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Clint Engel

Nationwide Marketing Group draws 4,000 to PrimeTime show

More than 350 Nationwide Marketing Group dealer members packed into a room at the Dallas-area Gaylord Texan for the Millions in Minutes Auction, where they had to raise their bid paddles quickly for a share of furniture, bedding and other one-time deals.More than 350 Nationwide Marketing Group dealer members packed into a room at the Dallas-area Gaylord Texan for the Millions in Minutes Auction, where they had to raise their bid paddles quickly for a share of furniture, bedding and other one-time deals.

DALLAS — Some 4,000 Nationwide Marketing Group members, vendor partners and other guests made for record summer attendance at the buying group's PrimeTime show here (see Clint Engel's video interviews with Nationwide attendees at the bottom of the page).

The furniture, electronics and buying group appears to be firing on all cylinders, even as the economy and overall furniture business has been inconsistent if not sluggish during the first half of this year.

"We continue to outpace (our expectations)," said Robert Weisner, CEO of the Winston-Salem, N.C., buying group with more than 3,500 dealer members. The group has added some 291 new members this year, he said, and was expecting to add another 20 to 25 during the Aug. 11-13 show.

More than half of its member growth this year has come from picking upretailers in the furniture business, where Nationwide says it has the most room to grow.

"We have smashed all of our goals at this particular event," Weisner said, noting that attendance was 25% up from the previous Dallas PrimeTime two years ago. This show - themed "We Are Independents - Strong, Proud, United" - was up 55% from the summer show last year in Washington, D.C.

More than half the people here were dealer members, representing more than 820 companies, including rent-to-own dealers, the group said.

Nationwide dealers are doing better than many of their industry counterparts, executives here said. The furniture and bedding industry has been flat this year overall, "but our numbers are up double digits in both categories," said Bill Bazemore, vice president of Nationwide Furniture. That's due to the group's product offering as well as the Web, marketing, communications and other operating tools it offers, he said.

About 50,000 square feet of 190,000-square-foot show space in the Gaylord convention center was dedicated to furniture, bedding and accessories displays featuring longtime vendor partners as well as a few new names to the show - Higdon Furniture, Southern Enterprises, Mohawk Home and Classy Art.

The group also continued to put emphasis on its marketing and technology assets here, working to bring more of its members up to speed. This month, Nationwide will release a new version of its MemberNet and MemberNet TV communication tools retailers use to reach out to customers, and for the buying group and its vendors to connect with dealers and vice versa.

There were new Web services introduced at the show, too.

"We've gotten very interested in online chat," said Frank Sandtner, vice president of member services-operations for the group. Retailers have websites and stores, but sometimes it's too difficult to bridge the divide between the two, he said.

With the new chat service, Sandtner said members will be able to monitor online activity at the store level, reach out to consumers while they're shopping online and even be the first to engage the consumer in a chat.

He said that 48% of the time consumers spend shopping online is conducted via a smartphone or tablet, so "we're driving home the importance of having mobile optimized websites." Nationwide already has developed 20 mobile optimized websites for members and has decided to offer this as a new service.

Sandtner said the group also is working to bring its Web service providers and product vendor partners together to develop online marketing campaigns for the group's dealer members to easily plug into. These are dealers who might consider the task too much work or too time consuming to handle on their own, he said.

On the show floor, buying was in full force as supplier partners were reporting strong results.
Warren Higdon, president of promotional bedroom producer Higdon Furniture, was showing for the first time and said he was pleased with the early response and the atmosphere Nationwide had created here.

The company, which produces all of its goods in Quincy, Fla., brought seven bedroom groups - a mix of youth and adult sets that retail from $399 to $1,200 for four pieces. Among the items attracting the most attention were Higdon's media dressers, in which the dresser mirror slides down manually to reveal an opening for a flat panel television.

The rent-to-own dealers here found it particularly appealing as a way to promote and display both the bedroom and television categories, Higdon said.

Southern Enterprises also was here for the first time with 67 SKUs from its top categories - fireplaces, living room, media stands and storage.

"For us, the initial reaction has been very positive," said Mark Phanco, executive vice president of sales and marketing. "They've found a supplier who can drop ship or bulk ship to their consumer or to their stores."

On average, Phanco said, the company's customers are realizing 35% gross margins on the drop-ship goods with no inventory investment and a 40% to 45% margin if they buy bulk orders for their stores - both appealing options for the independent dealers here.

The importer, which has a warehouse in Dallas and is opening another in Harrisburg, Pa., by the end of this year, also ships all goods same day as the order and has been delivering within two to four days of an order.

"People come here to buy. This is really their High Point Market," said Len Burke, vice president of market for Klaussner, here with a sample of stationary and motion upholstery, Enso Sleep Systems mattresses and occasional tables.

"We see people at this show we wouldn't normally see or call on," Burke said. "We're continuing to see electronics and appliance dealers entering into the furniture business."
Members here also took advantage of a full slate of PrimeTime University and networking sessions.

One day, members and vendor partners loaded onto buses for a Kickoff Cookout, appropriately held at Cowboys Stadium. In addition to enjoying a meal at tables spread across the football field, attendees toured the stadium and had their photos taken with Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and dancers as well two Cowboy star players from the past, Drew Pearson and Jay Novacek.

See the Aug. 19 print edition of Furniture/Today for more coverage and photos of the Nationwide meeting.





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