In 1971, seven forward-thinking Independent retailers teamed up to better compete against the surmounting pressures of national chains such as Sears and Montgomery Ward.
The original seven included Ed Kelly, founder of 40-store regional chain Kelway Rent to Own (Winston-Salem, N.C.); Kelly’s brother-in-law, Robert Weisner, owner of regional chain Kelly’s TV and Appliance (Winston-Salem, N.C.); and Lee Guttman, industry icon and senior executive of Wander Sales (Pittsburgh, Pa.).
Combining their individual strengths, shared shrewd business sense and progressive retail approaches, Guttman, Kelly and Weisner quickly became an industry brain trust. The trio collaborated on ideas to keep Independent businesses competitive as customer demands continued to shift and the retail landscape reacted in response.
Within 18 months, the group had grown to include hundreds of successful, problem-solving peers working together to thrive on their own terms.
With growth came the need for structure — and a leader with vision. Lee Guttman was unanimously tapped to take the helm. Immediately, he set the network’s sights on expanding nationally. Nationwide TV & Appliance was formed.
During the next three decades, Nationwide TV & Appliance became the industry’s largest buying group, developing new offerings and negotiating more aggressive purchasing programs while continuing to help Independent business owners solve new retail challenges and stay ahead in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
By the 1990s, the organization’s focus shifted beyond leveraging its scale for better pricing and distribution, and into forward-thinking services that helped Members optimize their back-end retail operations, drive more traffic into their stores and increase profitability.
In 2002 this new focus was joined by a new name, Nationwide Marketing Group.
Throughout the early 21st century, Nationwide Marketing Group continued to grow, introducing new categories such as furniture and bedding; adding new members and new membership regions; and developing new services that kept their Members on the forefront of the industry. In July 2003, after the unexpected passing of founder Lee Guttman, Ed Kelly was named the new president and led the company until his retirement in 2011.
Robert Weisner then took over the lead role, eventually sharing it with longtime COO Les Kirk. Both retired in 2015 handing the leadership to veteran industry executive Dave Bilas.
The continued growth in both buying power and new services such as digital marketing soon saw a chance for Nationwide to merge with its largest competitor. In 2017, Nationwide and MEGA Group USA, a national buying group formed in Germantown, Tenn. in 2002, combined to become the largest buying group in North America with over 5,000 members and some 14,000 storefronts. Soon after, Nationwide named Tom Hickman as its 6th president.
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