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Along with providing products to sellers, companies also must find ways to serve the customer better, according to officials of General Electric Appliances Corp., Louisville, Ky.

Richard Stonesifer, president and chief executive officer, and Larry Johnston, vice president of sales and distribution of the $6 billion subsidiary of the $60 billion General Electric Corp., were in Salt Lake City along with other suppliers for a semiannual meeting of the National Association of Trade Merchants, hosted by R.C. Willey.Stonesifer said the appliance industry has shifted from a buy-sell relationship to a partnership and the suppliers need to enhance the viability of the the retail aspects of the business through training and efficiency.

He said the appliance industry is changing from the 1950s and 1960s because there are fewer suppliers and fewer retail outlets for the products. He said as companies like R.C. Willey grow, more unknowns come into play so GE is playing a vital role in making certain there is training and help for the retailers.

Stonesifer said GE Appliances spends millions of dollars annually on research and development of new products such as ranges, refrigerators, dishwashers, microwave ovens, washers and dryers.

One of the new product is a new profile side-by-side refrigerator featuring soft-touch handles, slide outs shelves, better lighting and more flexible use of shelves, Stonesifer said. The series of profile appliances is an upscale version that is very popular today, he said.

The company also is facing production of a 30 percent more efficient refrigeration unit in refrigerators by January 1993 to meet federal regulations Stonesifer praised William C. Child, chief executive officer of R.C. Willey, for his 18-month-old distribution warehouse and retail store at 2301 W. 300 West. He said it shows that R.C. Willey has a commitment to the area by building the new facility.

Johnston said it appears that Utah has a stable economy attributed to its family orientation. "Utah is a very important market for GE," Johnston said.

Child said the 16-member NATM is a group of retailers who meet to get ideas from each other on advertising, sales programs and computer programs so they can provide better value and service to the customer.