The BrandSource buying group broadened both its informational and logistics reaches Tuesday, when it formally unveiled the BrandSource App mobile application along with the Expert Warehouse II initiative resulting from its new partnership with Ingram Micro.
The app is a consumer- and dealer-tailored tool that has debuted on iPhone and iPad and in November will be outfitted for Android devices, while the EW2 initiative brings 8,000 SKUs in multiple categories into the Expert Warehouse fold and makes several key ones immediately available to members – including major tablet brands.
The announcements were made during the biannual BrandSource Convention, which opened August 29 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irene at Las Vegas’s Caesars Palace. The convocation boasted a 22 percent higher attendance than last year’s pre-Fall event and there was only very slight attrition in dealer presence – seven cancellations of all pre-registrants – due to the mammoth storm, said Bob Lawrence, BrandSource CEO.
“It was a multitude of things,” remarked Lawrence on the uptick in attendance in the fragile economy. “Obviously, we were rolling out some very significant initiatives. These Spring and Fall events are where we show our best and provide the most information to our members.”
In detailing the EW2 program, Jim Ristow, BrandSource’s executive vice president, Consumer Electronics, said, “We’ve kept our same best-of-class front end sales staff, buyers – everyone the members and vendors have interfaced with. We’ve kept the same vendor relationships, buying, merchandising and customer service. And we’ve gone into a partnership with a best-of-class company in Ingram Micro, to do logistics, warehousing, shipping and billing. This is really our launching platform. We now have all our former vendors on board, and our members are also now able to tap into the 8,000 Ingram Micro SKUs.”
Ristow noted that the integration, which it was initially thought would take six to nine months, had already started, with the availability of the tablet/laptop/notebook categories and also the addition of IT networking-type components from companies such as Linksys and Cisco, small kitchen appliances, headphones and iPod docks. “We’re able to offer broader and wider categories outside our traditional mix, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is just the infancy of our relationship.”
The addition of tablets to the BrandSource product portfolio serves all of the group’s diverse channel segments, said Ristow. “We have multiple types of members, including ones in the rent-to-own category, traditional TV/appliance dealers who may need to generate traffic, and then the high-end ProSource/HES members that need to complete their convergence ecosystems. So we’ve tried to come up with solutions for all three of those member sectors. Having tablets available can finish an ecosystem, or be a marketing piece they could use to drive traffic, or be something to rent to drive revenue,” he explained.
Lawrence noted that the BrandSource App is alone in the market as the only home appliances app. “No box stores and no other channels have that,” he said. The app uses GPS technology to find dealer locations, provides directions, and lets browsers check the minutiae about a product, down to color choices. One of its best uses is on the salesfloor as a sales associate tool. “It will help salespeople answer questions about specs and features. Now, they don’t have to shuttle back and forth to check. They never have to leave the customer’s side.” The app also allows checks of competitive pricing for all the surrounding-area retailers, and lets store personnel check into EW2’s inventory so that if a customer wants a SKU that’s not on the floor, it can be looked up and checked for availability and time to delivery.
“Another thing it does is it takes our members to the level of a virtual showroom. A dealer can walk a customer through 8,000 SKUs in a very systematic way, build the right solution, and quickly get that product in. It legitimizes the small dealer, and greatly expands the dealer’s mix, overnight,” added Ristow.
Ristow also provided an update on the February-announced Connected Source initiative – the turnkey concept developed for Home Entertainment Source (HES) members so they can display and demo the latest technologies in a showroom in a store-within-a-store model, at low cost. He said the program is in three beta test programs at present and that additional announcements would be made later in the year.
With the BrandSource-Kathy Ireland collaboration now at the six-month mark, the group announced a home furnishings line at the meeting. Lawrence said it had also developed in-store POP materials to promote it, along with a set of cutlery and home storage products that are other fruits of the partnership. He said the Kathy Ireland-branded small appliances and electronics lines mentioned at the group’s February meeting were still in their early stages and are part of a long-term plan for 2012.
Lawrence also said a new program, Shelf Source, had been developed that would allow BrandSource members to enter the kitchen-cabinet-interior retrofit business – a highly profitable enterprise that regularly delivers 40-to-50-percent margins, takes up minimal showroom floor space and requires very little investment on the dealer’s part.