EDGE Group's national ad campaign trumpets its boutique approach to custom distribution
By Nancy Klosek
A dozen regional distributors comprise the EDGE Group (www.edgegroup.org), which serves custom installers and retailers.
EDGE was formed in 1999 as "friends getting together to share professional advice and bring different information to the table," says Chet Flynn, EDGE's treasurer, and president of Norwell, Mass.-based distribution company (and EDGE member) Necessities. Today, the group boasts around $50 million in annual sales of its 10 commonly shared product lines. It's now mounting a national awareness campaign, making big noise about how small (or rather, how individual-dealer/installer-focused) it is.
"Other distributor groups might operate without much human intervention," says EDGE Vice President Michael Hench, principal of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based distributor Electronics Source. "We believe we have to educate our customers. The products we offer are integrated, need to be installed and need to function seamlessly with other products. Knowledge is important, so we constantly do seminars to explain all of the integration aspects."
EDGE members run both distribution and manufacturers' rep operations. While the operations are strictly separated, notes Flynn, the fact that members do both helps to enrich the distributor side with fresh perspectives.
Another advantage EDGE possesses, says Hench, is that its hobbyist members "come from two-channel backgrounds." Adds Flynn, "we're passionate about performance." Since EDGE's traditional customer is the A/V guy, passion about A/V may seem beside the point, but dealers from the alarm and security industries with little knowledge of A/V "are beating a path to our door," says Hench, and they need an infusion of passion—and education. So do low-voltage, telecom and IT installers. "Each group has individual challenges we have to address," says Hench. "These are all areas that are feeding capable dealers into our markets.
"Our members are 'high-tech' companies that have the 'high touch' down," Hench says. "They are able to communicate with dealers, and are driven by passion. But certain things are important to people in certain industries, so we sort through the techno-babble and give our dealers only what is useful."
Promoting the brands
Making the most of each member's strong regional foothold means "presenting manufacturers' stories effectively to our customer base," says Flynn. "We give the manufacturers we deal with a national footprint instantly, because each of us is a niche marketer in our region."
Emblematic of how effectively EDGE communicates brands to dealers is the case of NEC, whose Visual Systems Division sells plasma displays and projectors. "We started talks with them in November 2003 about getting involved in the channels of distribution we serve," Hench relates. "They have good, solid lines, and our relationship with NEC meant penetration into markets previously not addressed by them. We explained that, and gave them a forecast on the projected amount of business. It turns out we exceeded the projection by 20 percent."
"We're narrow and deep," says Flynn about NEC and how it fills a collective product-category need for EDGE members. EDGE isn't looking to fill many other holes in its category array, says Flynn, "but we're open to listen. Lighting control is really the only product area not yet covered. There's also no common loudspeaker line, but all of the members have strong, individually handled speaker lines."
EDGE's membership goals have less to do with numbers and more to do with geographic coverage. The organization, while effectively handling all markets, says Flynn, is looking to fortify its presence in Minnesota, the Pacific Northwest and Indiana/Kentucky. New members, says Hench, must be interested in helping their installer and dealer clients capitalize on the unique and advantageous market situation that currently exists for highly skilled installers, who are at a premium because they are so hard to come by.
"Retail has polarized," he says. "Best Buy, Circuit City and regional TV/appliance chains all do a good job of selling 'take-with' products. That's created a void, an opportunity for integrators to serve someone who wants home theater with recessed speakers, drop-down screens, distributed A/V." Hench concedes that big-box, cash-and-carry retailers are becoming increasingly savvy about mining custom integration opportunities, but he believes the advantage still lies with EDGE's customers, who offer the benefit of much longer experience in their disciplines.
At last year's CEDIA Expo, EDGE hosted a party at restaurant/bar/video game/amusement emporium Jillian's to generate goodwill and awareness among target customers. It's considering a reprise of the event this year, says Flynn. It's an apt location, for the mantra of the restaurant matches the mantra of the home entertainment customer: "Eat. Drink. Play."