Last week we kicked-off our first-ever Aligned Conference, which gathered manufacturing brand marketers, digital retail marketers and sales managers across multiple verticals to share how they empower their independent retailers. The sessions were brand-led and conversational, sparking innovation and creativity among the attendees!
The first presentation was a conversation between Jason West, General Manager Merchandising & Training for GE Appliances, and Ben Carcio, CEO and Co-Founder of Promoboxx. Jason set the tone for the kind of dialogue that lasted all conference long by talking openly and energetically about the challenges that his brand is facing in today’s highly competitive retail landscape.
Here are some edited highlights of the session:
Ben: Can you give us an overview of what you do at GE?
Jason: Let me start by saying that I have only been with GE Appliances, and that is all I know! But thankfully, GE is a big company, and I have gotten to experience lots of different things. I have a group of marketing people across product lines who are responsible for launching our products in the marketplace. I have a training team that spends a lot of time training on our products, and they spend time helping our sales team become better salespeople.
Ben: GE is a heritage brand. Our parents grew up with GE appliances, we grew up with GE appliances. Everyone grew up with GE appliances. Retailers grew up selling GE appliances. But there are now so many brand choices for customers.
Jason: A couple of things. We are in one out of two American homes. But when we get to retail, we are one out of 9 or 10 appliances on the floor. So we are in 50% of U.S. homes, less than 10% of retail.
Ben: We want to have you talk about positioning your brand in that noisy marketplace. You have an amazing heritage. You invented the refrigerator. An amazing heritage that you bring into the market. It is a noisy market now, with plenty of refrigerators. How do you position and communicate your heritage and that of GE?
Jason: That’s a big question. I will be very candid and say that our brand positioning and product recognition are off the charts. But we are losing market share out on the retail floors. We are thinking of ways to change that trajectory.
Part of it is cultural, internally. We’ve relied on our sales team in the past, but we need to change the conversation. To some extent, we need to change the people we’re having conversations with. If you look at where the consumer shops in the market – where they start and where they finish – we are trying to do a better job of integrating the buying process to the point of sale. And I think that technology has evolved to the place where you can manage that process better if you can influence and touch just the right consumer with just the right offer at just the right moment.
The average smaller appliance dealer who I know today does not have a child who wants to run an appliance store. So as part of our training efforts, we do bring some of our customers – potentially, people who will take over businesses – and we run them through classes. We sit down with our clients. We sit down with web designers and our social and media teams and we give them help on how to create a user experience on their websites.
Ben: Obviously, retailers’ websites have other manufacturers’ products on them. How do you embrace that? How do you get GE appliances out front on their websites?
Jason: Our approach and fundamental belief is that our retailers have to succeed in the marketplace. We suffer if they go away, if they lose. I don’t mind if their websites have other brands. It is my team’s job to provide better content and compete within that vehicle and within that medium. We want retailers to win.
Yet as manufacturers and as an industry, we don’t want shoppers to feel overwhelmed by too many tools, too many distractions. I am of the opinion that you need to create a lot of simplicity.
Ben: Are retailers coming to you and asking for help? Or do you think that they are into a radical kind of self-reliance, believing they can do it all on their own? If so, is there still a level of education that you can provide?
Jason: Retailers want to do it on their own but the reality is, they can’t. And they’re losing. The independent retailer in our category is struggling. But I think we have a whole mixed bag. We have some independent retailers who are very sophisticated, who have online business models, who understand how to drive traffic to their websites. They’re managing their traffic, their search results. They’re managing all that very well. But I would say that most have a long way to go.
We want to win in all channels. But the bottom line is, we really want independent retailers to be more successful. There are other challenges too. Seventy percent of buyers today start their buying process by using a search engine and when they do that, smaller independent retailers don’t come up in their searches. And in stores where many appliances from different brands are sold, we find that we can only compete on price.
Ben: Is Promoboxx working to differentiate your products and motivate buyers to consider more than price?
Jason: Promoboxx has done a terrific job in helping us recruit retailers.
Ben: And are more of your retailers using your branded content thanks to Promoboxx?
Jason: Yes. It’s turnkey.
About Jason West
Jason West, General Manager Merchandising & Training, GE Appliances, has been an employee of the General Electric Company for 19 years. He has served in a wide variety of roles with increasing responsibility including sales, product management, and marketing. In his current role, he is responsible for managing a large marketing team that develops many of GE Appliances’ go-to-market materials, tools, and processes.