CHECK IT OUT

Pessimists and procrastinators agree that there are no easy solutions to complex problems. Meanwhile, optimists and initiators don't agree. They argue that no matter how hard the problem is, the formula to solve it is easy. One, identify the problem. Two, figure out how to solve it. Three, solve it. In the stirring words of that sneaker maker, "Just do it." That's precisely what the grocery industry

Pessimists and procrastinators agree that there are no easy solutions to complex problems. Meanwhile, optimists and initiators don't agree. They argue that no matter how hard the problem is, the formula to solve it is easy. One, identify the problem. Two, figure out how to solve it. Three, solve it. In the stirring words of that sneaker maker, "Just do it." That's precisely what the grocery industry is now doing. That's precisely what will enable Efficient Consumer Response to succeed. To find out how, let's apply the formula. The problem: The supermarket industry has not kept pace with the distribution efficiencies that have been turned into an art form by other classes of trade, notably the Wal-Mart class of trade. These intruders have gained better in-stock position, better assortments and lower prices. This has caused supermarket executives to shake their fists in the direction of Bentonville, Ark., as their customers began shopping elsewhere. How to solve the problem: The supermarket industry announces its battle plan called ECR. This strategy refers to a group of techniques and business practices that leads to a less costly and more efficient flow of products through the distribution pipeline. This process brings more value to the consumer. And they love it. The supermarket industry is now in the second part of the formula. Solving the problem involves new technologies and Best Practices of operation. Documents on ECR have been proposed, sliced and diced, and agreed upon for nearly two years by dedicated executives. Some reports have already been published; the remainder will be available between now and the end of the first quarter of 1995. More details are contained in the story by reporter Lisa Tibbitts beginning on Page 1.

The ECR architects envisioned a revitalized supermarket industry eager to engage anyone in the battle for consumers. Armed with the "roadmaps" to ECR operation, the industry is moving closer to the last part of the formula: Solving the problem. Time to grab the roadmaps, put on the sneakers and sprint into a re-engineered future, right? Maybe. First of all, it's really a company-by-company decision. Some companies have already started using some of the ECR Best Practices in day-to-day operations. Others will start soon. Some will never change. But one thing is clear. In an industry that is downsizing, consolidating and facing formidable new retail formats in an already overstored marketplace, the survivors will be those who improve their operations with ECR practices. By the way, to get a picture of where ECR stands today, Brand Marketing and Supermarket News need your help. We have prepared a survey form that will be mailed this week to the top executives of the country's leading packaged goods companies and supermarket chains. There will be questions about ECR on the survey, along with other subjects. The results will form the basis of "Trade Relations: The State of the Union." This report will be published by Brand Marketing and Supermarket News in January, and distributed at the Food Marketing Institute Executive Conference. Respondents may choose to be anonymous. Let's apply the formula again. The problem: to convince busy, over-surveyed executives to fill out another survey. How to solve the problem: ask for their cooperation in this space. Solve it: this is your part. Just do it.

John Karolefski is editor of Brand Marketing.