Live events are back, as evidenced by the buoyant opening speech yesterday by BrandSource and AVB CEO Jim Ristow at the BrandSource Summit 2022, which runs through Wednesday. “Repeat after me: We missed you,” said Ristow to the crowd of AVB members and vendors at the Summit, which is the first event ever to be held at the glistening new 550,000 square-foot Caesars Forum convention center in Las Vegas. “Now let’s talk a little bit about business; I’m going to ask you to repeat this, too: We took share…and we’re not giving it back.”
Indeed, despite featuring general inflation, the rising price of oil, a war in Ukraine, continued supply chain slowdowns, and the relentless rollercoaster that is the pandemic, the past year has been good for the economy, independent retailers, and BrandSource members in particular. Ristow recapped some of the successes shared at the summit, such as BrandSource members reporting double-digit rises in volume since 2019 and market share taken from big box stores. There were also increases and retention in membership, due in part to marketing support from AVB and the virtual meeting activity of members. Other AVB groups participating in the Summit – A/V and integration buying group ProSource, Mega Group/BrandSource Canada, and Northeast buying co-ops the New England Appliance Group (N.E.A.G.) and Intercounty Appliance Corp. – also registered gains.
ProSource, for example, announced that rebate dollars to its members were up in the middle double-digits last year, along with increases in membership and near-complete retention. “ProSource did it as a team that also included using independent rep firms and the help of Expert Warehouse,” said Ristow in reference to AVB’s CE distribution arm, which is just one of several of the buying organization’s resources. Other AVB divisions touted by Ristow at the opening General Session included BrandSource Financial, which handles consumer and wholesale financing, YourSource News (AVB’s news and content site), and AVB Marketing (e-commerce website and digital marketing services).
In the second half of the general session, speaker and former Whirlpool executive Joe Higgins presented an encouraging set of predictions, despite some of the aforementioned variables such as inflation, supply chain, and war. U.S. GDP, which is made up of all the goods and services produced, was up 5.7 percent last year, which is the largest increase since 1984. Consumer confidence continues to be high, at 110 – anything above 100 on the index indicates an expanding economy – and Higgins predicts that it could go up to as high as 124 or 130 by the end of the year since people are eager to spend the savings they have built up over the pandemic (or will continue to build up from not commuting to work or traveling). “Economists are saying that 25 to 30 percent of Americans won’t go back to travel or services like dining out,” said Higgins. “That’s 100 million people.” In other words, these people will spend on remodeling, which the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard predicts will be 20 percent by the end of the year, which will be “an all-time high.” With 72 percent of U.S. GDP attributed to consumer spending, the future sounds rosy, per Higgins, even taking into account issues such as inflation, supply chain slowdowns, and war-induced oil price spikes.
“Here’s the part about oil that I have to make clear,” said Higgins. “I haven’t been able to put a number that’s been stable since I started working on this presentation. When Jim first asked me, the price of a barrel of Brent crude oil was $80; yesterday, it hit a high of $140 before closing out at $128.” While that may sound daunting, especially to dealers and vendors who have fuel costs for shipping and delivery, there is a caveat, per Higgins. “In 2008, a barrel of oil hit a high of $148,” he said. “Five months later, it was $37, so we never know where it’s going to go. We don’t know right now what’s going to happen in Ukraine, but it’s a small economy for oil, so I shouldn’t affect us, but this is what we’ll be living with for a while.”
Regardless of where the wind blows in 2022, the CE and appliance retailers and vendors at this year’s Summit have been stepping up and pivoting for at least a couple of years now, so the general prescription from Ristow and other speakers reflected the event’s “Own It!” theme. “In 2022, we’re going to need to lean on each other even more,” said Ristow. “We’re going to have some challenges – inflation, Ukraine – but at the same time, we have some things that are really pointing in our favor.” Ristow cited everything from the rises in consumer spending to digital tools and resources as positives. “Digital is the great equalizer,” he said, referring to the ever-evolving suite of digital e-commerce tools from AVB Marketing. “You’ve done really well [the last two years]. You’ve been resilient and adaptive. I’m confident that the groups are going to ‘own it’ in 2022.”