen 4K and OLED models, Hickman notes. And in the cut-throat TV business he reports, “Our ASPs (average sales price) were $360 higher per unit,” for higher end TVs that include 4K, OLED and all the rest.

But Nationwide’s electronics success is not only about upscale video displays. Through its partnership with distributor D&H some of its members sell laptops, smartphones and tablets. Hickman says, “That’s not a high-volume business but you have to be there in some cases, to be competitive and get more foot traffic into stores.”

However, “Distributed audio is now hitting the mainstream. And we launched our Connected Home Kiosk at last year’s PrimeTime in August.” Nationwide’s Connected Home is a turnkey display program that provides dealers who are not custom installers with a customizable display of products in that category.

Hickman adds that the group has its own custom installation members, Home Technology Specialists Nationwide (HTSN), 300 of Nationwide’s 1,300 members who are experts. Nationwide has a strategic alliance with Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA), the retail and custom integration buying group, which provides Nationwide with expertise in the custom installation area. Nationwide provides plenty of logistical support to HTSA.

HTSN, the alliance with HTSA and the Connected Home Kiosk program, as well as Nationwide’s established culture of being able to sell, explain and install technology products made the announced partnership with Nest Labs days before PrimeTime a very logical deal.

Hickman commented in a statement announcing the Nest agreement, “This partnership represents the clearest path to success in what has been a confusing channel, but one that also holds a great deal of growth and promise.”

Tom Hickman, executive VP of electronics with Nationwide Buying Group, at the Nest booth at PrimeTime

Nest and “Works with Nest” products will be available to all of Nationwide’s independent dealers (not just dealers that sell electronics). Nest distributors Audio America, AVAD, Capitol Sales and Volutone will carry the entire “Works with Nest” product suite for the group which will be featured in the Connected Home Kiosk program.

Hickman says that Nationwide’s outdoor category effort – a mix of furniture, appliances and outdoor cooking products has an electronics element to it that its independent retailers will try to market and promote heavily this year. “Look at how much time people spend outside today. They want to relax and transport the indoor living experience outside and they will also want music and video [products] to do that.”

These are new categories of growth for Nationwide, and independents in general, during a changing landscape in retailing where these local independent retailers are able to understand, service and sell new technology categories, while using cutting-edge digital marketing efforts to attract younger and more sophisticated consumers.

Nationwide’s President and CEO Dave Bilas, says at PrimeTime that basic market fundamentals for its mix of products including consumer technology, include consumer confidence, low debt and good housing starts “usually means you will sell more durables, like electronics and appliances. We’re bullish about 2017.”

Steve Smith
Steve Smith is contributing editor of i3, was the longtime editor in chief of TWICE and is a member of the Consumer Technology Hall of Fame.