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Michael Knell

Canada's Dufresne group working to add members

CAMBRIDGE, Ontario — The Dufresne Retail Solutions Group has launched what it terms an ambitious growth plan, believing independent furniture and appliance retailers are looking for things that work on the floor and don't require huge investments.

DRSG was launched in 2006 by its parent company, Winnipeg-based The Dufrense Group, which also has 11 Dufresne Furniture & Appliance corporate and franchise stores in Ontario and Manitoba and a 12-unit Ashley HomeStores chain in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

"One of the key differences (between DRSG and other buying groups) is that we are retailers and they aren't," said DRSG Director Steve Braniff. "Our programs are tested at retail before they are rolled out to the members. That's a huge differential."

In 2006, DRSG had 10 members running 18 stores. It now has of 44 members with 64 stores. While group officials won't give specific membership goals, they say they are continuing to recruit and add retailers to the fold.

A 30-year industry veteran, Braniff said all of DRSG's product offerings, merchandising programs and support services are focused on measuring and improving member store results. Members can also benchmark their performance against the Dufresne Furniture & Appliance chain.

"That's because we actually share Dufresne's results with our members," Braniff said.

DRSG encourages each member to adopt comparable operating standards so that critical performance measures can be reviewed against those of other members.

"We measure everything," Braniff said. "These are things that the member can see and measure and know he's getting results."

Sutherland’s FurnitureSutherland’s Furniture in London, Ontario, is one of 44 members of the Dufresne Retail Solutions Group.
The group offers two membership levels, associate and echelon. Both include the core services typical of all buying groups - such as central billing, advantageous payment terms, volume rebates and professional advertising vehicles. Associate level membership includes a core bedding and appliance program, supported by an advertising program. Echelon level membership is similar to banner programs offered by other buying groups.

The key difference, according to DRSG, is that its core program has been tested at retail through Dufresne's corporate stores.

One distinctive service from DRSG is its trainer, who visits the stores to work with members and their employees, particularly in sales and other areas that directly affect the consumer.

Braniff said DRSG also is the only Canadian buying group with an in-house advertising support group. It produces the group's 12-month advertising package (which includes 12 furniture flyers and 11 bedding and appliance flyers) and has on-staff graphic designers who can create ads and point-of-purchase materials for members as needed.

The advertising group also offers Web services, with 25 members participating in its website program.

DRSG also is unique among Canadian buying groups in that it offers new members a money-back guarantee. "Any retailer who joins the group and isn't satisfied with the results after a year, will receive a refund equal to three times their membership fees," Braniff said - adding that after four years, no retail member has asked for his money back.

Group members say they benefit from DRSG's approach.

"Joining DRSG has not only made my life much easier, but has also given us the support and tools to compete against the big box retailers. With all of the help in merchandising, marketing and even operations, we are able to focus our efforts on growing our sales," said Brian Purchase, president of Schwartz Furniture, a fourunit operation based in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Brad and Norma Collins, owners of Eldon's Furniture in Morden, Manitoba, said that since joining DRSG in May 2008, "our sales have increased 22% over the previous year and our margins are up as well - a direct result of the DRSG advertising program."

DRSG also holds group conferences to keep members informed and allow them to share ideas with fellow DRSG stores.

Braniff also believes the demand from independent retailers for membership in a strong, effective buying group is higher than it ever has been.

Braniff and his team - which includes industry veterans Ed Cowx in British Columbia and Rick Gioia in Ontario and Atlanta Canada - are recruiting new members in all parts of the country.

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