Vital Cogs In The Giant Retail Wheel

Presenting the buyers who combine the many skills needed to keep that wheel spinning. For Dealerscope’s Influential Buyers recognition program, the editors poll our readership to ask who in the industry are the shining stars among buyers – those indispensable individuals who possess an uncanny instinct for hunting down the winningest lines, models and vendors to carry that are key to their operations’ success. 
And since relationships are everything in the consumer technology business, we ask voters not just to consider candidates’ buying savviness, but also in what regard they hold these buyers’ interpersonal “people skills.” Then, we put these questions to the vote, tally the responses, and ask our honorees to share their buying philosophies and other secrets behind their talents with the world, in the mini profiles you’ll be reading in this section. Congratulations to all our 2020 buying stars!

Christopher M. DeSimone,
Senior TV, Video and Accessory Buyer, PC Richard & Son

CAREER HISTORY: A Senior Buyer at PC Richard & Son with a demonstrated history of working in the retail industry for over 20 years as an experienced sales associate, store manager, and buyer. With specialization in consumer electronics, my current role includes category ownership of television, video and accessory. Additionally, I serve as a video committee member of five at NATM. The foundation to my career stems from a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Management from the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University.

Buying/Business Philosophy: I’ve been fortunate to have spent over 20 years at a retailer who encouraged my growth while teaching me a fairly straight-forward business philosophy - “honesty, integrity and reliability.” I have integrated those core principals into every facet of my career, especially in my relationships. I’m convinced that having strong relationships built on those principles has significantly improved the strong partnerships required to succeed. When it comes to my buying philosophy my mentor would always tell me, “be tough, but fair,” which I aspire to practice each and every day to be a better merchant. As a merchant I must be the voice of our customers, advocating on their behalf, anticipating their needs, wants but also concerns. And at the same time ensuring corporate goals are met/exceeded therefore when negotiating with suppliers, curating TVs for stores, or collaborating on consumer experience; it is always with the best interest of our business, employees and consumers.  My job is truly rewarding in that my success affects the livelihood of many; that’s all the motivation I need to strive for perfection. And honestly the opportunities to work and learn from some of the most respected and accomplished professionals in the industry has truly been a reward and blessing.

Candice Melless,
Buyer, Builders Warehouse

CAREER HISTORY:  I am a BCom Honours graduate who graduated who received the Golden Key Award in my honours year at University of Pretoria. I began my career at The Platinum group then soon moved over to Massbuild where I have been employed for the last 6 years. I began working at Massbuild as a Merchandise controller where I would assist buyers and planners in their duties. I was then selected to be 1 of the 2 people chosen to take part in the Massmart Development Program which is a program Massmart use to train buyers and planners. Once finishing that program, I was assigned to be the buyer of the Paint Accessories department. October 2019 was when I moved into my current role buying for the DIY department of Builders, buying for the Ironmongery, Security and fastener categories.

Buying/Business Philosophy:  Asking questions has to be the most valuable element that defines my buying style. Being exposed to new products each and every day has humbled me to ask as many questions as possible and to learn how new products and technology works. There is a wealth of knowledge available to those who are not afraid to ask. When you do business with people, it’s so important to build relationships. Building relationships that are genuine also enables suppliers to trust me and for us to grow together.  Honesty is also an extremely valuable element. I have access to sensitive information which should not be shared with others. Using the information I have available to make informed ranging and pricing decisions assists me in carrying out each category’s strategic intent. Taking calculated risks is also a key part of buying. Introducing new trends and innovation to a category enables a retailer to be first to market and be trend setters. This needs to be managed with caution as with each reward there is always the risk that the market has not yet seen the need for the product or range. When it comes to engagement, the ability to constantly learn about innovation, new technology and processes keeps me engaged.

Bill McMartin,
Buyer & General Manager, Abt

CAREER HISTORY: I originally got into audio sales in 1996 during my transition from the U.S. Navy to civilian life and school. After discovering how much I enjoyed the audio business, I specialized in custom integration/high end audio sales until I was asked to step in as the home audio buyer at Abt Electronics.

Buying/Business Philosophy: As a music lover, audio is a natural fit for me as a career. The constant pursuit of higher fidelity is what keeps me engaged and looking forward to the next innovation. My buying philosophy, aside from the utilitarian supply and demand aspect, is to listen to customers as well as salespeople; both drive business in the showroom or on the phone. Customers let us know what is important and exciting to them, and the sales team makes recommendations or designs a room (or home) to fit those interests. In many cases customers might not be familiar with what technology exists, but they always know the experience/environment they desire. I’m also a big fan of collaboration, and have learned to trust the input of experts to guide decisions I make regarding our product line up and showroom space. I’m also a dyed-in-the-wool optimist who tries to eschew negativity whenever possible, which fosters a less combative, more positive environment for our clients as well as employees.

Chad McKinney, Buyer, Huppin’s/OneCall

CAREER HISTORY: I have been interested in all forms of audio since I was a pre-teen, scratching enough money together from mowing lawns to purchase my first Sony rack system when I was just 10. The passion stuck with me and I was fortunate to join the Huppin’s team in 1998 as a college sophomore, where I worked part time selling car audio. After Huppin’s exited the car audio business in 2000, I moved about the floor, selling almost every category until 2004 when I joined the purchasing team as the Accessory Buyer. A short time after my move to purchasing, our lead electronics buyer left the company and I assumed that role. My responsibility blossomed from managing cables, furniture and mounts to all A/V categories. Over the past 16 years I have had purchasing responsibility for most of our categories. Today, I manage the bulk of our expanding traditional A/V business and I am quickly learning lighting and shades as we dive deep into the commercial and residential custom integration business.

Buying/Business Philosophy: My buying style is based on a three-pillar approach:  Do the little things right, data analysis and adaptability. The foundation of my purchasing style is built on basic blocking and tackling; consistently staying in touch with our rep and vendor partners to keep us in the loop on what is happening in the industry. I promptly return all forms of communication.  When I make a commitment, our suppliers know they can count on it.  Together, this practice allows us to identify where we might see inventory gaps and opportunities. Trust the data! We utilize data available to us both from within and outside our organization to make well-informed buying decisions. Armed with the data, I can much more confidently apply subjective information to anticipate our needs and drive growth. The pandemic has underscored the importance of an adaptable, flexible approach.  Adaptability is key in my purchasing role and our industry in general due to quickly evolving technologies and changing business environments.

Ryan Kinsman,
Senior TV Video Buyer,
Visions Electronics

CAREER HISTORY:   I started in the electronics industry when I was 18 years old working in various roles and managing stores. I’ve been a buyer for 17 years now, 12 of which were spent as an accessories buyer for products such as headphones, cables, TV mounts Bluetooth speakers and more. After that, I became a home office PC buyer for three years and now I manage the largest category for Visions Electronics as the Senior TV Video Buyer for the past 2.5 years. 

Buying/Business Philosophy:   Treat people like you want to be treated. Trust goes a long way to success in this industry. Be a master of your category. Understand your product and what your competitors are doing.
Every day is a new adventure. Product is always evolving and changing and it’s a different challenge month to month year to year. It’s a great industry that never stays stagnant and is always fun to be around. I have a lot of great relationships and friendships from this industry and lifelong friends.The high points of this job for me are constantly achieving sales goals and turning the categories I have bought over the years into my own business.  Friendships are a huge part of this business and I am extremely proud of the personal relationships I have gained in this business. I like to travel, and I have been able to see parts of the world I probably would have never seen if I wasn’t in this business. I take a lot of what I do in business from playing team sports growing up. I have the ability to change gears and be firm when I need to be, but I’m also able to head out for a beer with a supplier. Business is business but at the end of the day, you should be able to hang up your coat and have some fun as well.

Robert Balzano,  Executive Director of Merchandising,  The New England Appliance  & Electronics Group

CAREER HISTORY: I started my career in my teens working at my father’s store, Lu-Bal’s Appliance. That was where I fell in love with the business and developed my sales acumen as well as a thirst to improve. After 23 years in retail, I needed a change and went to work for a Sub Zero Distributor in New England. 
I started out as a rep and expanded to a director of training role.  In 2009, I decided to get back to my roots and use my experience to grow the Independent Retail business that I loved so much. I took on the current role and cut my teeth in the midst of the Great Recession. Since joining the team as Merchandiser/Buyer of The New England Appliance and Electronics Group we have doubled our business amongst the 162 stores and contributed to a $2B enterprise as the greater NECO Alliance. I share a goal of growing market share with independent retailers I have been rooted in my entire life.
Buying/Business Philosophy: If I feel I know all the answers, then that becomes the start of my failure. I approach this job—and every job I’ve had to get here—with a profound willingness to learn. I think my drive to constantly evolve, better myself, and better those around me have been key ingredients to my success over the years. I need to make sure my members see the value and profitability, or the product just sits in my warehouse. I need to tackle how the consumer will think, as well as how my dealer base will perceive the value in the product so they can meet the ever-changing consumer needs.  I feel that my success is measured by the success of those around me—from the coworkers in my office to the reps I spend time with on a weekly basis.

Michael Mendez,  Senior Buyer, BrandsMart USA

CAREER HISTORY: Eleven years ago, I started at BrandsMart USA where over the course of five years, I worked in small appliance sales, large appliance sales, manager of TVs, Telecom, Bedding, Furniture and finally, landed as an Assistant Store Manager. From there, I was brought into the corporate offices as the Assistant Buyer of Audio, and since 2017, I have been the Senior Buyer of Large Appliances, Mattresses and Furniture.  My career has spanned a wide spectrum of departments and lately, we have seen many of these areas overlap. It’s been exciting to watch the industry evolve into this new “Smart Home” category.  

Buying/Business Philosophy: Whether it’s our staff on the front line or our vendors trying to cut a deal, I strive to work as hard as I can for them as they do for me. With that amount of effort from all sides, failure becomes an anomaly.  The relationships I have built along the way have definitely been the highpoints of the job. Between the long hours and the constant traveling, it’s a good idea to really get to know the people you’re probably seeing as much as your family. Honesty and integrity will always be important to me. I make sure to deliver on both when conducting business and I expect the same in return.

Michelle Troupe,
Buyer, Definitive

CAREER HISTORY:  I began my career at Definitive in 1994 in the Accounting department, while attending college.  After five years, I was presented the opportunity to move into Purchasing as a re-buyer. I immediately found the work to be challenging and fascinating, and I was determined to progress more into the field. Throughout the years and after graduating from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science degree, my role expanded to Buyer for categories in audio/video for both the custom and retail divisions. 

Buying/Business Philosophy:  Being recognized alongside this group of Influential Buyers of 2020 is one of the highlights of my career! The support I receive from Definitive has been instrumental to my job growth.  I value the relationships I’ve built with our great team members and vendor partners.  
Collaborating with experts in home theater, performance audio, home automation, and residential networks, keeps me engaged in the CE industry. While technology is constantly changing, I remain focused on the interpersonal skills of my job; accountability, empathy, flexibility and active listening. 
Building trust by taking the long view is important to me. Being tenacious and having mutual respect between vendor partners is a crucial segment of building a long-lasting and successful relationship with them.  I am very excited to continue to learn and evolve in the consumer tech industry!

Jimmy Hire,  Senior Merchant, Magnolia Audio, Headphones  & BBY Music

CAREER HISTORY: My entire 28-year career has been with Best Buy. I have held several positions within the company: Demand Planning (Inventory), Product Manager, Financial Planning with the majority of my career having been in the merchant organization in some manner.

Buying/Business Philosophy: What excites me about being a buyer is building a plan, leading a cross-functional team and watching it come together, which hopefully results in a great customer experience leading to further brand loyalty. I have always tried to incorporate a view from the consumer’s lens – meaning, how will this product resonate with the customer?  I have learned over the years to strive for win–win opportunities with the vendor community.  Utilizing fact-based analysis to defuse as much of the emotional aspect of conversations has provided me some comfort with my decisions that impact the strategy and growth of the department.

Francisco Lozano,  Vice President, Merchandising

CAREER HISTORY: I’ve had the privilege of working with consumer electronics and major appliances for the last 18 years. The largest part of that time has been spent in purchasing with a specialization in Home Entertainment and Personal Audio, along with managing a large segment of private-label goods in a wider range of categories. The scope of responsibility is omnichannel, and covers the full spectrum, from product planning to e-commerce execution and in-store merchandising.
Buying/Business Philosophy: At 38 years young, I can say I’ve lived the transition as a consumer, from mail order catalog, to large-scale mass merchant and now ultimately, digital in its varying forms. I’ve been lucky enough professionally to have some great mentors all throughout those massive retail shifts, and their commitment to stay “teachable” by both the industry and its competitive players is something I’ve also chosen to exercise daily.  My consumer electronics career highlight remains a soon-to-be-20-year relationship with a fantastic and dynamic family-owned business marked by consistent growth professionally, and the creative license to execute on new projects and initiatives.  The strongest motivation behind my continued excitement for the industry draws from experiences both local and abroad in supply-chain dealings at the factory and product-development level. For me, seeing the positive and profitable impact one’s personal recommendations can have on a product or a brand is about as redeeming as it gets professionally. I feel strongly about the level of collaboration I bring and expect at the negotiation table with the vendor community, and think it best describes my buying style.

Phil Murray,
Vice President,
Marketing & E-Commerce, ListenUp

CAREER HISTORY:  I have been with ListenUp since 1987. I was hired as the company’s first marketing manager. I’ve also worked as a retail salesman and since 2003, I’ve managed the company’s e-commerce and marketing operations. I came to work after an 11-year career in journalism because I couldn’t afford to pay retail anymore for hi-fi. This interest has led me to specialize in two-channel audio.

Buying/Business Philosophy:  I love the gear, the people and music. Before coming to ListenUp, I spent 11 years in journalism, covering politics, cable TV and cellular telephones. It was interesting, but it’s really been a treat to be involved in an industry that combines all of my passions. For me, it’s all about the relationships that we develop with our vendors. These relationships have been built through shared experiences with the gear we sell and the music we love, and have become true friendships. This facilitates making great buys for our customers. I still remember our first big buy about 10 to 12 years ago. One of our vendors had a discontinued universal disc player that was a Stereophile Class A-rated player. They were trying to move 900 units. It was an expensive piece, retailing for around $1,000. I wanted to buy all of them. I think the vendor thought I was crazy and I’m sure my coworkers thought I was crazy, but I pushed the buy through. Our CEO, Walt Stinson, had me put a calendar up in my office and I was to track how many units we sold each day. We sold them all in about six weeks. It was a great success. We made good money and our customers got a great deal. These days, we don’t think twice about buying quantities like that.  
You have to think like your customer and consider their aspirations. Fortunately, I was a customer of ListenUp for 13 years before I came to work here, so I can always put myself in the customer’s shoes. I think you also have to be competitive to seek out the best deals.

Jeff Kujawa,  Merchant,
Magnolia Design Center audio

CAREER HISTORY: My career at Best Buy started in August 2011 as a Demand Planner (inventory management).  A few years later, I made the move to the Merchandising side of the business, where I managed home theater accessories. In 2018, the Merchant role for Magnolia Design Center audio popped up, and I just couldn’t pass it by. I’m incredibly passionate about all things audio, so as you can imagine, it’s a perfect fit. 

Buying/Business Philosophy: Customer-obsessed – I do my best to always view a new product from the lens of a customer before the lens of a merchant.  This comes rather easy, since I’m such a huge fan of the audio space. Building meaningful and authentic relationships – we wouldn’t have seen the success in this space the past few years without the necessary relationships to make it happen (vendors, system designers, cross-functional partners, leaders). Appropriate communication – Best Buy is a big company, which sometimes makes it challenging to ensure everyone can see and understand the vision. You have to be willing to put the extra effort in as it relates to communication. Product aesthetics – arguably just as important as the performance of the product.  Don’t pitch me something that looks like it belongs out on the Core floor of Best Buy – I don’t care how well it performs.  As stated above, I have an affinity for all things audio. Adding to that, I’m incredibly fortunate to work with many amazing vendors that share this same passion. Hard to beat engaging conversations mixed with engaging product.  I’m a huge proponent of the Best Buy mission statement: “Our formula is simple: we’re a growth company focused on better solving the unmet needs of our customers – and we rely on our employees to solve those puzzles.”  It’s safe to say I’m drinking the Kool-Aid.