Buying group event connects members with big ideas, specials, options

NEW ORLEANS — More than 4,000 people and 1,050 retailer members of Nationwide Marketing Group packed the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center here for the 55th PrimeTime conference with a “Connect for Success” theme.

The furniture and mattress portion of the nearly 225,000-square-foot trade show space took up roughly a third of the overall floor and featured new and sometimes exclusive product from 54 supplier partners, including eight showing for the first time with the furniture, electronics and appliance buying group.

Throughout the program, there appeared to be a focus on what Nationwide and its supplier partners and service companies can offer independent dealers to help them get out front digitally, drive traffic to stores and compete with pure-play companies that are increasingly opening their own brick-and-mortar operations.

Building assortment

Among the new initiatives launched here was Nationwide Local Advantage, a program designed to help independents further differentiate their assortments from the big box and e-commerce players.

“Essentially, we’re going to select vendors to create exclusive product that is only available to the Nationwide members,” said Jerry Honea, senior vice president of furniture and bedding for the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based buying group.

In the furniture and bedding arena, it includes exclusives Nationwide has developed with Serta, Sealy, Leather Italia (both motion and stationary upholstery) and with new supplier partner Flexsteel, which came to the show with two top-grain leather motion groups, lay-flat power lumbar recliners and a multi-media gaming chair developed for the group’s members.

Nationwide is talking to a handful of case goods suppliers, too, and hopes to have a collection of exclusive bedroom and dining room furniture in the program by next year, Honea added.

In the Flexsteel space, dealer response to the collections was “ridiculous,” said Charlie Winans, the company’s national sales director, home furnishings.

“We have a drawer full of orders from new customers,” he said, adding that almost every order included both motion groups to get started as well as the Bluetooth-connected multi-media chair. “It’s beyond what we expected it to be.”

During a furniture and bedding merchandising session before the show floor opened to dealers, Winans encouraged dealers to stop by, take a look and remember this about the price points, which might be a step up for many of them (sofas for more than $1,100):

“We’re selling these price points in virtually every town across the country every single day, and they have the potential to generate those same average tickets sales and same gross profits per ticket that we do (with other retailers) on a regular basis,” he said.

“Our product is so differentiated … with more features and benefits than most furniture manufacturers provide, so it’s  very understandable,” he said, adding that this is especially true of Nationwide dealers, who are good at selling features and benefits with their electronics and appliance lines.

Corsicana, another new vendor partner for the group, was having a strong PrimeTime, too, with special discounts offered across its four core brands, starting with the promotional Sleep Inc. up to its luxury NightsBridge collection. The latter tops out at about $1,000 for a queen mattress, but Corsicana came to PrimeTime with models that could retail in the $700 to $800 range and was offering 50% off here to boot.

Corsicana’s focus has been on the independent retail channel since 1971 and does business with more than 3,000 retailers in the segment, said CEO Michael Thompson. Despite this, its overlap with the buying group’s member base is fairly small: Only 9% of the 3,500 or so Nationwide dealers that feature bedding in their mix were already customers before this new partnership was struck.

“This show gives us an opportunity to do two really great things,” he said. “For the 9% of customers we already know who are here, this is our way of saying thank you for doing business with Corsicana, and we’re going to introduce you to some great (new) branded product.”

To the other 91%, Corsicana is introducing its line, its consultative selling approach and great starting discounts to gain new business.

“We’re not really here to make money,” Thompson said. “We’re here to make noise and a statement, and we are very appreciative of being part of the Nationwide Marketing Group team.”

Other new industry exhibitors were Flash Furniture, Resident (the rebranded parent company of bedding e-tailer Nectar Sleep), W. Silver, Dalyn Rug, Knickerbocker and Natural Form.

Powerful programs

Another first for PrimeTime was the debut of its Connected Home division, presented via a 370-square-foot tiny home display. In it, the buying group brought together smart devices and products across several categories, including Google Home mini controllers, GE smart kitchen appliances and kitchen hub monitor, Nest IQ indoor cameras and Hello video doorbells, a Yale Smart lock,  smart-device controlled Phillips Hue lighting, a smart TV and sound bar, and even a Traeger “WiFire” smart grill.

Furniture was about the only thing in the tiny home that wasn’t “smart,” but Nationwide’s Honea said he’ll look to connect the category next time, possibly with existing products such as Tempur-Pedic’s new Tempur-Ergo smart bases with “Sleeptracker” technology that, among other things, can sense snoring and respond by adjusting the head position.

During Mattress University (see story on page 12), Englander CEO Mark Kinsley and Spink & Co. CEO Mark Quinn teamed up for a presentation on the five fights independent retailers have to win. The two later worked with retailers on the show floor, creating interview segments for their Dos Marcos podcast and for retailers to use as content on their websites.

Other new programs included the launch of FlashTags software, which makes it easier to power electronic price tags, and an early look at WebFronts Go and new developments coming from RWS that will let salespeople complete in-store sales quickly by scanning digital tags and customer credit cards.

Nationwide’s Learning Academy also kept to the “Connect for Success” messaging through 120 hours of educational programming, including sessions on how to drive sales with persuasive video messaging and a “Generational marketing in digital” case study.

During PrimeTime, many members also took time to participate in a meal-packing challenge activity, in partnership with No Child Hungry — part of My Neighbor’s Children nonprofit — to nourish local children in need.

In addition, this PrimeTime also marked the inaugural meeting of WIN: Women in Nationwide, a group dedicated to supporting the development of female business leaders across the independent channel.

Nationwide’s Honea acknowledges business has been a challenging, “but I think we’re performing at industry standards or slightly better,” he said.

“All in all, we’re pleased. We’ve got some great opportunities here for our members to take advantage of to juice business for the back half of the year.”