BrandSource Convention 2023 was held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee, from August 27 to 30. At this bi-annual convention, member retailers have the opportunity to network with vendors, industry professionals, and colleagues.
At the show, we had the opportunity to sit down with the executives of AVB BrandSource including Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jim Ristow, Chief Operating Officer (COO) Dave Meekings, and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) John White. A few minutes before our interview, the three gentlemen delivered their keynote addresses, where they spoke about how AVB is helping members live the American Dream. We spoke about industry trends, diversity in the workplace, AVB’s charity partner: Foster Love, and AVB’s vocational education scholarships for foster youth.
Plug In to a New Playbook
This year’s conference theme, “Plug In,” is both metaphorical and literal. When asked who came up with the concept, Ristow explained, “Everything we do, we want to do in bite-sized pieces that our members can just digest and then implement [to] make it as simple as possible. So our theme is that all you have to do is ‘plug in.’ Whatever it is, whether you need HUB, whether you want to go for luxury, plug into this, and here’s all your education. You don’t have to think about it.”
Having so many tools at a member’s disposal can be overwhelming, so Ristow asked the audience in his speech to plug in; the rest will follow. AVB has an entire member relations team that consistently contacts members to provide assistance and advice. Meekings estimated that the team has approximately 50,000 interactions with members each year.
The “Ideal” AVB Member
AVB is multifaceted and member-focused. When asked to describe an “ideal” member, Ristow responded, “We would love to see a member who’s passionate about their business and wants to be better. And we’re here to help them live their American Dream. Our job is to give them the tools they need to succeed.”
When asked how AVB grows and supports its members, Ristow said AVB likes to “leverage big, act small,” by harnessing the power of the right members and using what these members bring to the table to improve AVB. Another great example Ristow cited is the creation of ProSource, a combined effort between HES and ProGroup that provides resources specifically for custom integrators and technology specialty retailers.
Key Messages of AVB
One of the key messages of BrandSource 2023 is for members to continue to ramp up their marketing tactics to regain market share from big-box stores. Jim Ristow explained that sales typically skyrocket after their bi-annual shows, but only for three months because this information is fresh in their minds. This leaves retailers not reaching their full potential for six months of the year. To address this trend, BrandSource offers extended marketing programs that stimulate growth 365 days a year. “The issue with engaging retailers is that they’re busy,” said CMO John White. “But, when they’re here, they focus on how they can improve their business, not how to fix things in their store today. So the intent is to get them to sign up so they don’t have to think about it and be done.” Holiday seasons are an important time to push the pedal to the metal, but it really should be on full throttle year-round, and that is how AVB can help. With inflation causing a reduction in consumer spending, it can be difficult for retailers to maintain profit margins. Ristow, however, emphasized that “the ones that are hitting the gas pedal, whether down a little bit or down a little bit more, they’re getting shares and customers they never got before.”
Another way AVB supports its members is by listening to member feedback and responding with solutions. One such initiative is HUB, a salesperson-oriented technology free to all BrandSource members. What was once a multi-step process in which salespeople had to coordinate with builders, designers, and customers and a quote had to be manually changed at every step, HUB presents all the information to the salesperson, like CRM software. “The tool is meant to make a salesperson’s job easier with many things they either can’t access or don’t have,” like competitor prices or vendor inventory, Ristow said. Because it is built for use by the salesperson, the owner does not need to operate the technology for it to work for the salesperson, according to Ristow.
Diversity in the Workplace
Meekings mentioned that AVB Brandsource has a Young Professionals organization and a Women in Business group that are thriving and growing. Now more than ever, more female business owners are taking over family businesses. When asked about staffing, Meekings expressed pride that AVB Brandsource has an incredibly diverse staff, and half of the company is female, including 50 percent of management positions.
BrandSource is employee-driven, especially in philanthropy. At the convention’s State of the Union Address, BrandSource showcased the company’s vocational scholarship program for foster youth. The program provides a two-year education at a vocational school and, ideally, helps participants land a job at one of AVB BrandSource’s member retailers. “The program is focused on foster children to allow them to grow, and we want to focus on trade skills and hopefully trade skills that translate to the appliance and furniture industry, whether that’s a servicing technician or the things that can work in that area,” said Dave Meekings. Jim Ristow added that BrandSource fully pays for the two-year course, and the first graduating class will graduate in 2023. So far, ten scholarships have been given, but the team hopes to grow the program each year. The real question is, what lucky retailers will snag these graduates and put them to work first?
When asked about what excites them most about AVB BrandSource and what inspires them to go to work in the morning, these were their answers:
John White, CMO: “I get to take an old technology-based business and implement technology, and we get to make them better, stronger, faster, etc. Technology has not been a thing in our space, ever. So we can work on things to make their businesses more efficient. And we can do it cheaper than anybody else because they own the company. So we just have some advantages in that space. So it’s a lot of fun.”
Dave Meekings, COO: “It’s pretty cool to help a Main Street business stay in business. I mean, that’s pretty unusual. You’re helping people, and many of our businesses are multi-generational. You can watch the next generation come in and help them make a viable business that supports their family and helps them be a presence in their community. It’s a pretty cool job. That’s what we do every day here.”
Jim Ristow, CEO: “It’s not a job. This is like a vocation of helping people live their American Dream and doing whatever we can. Just the pride of watching our dealers and businesses grow almost 40 percent in the last few years and just watching them reverse the trend and come back to getting market share. There’s nothing that brings you more pride.”