The second-half independent-retailer-aimed convention circuit got under way on Sunday night, Aug. 30, courtesy of AVB, with CEO Jim Ristow’s State of the Union address delivered loud and clear, after a minor technical glitch, from the BrandSource virtual stage (see photo above).

The meeting, named “Tomorrow Starts Today 2020 Virtual Convention,” served as a thematic bridge to BrandSource’s early-March-held “Tomorrow Starts Today Summit” – which was, in effect, one of the last such in-person industry dealer meetings before the COVID-19 crisis’s impact began to be forcefully felt.

Predictions that surfaced soon thereafter of a business downturn in the industry of 20 to 30 percent, Ristow told members, were “wrong,” at least as regards his membership. “You’re outpacing the industry by 10 to 20 percent.”

While he cautioned that further COVID-19 effects touching on the economy and on inventory levels mean that “we’re not out of the woods yet,” he exhorted members to focus on a simple equation of success going forward, founded on “doubling down” on technology, solutions and digital marketing as stabilizing pillars.

Ristow quoted stats from earlier in the year that he indicated will position members well for future business health. These include the fact that, as of March, a web traffic analysis showed that members in aggregate were experiencing 30 percent more organic online traffic than competitors – amounting to five times that of their store traffic. “Your website can’t be your second store – it needs to be your primary store and you need to spend time and money to reflect that,” he said.

He also cited a projection offered at the March Summit, where the group estimated a 600 percent online sales increase over the next three years for members. Since that time more than six months ago, he said, BrandSource’s comparable online sales have risen 825 percent, and 1,300 percent in total.

He also noted that chat’s importance has grown exponentially since March. “It’s blowing up,” he noted, stating that five times as many members are using it, up from a very small number in March.

“The world changed” with the COVID-19 onset, he said, with obvious effects on consumers’ health and on the economy  – but also more subtly, in a third sense. “COVID is a great accelerator – trends that had been slowly evolving are now booming.”

He alluded to BrandSource programs introduced earlier that are helping to move business forward, and also mentioned new ones that will soon be available to members.

Ristow talks up the KIOSQ initiative

For one, the earlier-introduced AVB Marketing Services LINQ online merchandising portal is being followed up with the introduction of the KIOSQ in-store initiative. As described in a press release provided after Ristow’s speech, the KIOSQ interface presents an “endless aisle” of offerings for sales associates and consumers to access via mobile devices or an AVB-provided big-screen monitor; bundled discounts for members are available for the KIOSQ, the LINQ4U assisted merchandising service and the turbocharged Commerce version of the group’s Alta 360 e-commerce platform.

Also, the group will be launching a twice-a-week AVB University fall training series. Tuesdays will feature vendor sessions of 45 minutes to an hour, while Thursday sessions are designed to provide general business training. These will be available for free to members and their employees and archived for 24/7 reference.

Other dealer supports include such high-touch initiatives as the YourSourceNews.com website, and the YourSource magazine.  The group has also, since the March Summit, conducted around 45,000 dealer consultations reaching 99 percent of the membership.

“AVB members are not just surviving, but taking market share, in the worst financial and health crises in 100 years,” Ristow said.
“There’s still lots of uncertainty,” he said, “but there’s an equation for success” if members make the most of opportunities.  “We need to put our foot on the gas pedal, not the brakes,” Ristow told members. “We’re blessed in that we are in an industry of high demand. And you have the whole AVB team behind you. Stay safe. Stay positive. Stay committed.”