FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Food Distributors International here will release some early results of its ongoing retail coverage study at this week's annual Business Conference in Atlanta, John R. Block, president and chief executive officer of the association, told SN.
"We'll report on results from some of the individual pilot studies that are under way, but not on how those results fit into the broader context, though some trends may emerge," Block said here in a pre-convention interview.
The study, which began a year ago, is focusing on such procedures as speed-to-shelf and planogram integrity in the areas of shelf management, assortment management and display management, based on input and testing from more than 100 independent operators.
"We'll report this week on our findings to date and where we see them going, with the final report scheduled for presentation at our Midyear Executive Conference in Hilton Head, S.C., in September," Block said.
That conference will, for the first time, be a joint meeting with the National Grocers Association, Reston, Va., which agreed earlier this year to merge its Trade Relations Executive Conference and Retailer-Owned Executive Retreat with the FDI's mid-year event.
According to Block, it's appropriate that the NGA's retail members be present along with the FDI's wholesale members when the final report is made "because the report will be directed at retailers, with recommendations on how retailers and wholesalers should work together as a team.
"We want to develop interest for the report among retailers so when we get the final set of recommendations, they will be prepared to put teeth into it. Because if we don't get the attention of retailers, then the rest of the supply chain doesn't matter."
The study -- formally called The FDI Retail Coverage/In-Store Implementation Study -- is being conducted by The Partnering Group, Playa del Rey, Calif., and is aimed at improving coverage for independent operators by wholesalers, manufacturers and brokers.
"To be successful, all four industry segments must work together to get costs out of the independent system," Block said. "What the study will do is make comparisons between how independents and chains are covered by their suppliers and show the value to retailers of working more closely with them."
The preliminary results of the study will be discussed at a general session scheduled for noon today, followed by a panel discussion involving a representative of each segment: Leland Dake, vice president for wholesale merchandising for Supervalu, Minneapolis, representing wholesalers; Sandy Brawley, national sales manager for Clorox Co., Oakland, Calif., representing manufacturers; Kurt Nolin, executive vice president of retail for Marketing Specialists Sales Co., Dallas, representing brokers; and Dave Somerset, president of Family Fare Markets, Hudsonville, Mich. (a division of Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich.), representing retailers.
According to Block, the theme of the FDI's annual Business Conference is "Business in Overdrive." "We're looking at an industry that is changing as we speak," he explained. "Changes in technology, in the ways we conduct business, in the competitive pressures that wholesalers and independent retailers are up against all make this a very challenging business.
"But the outlook for wholesalers is good because, in overdrive, businesses can prosper. Most wholesalers today are doing pretty well. The economy is good, and FDI members are learning how to compete with other channels of trade.
"In fact, many members are tapping into those channels, whether it's Supervalu and Fleming picking up some of Kmart's distribution business, C&S Wholesale Grocers doing a tremendous amount of chain distribution, or Wakefern cross-docking specialty foods to make store deliveries more efficient.
"There's a lot of creativity out there, and this meeting gives members a chance to talk with their suppliers to find ways to make things more efficient and to be more productive."
The business conference is a working event at which suppliers meet with wholesale customers in scheduled meetings throughout the day -- at Vendex, with suppliers moving from table to table meeting with wholesale-level buyers, and at the business conference, where top-level wholesalers move from suite to suite visiting with their suppliers.
The Vendex meetings are conducted at the tactical level while the business conferences involve executives at a more strategic level, Block said.
Until last year the two events were simultaneous, but the FDI scheduled Vendex to begin on Saturday this year, a day earlier than in the past, to avoid overlap with the business conference today and tomorrow, Block said. In addition, the time for each Vendex meeting has been lengthened from 15 minutes to 22 minutes; the business conferences remain 45 minutes each, he noted.
"A lot of advance thought goes into the discussions, and decisions are made here," Block said.
"A lot of companies bring their senior people to the meeting and encourage followup. Everyone knows in advance who they will meet with because they've been talking about it with each other for months. So the companies on both sides are ready to put things right on the table.
"Some companies go into the meetings with a strategic marketing plan, then spend time with the wholesalers and find their plans are off-track with each other, so they rearrange their entire marketing effort as a result. These meetings offer a good opportunity to line up and do more business together."
The event used to be more of a traditional convention, with workshops and social events, Block said. However, the workshops have been eliminated over the last few years and social get-togethers are limited, he noted.
General sessions scheduled for this week's meetings included a lecture by Henry Kissinger, scheduled for last night, and a lecture tonight by Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former mayor of Atlanta.
"We added the Monday evening event to have a little more interaction and to bring people together," Block noted. "We used to have a formal banquet to close the meeting, but as we've become more business-oriented, we've eliminated the banquet and entertainment that was aimed at couples and added the Monday evening lecture."