A well-organised conference run by a strong and promising young retail group: that’s the word from suppliers that recently attended Leading Appliance’s first annual get-together on the Gold Coast.

As described by product and marketing manager Nick Fry in a guest post today, Leading Appliances hosted its first conference on the Gold Coast earlier this month. The group started trading on 1 April 2013 after bringing together Retravision orphans and other independents following several retail collapses during 2012 and 2013.

Electrolux Home Products was named Supplier of the Year at the conference and national key account manager Bahar Urfan said it was a great experience, praising the group for its organisation.

“Congratulations [to Leading Appliances] on your first successful conference as part of the Leading Edge Group,” she said. “It was a great three days and we were very happy to be involved in what was a professional and very well-organised and executed series of events.”

Winning the gong for best stand at the conference, Breville was similarly impressed. National sales manager Michael Aquilina said, “Congratulations to Leading Appliances on holding a very successful conference. The feedback and support from the members was outstanding. We are confident that the future of Leading Appliances is strong and we are looking forward to another great year of our partnership.”

Steve Sammartino, a social media expert who blogs about start up and productivity, gave a presentation to members focusing on how they can best utilise emerging technologies to grow their business. He said the focus was on Facebook, and he advised Leading Appliances’ proprietors to take an “unapologetically commercial” approach to the platform.

“My overriding theme was that with Facebook, the days of organic reach and building a fanbase is expiring,” he said. “Going forward you’ll have to pay to play, and if you want to use it for marketing, it should be an unapologetically commercial approach.

“You don’t even need Fans or Likes anymore, because you can buy the audience, while still keeping things low cost.”

Sammartino said the members were very attentive and appeared eager to learn about new ways of marketing and communicating.

After a long period of uncertainty for many of the members, mostly based in rural and regional centres and still family owned, with the classical ‘man who owns the store, runs the store’ mentality, there was a sense that this conference represented some long-awaited stability for the group. Jason Healey, national channel manager at Fisher & Paykel said, “The overwhelming takeaway was the comfort and trust stores have in the Leading Edge Group.”

Taree Leading Appliances, operated by Peter and Donna Bolte, was named Store of the Year. The Boltes purchased this former Retravision outlet in 2009, when it was “well-established but somewhat tired”, according to Peter. When Retravision Southern collapsed in 2012, the Boltes were not affected, but when the Retravision Northern group was essentially dissolved following the brand name’s sale to the Narta Group, the pair decided to become “proud foundation members” of the newly formed Leading Appliances group, and Peter was appointed to the inaugural Advisory Committee.

Winning Store of the Year is a real positive for the Taree store, and comes after several challenging years. In 2012, Bolte told the Manning River Times that times had been tough and that Taree was especially susceptible to the global economic downturn due to its high proportion of retirees and Centrelink clients. Conditions are now improving and this award is a welcome fillip.

“This conference by the Leading Edge Group provided members and suppliers of both the Appliances and Electronics groups with a forum to share ideas and experiences for the betterment of our individual and collective business, as well as some well earned social networking,” he said.

Also impressed was Russell Boxall from Swan Hill Leading Appliances.

“Getting to meet all the suppliers was very helpful,” he said. “The speakers covered topics like social media, marketing and advertising, stock control and cash flow, and it was very enlightening.

“James O’Loghlin and Andrew Gaze’s presentations were engaging and very interesting, and the entertainment was exceptional. It was a great event.”

Keeping with Leading Appliances’ austere philosophy, there are no plans yet to take its conference to Moscow, Monte Carlo or the Maldives; the 2014 edition is scheduled for Melbourne.