BUYING GROUP ROUNDTABLE
Group Dynamics 2020
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Consumer technology buying group execs weigh in on their COVID-19 strategies and the outlook for 2021
by Nancy Klosek
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Dealerscope: What core marketing and sales strategies are you are communicating to membership this year in light of the COVID-19 situation? What pain points or urgent needs do they address in that light? What should they expect, coming into your virtual meetings – and what messages do you most want to be their main takeaways?
Richard Glikes, President, COO, Azione Unlimited: In the beginning, when things were very uncertain, we did a number of webinars on managing cash flow, applying for PPP loans, balancing inventories, and on working with vendors to make sure you remain solvent. The next thing we did was to make the members feel more confident. We did these “fireside chats,” with a group of 10 vendors at a time where they each got to speak for five minutes. Then, we moved to our Summer Stimulus program, which encouraged dealers to talk to vendors and add their brand, and we had 52 new brands adopted by our dealers; 1,490 conversations that were precipitated by the program. Now, we’re doing something called Talk to – Sell Through, which is where if dealers talk to a vendor they do or do not do business with, and buy $500 worth of merchandise, they can have a chance to win prizes of $5,000 a month, through this three-month program. This is all in addition to a series of webinars about housing starts, and we also just put on our virtual conference. From a dealer standpoint, we are encouraging them to market and have done direct-mail campaigns. The one in July, in conjunction with Sony, had positive, demonstrable results. They sold TVs, projectors, and theaters off direct mail. We touched 30,000 people with three postcards and a newsletter – a series of taps on the shoulder. It’s the repetition that makes them aware of you. People literally sold product right off these nice-sized postcards. We also asked our dealers for a quote about what makes our vendors special. We took quotes about brands and put them in a six-page newsletter and mailed it to everybody; it was kudos for particular brands about what made them special. It was a warm-and-fuzzy mailer where people said nice things about vendors’ brands, and it gave an opportunity to get other dealers’ perspectives on a vendor. We’ve done a lot of things – and obviously, there was the Conference [in October], where we tried emulating our (in-person) conferences with speed networking, workshops and keynote speakers. Once people got familiar with the software platform, it worked pretty darned well; there were 355 attendees. Right now, the group has 233 dealers and 67 vendors.
Tom Hickman, President & Chief Member Advocate, Nationwide Marketing Group: Things have been difficult over the past seven to eight months, but those retailers who were able to pivot and reimagine the way that they do business have been able to thrive. From BOPIS (Buy Online Pick-up In Store) and contactless payment to online carts, appointment shopping, video chat and contactless delivery, independent retailers have taken the challenges that COVID-19 has presented and created real opportunities for their business. When national retailers shut down and couldn’t find a way to get products to customers in need, our retailers were able to execute, finish the last three feet strong with safe in-home and contactless delivery, and create customers for life. And while digital was critical during the months of shutdown, its importance will not fade as things start to reopen. People have become accustomed to searching and shopping online, and those behaviors will continue. So, now, more than ever, it is vital to have a strong digital presence. Not just a website, but a transactional website. Not just digital advertising, but a coordinated strategy. “Good enough” is no longer good enough. You have to really invest time and energy into your digital marketing and sales strategy to stand out from the competition.
Jim Ristow, CEO, AVB/BrandSource: We had our first virtual convention – I think we were one of the first ones in the industry. The takeaway from that was it doesn’t replace face to face; however, the survey results were really positive and I’m proud of the members. There’s a theme here of members embracing change, embracing technology, and we’re doing all we can to help them through it. In marketing and sales strategy, all this change is happening so quickly that they need to act now. COVID is the great accelerator of patterns that were already coming. This tidal wave of online shopping has been coming for several years, and so many of them have made those adjustments. Because of that, they were ready when COVID hit. It’s about being armed with the right information, and about hitting the gas pedal and not the brakes even though business is good. We predicted some of this was coming but not as quickly. We predicted our online sales would grow 600 percent over the next three years; well, they grew 1,300 percent in six months! Our members who invested in the future and in technology are reaping the rewards, and are outpacing the industry by over 15 percent.
Jon Robbins, Executive Director, Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA): Our numbers are really strong. We’re communicating regularly with our people when you can ahold of get them – but we don’t want to force-feed it, because they’re so busy doing [installation] projects. Everything’s good. Early in the pandemic, we saw opportunities in our channel. We had no idea that our channel would have them in abundance because of the stay-at-home trend. Early on, we promoted ‘customer outreaches.’ We scripted members about what to say to existing clients for that. It wasn’t about being stuck at home. Instead, we would [encourage members to] call them and say, ‘Hey, we just wanted to check on you and see if everyone was OK. Here’s what a lot of our clients are doing right now…They’re redoing their home theaters, and upgrading their home networks.’ That was the approach, rather than being ambulance-chasers. This was created through Keith Esterly, our relationship science [expert]. We planted the seed, and it’s been highly successful.
David Workman, President/CEO, ProSource: What we’re looking at is different than what we thought we’d be looking at, at the beginning of this pandemic. It caught everyone by surprise, how strong business ended up being for tech products. Everyone’s trying to predict what will be the pull-forward effect of the upsurge. It’s clear the kind of year-over-year increases we’re seeing are unprecedented – so you have to believe you’re pulling forward some demand. There were originally some concerns about the holiday season and whether the surge was just trading dollars from the holidays. Everyone backed off of that, and said well, maybe there’s a little more gas in the tank and we’ll be up almost 20 percent for the holidays. Moving into next year, we’ll probably see the uptrend continue, at least for the first half. The first quarter we’ll probably still be in a lockdown mentality, and some categories will drive the business. The second quarter 2020 was when everything shut down. If they’re not [shut down] in 2021, we’ll have easy comps. And there was horrible product availability for Q2 2020. So it’s not until probably after June 2021 that things might get dicey as far as trying to put increases up. And how you plan that will be the trick. I’m taking 2020 out of the picture [in terms of predictions], and going back to 2019. [You need to] look at that volume and then curve up or down off that level. You almost have to use 2019 as your baseline. Then you have to think about what gets softer. For the audio category, which we’re strong in, you may not see the same level of business. When people are able to go on vacation, they’re going to be spending on everything but what we sell. I don’t think every category gets affected the same, though. For example, take the new game consoles coming out [in November]. Part of what drives TV upgrades is content, so that should help the TV business. But you won’t see the benefit till 2021 anyway, till [game console] production catches up. The other part of that does reinforce audio – things like soundbars and better sound, to go with that high-resolution game they just got. We do benefit from that. The biggest pain point is consistency of supply. What I’m telling members, primarily custom integrators and smaller dealers, is that stocking dealers have a little more flexibility to stockpile for what’s going to be an early holiday. The season has officially already begun with Prime Day. So dealers have been trying to advance-inventory as best they can. The integrators and smaller dealers don’t stock a lot, so they need to give vendors more advance notice on products, and by what date it needs to be installed. I’m asking dealers to work with vendors a little further out. You have to be flexible. Give the vendors a little advance notice of your needs, and if it comes down to it, you may have to take product a little earlier. The second thing we advise is to work with vendors who have your interests at heart. Not all are the same. You need to pick your partners. Custom integrators sell things on the basis of recommendation. Why recommend a product you know you’ll have a problem getting when you can recommend something else?
What are the main issues your members are asking about for help with right now from you, to aid them in weathering the COVID storm? And how have their needs changed in general, since the onset back in March?
Gerald Satoren, Executive Director, NATM: Everyone’s main issue lately has been trying to get their unfair share of product allocations. As a result, I imagine all of the buying group leaders are expending a fair amount of time and energy on behalf of their memberships’ efforts to acquire the merchandise they need. I’ve also noticed, as the year has progressed, that I have increasingly felt the need to become a bit more of a clearinghouse for timely and more consistent communication with both our members and our vendors. I’m finding that with each passing month, the elimination of in-person meetings, especially larger conference-type events, has resulted in a much more uneven flow of information and ideas.
Hank Alexander, Executive Director, HTSN: The needs have changed over the last seven to nine months. The first part of the year was all about strategies for differentiating themselves from their competition and the need for additional help. March and April were all about PPP – how to apply for aid, what the both the federal and state requirements were, what are the options and how to apply for help and how to remain open if local authorities would allow. Soon after, in May, the focus became getting product.
Ristow: What stayed the same is, members are starved for information, and need it delivered concisely, and need it right now, so they can make the right business decisions. When COVID hit, it was all about PPP and PPE in the stores. Now, it’s about getting inventory, because demand is so high – and about how to manage credit lines. Members are focused on information, both from us and each other. We’re hosting several hundred member calls where members are sharing information. We’ve made 46,000 one-on-one calls and touched 99 percent of members that way. We’re hyper-focused on communications.
Robbins: Now, they’re so busy. They have fairly full pipes. Most have completely full funnels for the next 90 to 120 days. I don’t think that’s going to let up. Real estate is insane – not just new construction, but also existing-home sales, and people want the newest technologies in them. We’re following the real estate market, which is on fire with these low interest rates. We think we’ll be busy for the foreseeable future.
Glikes: They’re really busy, and that’s good. Product shortages with the exception of receivers and some specific televisions have ameliorated. We still have labor shortages, but the good news is they’ll continue to be busy for the next couple of years. In terms of the theater business, people won’t be going to the movies for quite a while – it will be quite a while before that comes back, if it ever does. We’ll [be selling] high-speed servers sending new releases, streaming, and we’ll be selling projectors and theaters, and it will be great for our business, like eight or 10 years ago. And that means [sales of] robust networks, speaker installations, projectors and screens and larger display devices – and furniture. Put that on top of the fact that we’re moving into lighting fixtures after lighting control, with electricians having trepidation about controlling them. And we’re at the precipice of wellness. I think we’re looking at a really nice future ahead of us.
What categories hold the most profit potential for your membership now? Is that very different from last year – and if so, how? Name what the “killer categories” for you will be in this coming year – both high-margin and “hot,” if those are different.
Workman: Shades and lighting are the right- and left-hand glove; they go together. Networking, of course, is very hot. But really the whole home theater category is, as is home audio. People are simply prioritizing entertainment in their homes. I expect that to continue through the holidays, as people want to bring a little joy into their lives. People will want to give themselves a holiday, and you can’t do the things you would have otherwise; you can’t live in lockdown mentality forever. We’re on the right side of that purchase behavior for now. It will end at some point, when people are able to spend their discretionary dollars in more normalized channels. But I think we’re in for another six to nine months of very strong sales. But I am recommending to the dealers, don’t spend it all, because there will come a time when it won’t be as robust. That’s maybe more true for the retail side of it. The other part is home starts. They’re extremely strong, with interest rates being as low as they are. It’s reaching almost to a level like before ’08. That will provide a nice, long runway, because these larger homes take 18 months to build. For custom integrators, the key is to build an outreach program with the existing customer base with smaller projects to fill in the blanks. There’s plenty of demand out there to discuss upgrading customers’ experiences, and their theaters in their homes – theaters that haven’t been tended to. They may have a 10-year-old projector in that theater. And the movie theaters are still closed. Customers don’t know what they don’t know, so dealers have to be pro-active and make suggestions to them.
Satoren: As we enter the final quarter of the year, any category that is home-related has become a killer category. Televisions, monitors, computers, tablets, major and small appliances, bedding, furniture, etc., are categories that continue to have more demand than supply, though we are starting to see the gap close. With respect to margins, I don’t think the high-margin categories or low-margin ones, in relative terms, have changed much since last year. What has changed is that all “profit” boats have risen as a result of the COVID dynamic – meaning that as a result of shortages, we have seen significantly less promotional activity, resulting in higher ASPs (Average Selling Prices). When you combine that with temporary but significantly reduced expenses, like travel, for example, I expect financial results across the entire value chain to be quite favorable. Of course, it isn’t sustainable, but it has become the silver lining to COVID, if such a thing exists.
Ristow: We’re blessed to be in the industries we’re in – home furnishings, mattresses, appliances – all are great demand categories. Anything for the home. Larger-screen TV and home entertainment and theater systems, networking, smart home connectivity. And people cook more and are doing more laundry at home in the past few months than in years. Appliances sales and laundry – the demand is hard to fathom and continues to grow. Experts thought when COVID hit that it would be demise of the independent retailer. Instead, we’re outpacing the industry and growing market share; I’m, so proud of them. There are challenges in handling backorders and customer-demand issues, because business is running at such a high pace – keeping the intensity and fighting burnout and “COVID mental fatigue” is something we’re trying to help members with.
Hickman: Home appliances, consumer electronics, furniture and bedding are, of course, still supremely popular. They’ve all experienced some supply chain issues since March, and there are some places where things are still tight, but we’re hopeful that those challenges will start to resolve within the first half of 2021. But, as a retailer, you can’t just wait until inventory is available. You have to innovate and look for new opportunities for sales success. And that’s where connected services can be a real game changer for Independent retailers. Nationwide Marketing Group is the only Independent buying group whose members can sell AT&T products and services. And it’s so easy. You don’t need a huge floor display or a warehouse full of inventory. All it takes is a small kiosk with some marketing materials to support their existing sales team. We can even connect customers directly to an AT&T service rep to complete the sale, and the retailer gets paid for the activation. In fact, since our AT&T relationship launched last year, Nationwide members have earned more than $1.5 million from AT&T. We’ve always known that connected services were the gateway for Connected Home, but these last eight months of work from home coupled with remote learning for kids show how critical this service is. That’s why our exclusive retail Google hardware program is so critical. Our members can now be the go-to source for DIY customers who want to upgrade their thermostats, doorbells or security cameras, offering the same Google connected home products they’ve typically found at big-box stores but with the superior customer service that makes the independent channel unique. And for those who need a little extra help, our members’ custom installers can install the full suite of Google Nest products. These programs are all excellent revenue generators, and I think they’re something every Independent retailer should take a hard look at.
Robbins: Obviously, networks. Home theater was also very hot this spring and early summer. We did a lot of upgrades of people with eight- or 10-year-old systems who hadn’t used them, and they dusted them off and then got ’em up to date. Also, in the spring, outdoor went crazy. For the places where it starts getting cold, that will obviously cool off for the next several months. Lastly, in new construction, lighting has been on fire, as a result of the work Tom Doherty has done for us. We’ve educated so many people in lighting hardware and architectural lighting. Certain categories are in shortage – panels and A/V receivers. The key is to try to get information from vendors ahead of time and communicate that to members – trying to stay ahead of it. Those shortages are easing up a bit now, moving into the fall weather. Our channel is not unique in this. Home appliances are a problem in terms of shortages. Vendors would project out product needs but in March, April and May, no one really knew what was going to happen. No one knew our channel would be so busy. So people backed off on product production projections and it got us in a catch-up position.
Glikes: People need to focus on theaters. That is a huge category. We already know it. It died for a while, became a media room, but we weren’t selling the reclining chairs as we did a few years ago. This whole COVID nesting thing, keeping family close, looking for entertainment avenues…. If you can’t go out, you’ve gotta be in, so let’s make it fun. There’s lots of runway with “the bigger [TV] image” and related categories.
What marketplace issue or issues do you think will influence your members’ businesses the most (COVID; shortages of some things such as flat panels or other categories; the economy in general; the housing market; etc.) – and why?
Glikes: What’s affected us is the workforce issue. When an installer gets COVID, it takes two or more people out, and there are two weeks or more of work that can’t be done. We didn’t have enough work force to begin with, and then when someone gets sick and/or afraid to go into people’s homes, that’s been an issue. The supply issue will ameliorate by January or February. We have an infinite amount of products and a finite amount of labor, and you have to worry about what’s finite.
Workman: COVID has obviously re-prioritized discretionary spending. It’s being concentrated around certain industries and not around others. We are benefiting from that. There’s virtually no spend going on in the travel industry, on flights, on cruises…. And that is a $750 billion industry per year; I’d bet that now, it’s not 25 percent of that. That money’s sitting on the sidelines. But we primarily appeal in our business to the upper 10 percent of the consumer demographic. Lots of the unemployment is among mainstream consumers, and they aren’t necessarily our customers, but at some point, there [could be] a ripple effect that catches up with everybody. Now, if the stock market tanked, like in ’08, that would influence our business because it shakes confidence. There are other factors that could be wild cards. But for now, the signs are that the trends should continue.
Ristow: Housing is very strong – not a direct impact of COVID, but indirect factors have affected it. What’s the next stimulus going to be, or will there be a next stimulus? How do members maintain this huge growth momentum – both with the consumer and with their staffs? We’re asking them, with their consumers, to stay digitally focused because consumers are online. Our members need to be where the consumer is. We’ve had huge growth in digital marketing in the last two months. Also on the consumer side, we’re encouraging them to invest in their websites as much as they do in their physical stores. We’re also helping them to keep their staffs motivated to fight COVID fatigue and burnout, and on adapting their businesses depending upon what’s available to sell.
Alexander: Since COVID is probably with us for a majority of 2021, it will continue to be the most pressing issue that our members will have to deal with. Supply chain issues, which are a direct result of COVID, will be a major concern with everyone, and we hear about it on every call, webinar or email.
Map out, as best you can, the rest of the year and into Q1 for your group – will their businesses stabilize, be up, be down, or does it depend on categories they carry and the markets they’re in?
Robbins: We’ll see exactly what we’ve seen over the last 90 to 120 days – providing we can keep everyone out in the field, working. We’ll stay extremely busy; that is what we see.
Glikes: We’ll be up 20-plus percent for the balance of 2020, against a very strong 2019, and I think in 2021 we’ll add another 10 percent in dealers. We’re pretty close to capacity; my goal was 250 U.S. and 35 to 40 Canadian, and we have 19 Canadian and 214 U.S. You have to be able to provide a certain level of service and not spread yourself too thin. I think the group will have growth from a dealer standpoint and the vendors will have organic sales growth, because our dealers will be adding their product lines.
Ristow: We’ve grown share and are outpacing all our industries by over 15 percent. Members are nimble and adaptable so that if they’re out of Brand A, Brand B can fill in. The pendulum also has swung to where the consumer wants to buy locally if the dealer has the right technology. So member tech investments have really taken root. We see inventory shortages going into 2021, but if members focus on things that have made them successful the last seven months, we believe we’ll continue to grow sales and market share. The momentum will carry as long as members continue to be nimble and adapt. This market share shift then can be permanent. Our job is to retain the new customers we’ve got.
Alexander: Business conditions will largely depend on the vertical the dealer is in. In the retail CE channel, embracing a digital strategy with a great website will help dealers succeed. In the CI channel, WFH/LFH (working from home/learning from home) will continue to drive the market, as will the upgrade cycle, and people not being able to go to sports, movies, concerts, etc. will help drive the custom business.
If you had to name one factor that will most profoundly influence the health of your members’ businesses in the next few months, would it be COVID-19 – and if so, how are you strategizing to keep ahead of the game insofar as anyone can?
Hickman: COVID-19 has, of course, had a tremendous impact on our members and retailers everywhere. Within our membership, roughly 1,200 stores shut their doors in March and April due to shelter-in-place and essential-business orders. Thankfully, they’re all up and running again today. But those closures made it readily apparent how critical it was to be present wherever a customer chooses to shop. So one of the factors that I think will most greatly impact the health of our members’ stores is digital. Our members who moved toward a digital-first or even digital-strong position this spring and summer have been pretty fortunate. In fact, our members saw a 400 percent year-over-year increase in online revenue during the second and third quarters, and e-commerce transactions have grown 450 percent since March. We also have more than 1 million people visiting NMG members’ websites – every day. A strong digital presence will help retailers weather not just COVID but any other disruptions that limit people’s ability to shop in person. But it can’t function alone. What sets our retailers apart from national chains is the exceptional brick-and-mortar experience that customers have when they enter one of our members’ stores. It’s a difference-maker. So continuing to build upon and enhance that in-store experience while also incorporating a strong digital strategy will provide the best game plan for success as we look toward 2021 and beyond.
Robbins: We don’t know what will happen. The big strategy for us is education and communication. No matter what, we will continue to offer educational tools for members so they can reach out and make clients more aware in lighting, wellness, energy, whatever it might be. In terms of online, our virtual fall conference [which was being held in late October] won’t be asking anyone to sit in front of a screen for 2-1/2 days. We will have a State of the Union, a compelling Keith Esterly keynote, and we’ll have some live presentations, but it will not be overloaded with screen time. Our tracks are already in place; the Vault, as we call it, was already established during the pandemic. It’s a repository in one place where members can get vendor training, relationship science instruction, and a ton of content, and we’re building it every day.
What keeps your group top of mind as a compelling proposition for your members – and for those who are not affiliated with you, what is your elevator pitch to join you?
Workman: Beyond the absolute financial benefits, it goes deeper. Our ProSource University products were clearly developed around the Number One dealer need of having a system to effectively bring new employees in, and train them to capability, along with other certifications. It’s the only product of its kind in the industry, and we make that available to membership at no additional charge, with the support of our vendor community – a multimillion-dollar product. That training product would be the right product at any time, but even moreso now, as things are going remote. It’s a repository of everything from the CEDIA Library, to vendor content, to modules on every aspect of a dealer’s business. We’ve networked with members, and have encouraged peer-to-peer communication as much as we can. In this environment, we’re not doing our in-person Town Halls – and one of the things people get from the group is the ability to talk to their peers. So we’re trying to encourage with our DMs how we keep dealers communicating with each other. In these times, you can get isolated pretty quickly. We put out an update series of videos. We do Zoom meetings with dealers and vendors. The one advantage of being locked down is you don’t have that wasted time in traveling. The challenge is getting dealers’ attention. They’re boot-strapping – everyone’s very very busy! Some are booked out well past the first of the year now. This is one of the things I’m trying to message to our members: There’s a trap you can fall into where you never have enough time to make improvements, and this is the time you should be. Because things will change. And you’ve got to figure how to restructure things in such a way that you allow yourself enough time to step back and work on making things better. You can’t just keep boot-strapping because when a downturn does occur, you haven’t made yourself any better to weather through something.
Robbins: We don’t have an elevator pitch. We’re not looking for that many more members. There are a few holes throughout the country where we would consider adding members in, but we’re not really actively looking. Our whole thing is about making our people more knowledgeable on a lot of fronts.
Alexander: While programs with vendors are important, even at our core, I think what the last eight months have taught us is that you need to ALWAYS be marketing yourself – and in some ways reinvent yourself. You need to think about digital marketing as a way to navigate turbulent waters. We manage over 3,000 websites for our members and know how to keep them in the front of their current customers’ minds and how to help them attract new customers.
Hickman: Everyone at Nationwide Marketing Group is proud and humbled to work on behalf of this nation’s independent retailers. What makes us different is that we’ve got experts leading every one of our divisions, from our merchant leads to business and digital services. And our group changes and evolves to meet the needs of our members, whether that’s offering insight into federal PPP legislation, providing a roadmap for reopening after a global pandemic, or helping source and secure PPE. The real strength of our group, though, is the members. We have the most progressive network of retailers, and members are always learning from and troubleshooting with each other, especially during these extraordinary times. To help them, we have 30 dedicated Member Support Managers. These industry experts serve as trusted advisors, offering solutions to challenges and helping retailers exceed their goals. And we believe in a data-first business strategy, supported by exclusive programs like PriMetrix, the Independent channel’s first and only performance insights platform that helps answer key performance questions to improve revenue and profitability. We believe wholeheartedly that the success of our members’ businesses is the heart of our business – that we only win when they do. And we are committed every day to helping our members thrive on their own terms.
Glikes: Dealers are finding us! Between vendors, reps and other dealers, there’s a natural flow of interest. We’ll do some outreach in Canada, but we have a great group of dealers and vendors, and think there’s a lot of value-add with what we do, in marketing, education, and help with operations. We have good conferences and webinars. We’re focused. We know who we are and where we want to go – and where not to go.
Ristow: Our organization is a business, but it’s a family business, and this is where the family part has really taken root. We’ve had record new-membership growth during COVID. It’s all about the members, and trying to do everything we can to help. And our innovations have [encouraged joining]. They’ve seen our members outpace the industry. In the online world, with our web presence, we’re ahead of virtually everyone in our space, in furnishings, appliances and CE. We’ll double down on more tools. We launched the KIOSQ program a few weeks ago (providing an “endless aisle” of offerings via mobile devices), and there are multiple tools we will roll out – including Gen 2.0 of current tools on a whole different level. These are part of a roadmap of improvements to our technologies and tools. We also offer better ROI, meaning more money in members’ pockets. Second is innovation and technology that drives business into our members’ businesses. And then it’s the members helping members and how we facilitate that. They genuinely care about each other. It’s humbling. And COVID’s taken that and accelerated it to a different level.
It’s “open mic” time – do you have anything you want to add about 2020 and prospects for 2021 that you haven’t already talked about?
Satoren: As we look ahead to 2021, I find it very difficult to envision any scenarios where we will see year-over-year growth in many of the categories that have enjoyed very fortunate windfalls in 2020. Some industry pundits suggest that the gut check for 2021 business planning should be measured against 2019 results. I think it is sage advice, and everyone should put the “chest pounding” aside as 2021 targets and budgets are formulated. This is especially true for those that manufacture these products and have the unenviable task of forecasting 2021 production quantities. If we don’t plan with the probability that a lot of these categories will comp negatively next year, financial results could be the exact opposite of what many are experiencing this year.
Another thought-provoker is that all of us have been forced to do things this year that we likely would have never tried. What did we learn, and what can we bring forward into our new normal? From a very different promotional cadence, to how and where we deploy our resources to better serve our customers as well as ourselves. I am hopeful what we’ve learned turns into another silver lining for all of us.
Workman: The general supply situation is better, but it will never be perfect. But inventory availability has never been perfect in our business. It’s not as bad as earlier in the summer of 2020. You have to plan a little differently and if you do so, you can mitigate and migrate your way through it. We’ll be dealing with different challenges in 2021, and this is where dealers have to think about improvements they can make today and prepare for a different set of challenges next year than they had this year. Through these dynamic periods of time, you need to constantly re-think your business, your categories, your marketing programs, because change occurs.
Robbins: We’re bullish, as long as the real estate market continues the way it is, even after the election. (By the time you print this, it will already be done.). Would I want to be in travel and tourism right now? No. Would I want to be in hospitality with regard to restaurants or bars? No. But our channel is doing very well, and we’re fortunate.
Ristow: Inventory will be constrained, but we’ve helped members get their heads and arms wrapped around that. We’re focused on helping members focus on what we can control versus what we can’t control. Out of the worst health and financial crisis in 100 years, if our members can come out of this growing share and being profitable and reinventing themselves, that’s a blessing.
Glikes: We’ll see more vendor consolidation in the industry in 2021. You now have big [vendor] groupings; we see even more of that coming. For our members, it should be easier to order and to build relationships. Business is about relationships and rather than having to see 10 people, if you can see two, and knock out all your needs, that’s a good thing. The other thing we try to do is have fun – people miss the “fun” factor… You work hard; have fun, too. We encourage people to relax, share ideas and be friends. There’s a little magic in that…..
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