AVB’s Ristow Leads Region Calls with Head and Heart

CEO Ristow helmed this week’s region calls.

By Alan Wolf, YSN

BrandSource resumed its cadence of regional call-ins this week, this time with AVB CEO Jim Ristow taking the reins.

Part business update, part fireside chat, Ristow and his AVB team addressed members’ inventory concerns, fielded their questions, and led discussions about the wearying effects of the COVID crisis.

About the latter, Ristow noted that 80 percent of Americans are experiencing some level of emotional distress due to the pandemic, and that the unprecedented demands of business — including endless workdays, the scramble for product, and the ire of customers on backorder — is taking a toll on owners and employees alike.

Describing the syndrome as “COVID head,” he said some consumers are venting their stress over quarantines, home-schooled kids and job insecurity by snapping at dealers over minor issues, and that pressure will likely mount during the approaching holiday season.

Ristow’s advice: owners should find a way to decompress, whether that means time away from the store, as some members have done; by rewarding themselves with simple pleasures; or by calling up a fellow member or the CEO himself.

“You won’t be a good leader if your head is not on right,” he counseled, comparing the situation to securing one’s own oxygen mask on an airplane before assisting others.

Ristow also urged owners to thank staffers individually for their tireless efforts, whether verbally, with a handwritten note, or with a gift card. Some members said they’ve taken it to the next level by rewarding employees with holiday turkeys, paid time off or hero bonuses.

Turning to the business of business, Ristow and his team cautioned that inventory relief could still be at least nine months out — no doubt a hard pill to swallow for members and their customers who are waiting as long as 12 weeks for shipments from some vendors. The good news, he said, is that BrandSource dealers are far outpacing the industry on deliveries due to their alacrity in placing opportunistic orders — something the box stores and their forecasting systems can’t do.

This nimbleness has made BrandSource businesses the best bet for shoppers on the hunt, Ristow said, which members should tout in their marketing in lieu of holiday season promotions. Indeed, another benefit of the supply constraints is that availability has replaced price as the new lure, allowing margins and member profits to grow.

Looking ahead, Merchandising VP Chad Evans expects demand for appliances and home furnishings to remain high and for sales to continue growing at an accelerated pace for the next six to nine months, or “as long as consumers are stuck in their homes and aren’t taking vacations.” Some members said they are working on that assumption and are already ordering deep for next year.

Despite the punishing pace, Ristow reminded members of their good fortune in selling home-related products. “Imagine if you owned a restaurant or a travel agency,” he said.

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.