Independent hardware conference

It brings together retailers and manufacturers to discuss, in two frank open dialogue sessions, the problems each face in doing business together. A few regional wholesaler sales managers also attend.

What makes this conference so valuable is that Tom Chasteen, founder of the event, first asks retailers what problems they are confronting, and does the same privately to the group of manufacturers participating in the conference. Then in those two free-wheeling sessions introduces those topics so both retailers and manufacturers can openly discuss them and seek remedies.

Many of the problems retailers cited likely are similar to those facing Australian retailers. Manufacturer concerns likewise might be similar. Here are some of the topics that were discussed:

  • Competing with big-boxes
  • Should retailers buy from Amazon or Costco?
  • Is the power tool category growing or not?
  • What can be done to make co-op advertising easier to use and still avoid abuses?
  • How can manufacturers communicate more effectively with retailers?
  • What can be done to drive sales in a flat market?
  • How do manufacturers bring new products to the attention of wholesale buyers?
  • Are product re-set programs generating more sales, enough to justify the cost and effort involved?
  • Is the hardware channel preferred by manufacturers compared to other channels?
  • How do manufacturers select retail price points they recommend?
  • What is the business outlook as viewed by manufacturers
  • What distribution changes do you see taking place in the next 5 years?
  • How important will web sales be for the hardware industry and retailers?
  • How often and how should end caps be changed and used?
    There were more topics discussed, but the ones above were typical. Retailers got to learn of some of the problems manufacturers face, for example, when trying to get buyers to stock new products. They expressed some frustration with buyer reluctance at the wholesale level. And manufacturers learned that retailers are deeply concerned about poor communications about product changes and marketing programs, as well as frustrations with complex, hard-to-use co-op advertising programs.

Discussion forums

One of the more interesting discussions was whether retailers should buy any products from Amazon or Costco’s warehouse clubs because both also sell products directly to consumers, or should they concentrate their support for wholesalers serving the industry.

Manufacturers, who invest a lot of money in exhibits at wholesaler markets, wanted to know why so many retailers choose not to attend the shows where they would have a chance to learn more about merchandise, see new products and/or take advantage of special show pricing. John Fix III, a retailer from a New York City suburb who founded the HardLines Digest blog which reaches nearly 3,000 retailers across America, met with “Hardliners” at a special meeting during the Hardware Conference. The HardLines Digest blog has been in existence for more than a decade and provides a forum in which retailers share ideas and help solve problems for each other.

A limited number of manufacturers attend and help underwrite the Hardware Conference by exhibiting some of their products as well as sponsoring some social events. They also have an opportunity to exchange ideas on a person-to-person basis with dealers in addition to the open-dialogue sessions moderated by Chasteen.

For attending retailers, it gives them more time to learn about products and promotions than typical in larger trade shows and buying markets because the number of manufacturers is so limited and there is so much time to meet and mingle. The Hardware Conference takes place each year in early September at the Marco Island Marriott in Florida and was attended this year by retailers from as far away as Pennsylvania and New York. It is actually the is the US industry’s largest gathering of independent retailers. Many of those who have attended can attest to the fact that it is an uplifting event that can have a positive impact on their business. It’s also an ideal opportunity to bring the entire family to a five-star resort right on the Gulf of Mexico with three miles of pristine white beaches.

Tom and Dale Chasteen, who operate Tavernier Hardware in the Florida Keys, have been putting on the Conference since 1988. They have developed a family-friendly, affordable event that brings independent dealers together, regardless of wholesaler affiliation. “It’s so important to get out of your store and talk with other dealers and find out what’s going on in the industry,” Tom Chasteen says. “You might as well do that in a beautiful place and have fun at the same time.”

Leading vendors participate in the conference with tabletop booths showcasing their latest products and services. Dealers also have the opportunity to engage in informal conversations with manufacturers without the pressure of buying. Another popular feature of the event is the open dialogue sessions, where dealers join vendors and wholesaler representatives in a frank discussion of industry topics of concern to all.

The event includes two breakfasts, two cocktail party receptions and two sit-down dinners, giving dealers plenty of changes to interact casually with other dealers. Not surprisingly, the conference is designed for the whole family, with plenty of free time for fun activities such as tennis, golf, sailing, shelling and walking on the beautiful sandy beach.

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