The past 18 months is a timespan referred to in many a speech, article, industry report, and conversation lately. After all, it’s a little under the period since the world has been living with COVID. All too often, the timespan is followed by a catalog of challenges. Not so at the 2021 NATM Vendor Conference held last month at the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas, where a positive tone was set by the new president of the buying co-op, RC Willey CEO Scott Hymas. Citing a famous quote from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities — “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — Hymas segued into a refreshingly positive message before the audience of vendors and NATM appliance and consumer electronics retailers.
“A lot of times when we talk about COVID in the last 18 months, we focus on the challenging times,” said Hymas, mentioning everything from the supply chain issues and labor shortages to domestic divisiveness over a plethora of social and political issues. “I don’t want to talk about that today. We talk about that too much. I want to look at the glass half full and would like everybody to focus for a minute on the good times we’ve had in the last year and a half. I think everybody in this room is pretty fortunate. We’re in a good industry.” Hymas went on to give examples of industries that have struggled more than the appliance and consumer electronics sectors: airlines, food, hospitality. “We’re in an industry where people want our products. We’re dealing with demand that we haven’t had for a long, long, time. So think about that for a minute.”
Hymas also reminded the audience of the strong brands, built up over generations, associated with each of the 12 NATM Buying Corporation member retailers (ABC Warehouse, Abt Electronics, Appliance Factory & Mattress Kingdom, BrandsMart USA, Cowboy Maloney’s, Curacao, Electronic Express, Nebraska Furniture Mart, PC Richard & Son, RC Willey, Video Only, WDC) “I’m grateful for those in my company who have gone before me. Think about those from your company who created the brand that you have that you’ve been entrusted with to carry on.” Strong brands are built on reputation and reliability. “For the last year and a half, we’ve begged, cried, done anything for products, right? Associates will ask me how we’re getting products when others aren’t. When you think about it, we’ve been around a long time and a lot of it has to do with what goes on in this room: relationships. People know we’re going to be in business, that we treat people fairly and pay our bills. They know we’re going to take care of customers when they come in and we sell them their product. So I think it’s a real benefit to consider those who have gone before us and that we have a brand to carry on. Focus on the positive things, because we’re very blessed to be in this industry.”
Besides gratitude and positivity, Hymas wrapped up his speech with an exercise to help the audience move forward. “We hear a lot about going back to the old days or when we’re back to normal,” said Hymas. “I want to challenge everybody here to pick two or three things that we don’t go back to. Think about that for a minute. One of the keys in business is that we have to change. I think we’ve realized that there are three or four things in our company that we won’t go back to, and we would have never done it without COVID, and I think we’ll be better because of it.”
Certain strengths, strategies, and tactics remain as true as they were nearly a century ago, when many NATM retailers including RC Wiley, which has roots back to 1932, were founded — and that’s the focus on the customer. “Retail and manufacturing are hard businesses, and we do it one customer at a time,” said Hymas. “There have been times when I wish I could invent something and live off the royalties forever, but we’re on trial every day a customer walks in that door. And if we take care of those customers one at a time, we’ll be here for another 90 years.”
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