FMI EVENT SETS TECH PAVILION FOR CHIEF EXECS

SAN FRANCISCO -- Targeting top management, meaning chief executive officers, the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, will showcase a comprehensive, integrated demonstration of new technologies currently available for the supermarket industry at its convention, May 7 to 9 in Chicago.In the SuperTechMart pavilion, retailers will take a 45- to 50-minute tour of a 12,000-square-foot space that will

SAN FRANCISCO -- Targeting top management, meaning chief executive officers, the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, will showcase a comprehensive, integrated demonstration of new technologies currently available for the supermarket industry at its convention, May 7 to 9 in Chicago.

In the SuperTechMart pavilion, retailers will take a 45- to 50-minute tour of a 12,000-square-foot space that will include elements of the new "E-enabled enterprise" and the shift from supply- to consumer-driven systems, Mike Smoyer, vice president of the FMI, told SN in an interview. "We are trying to bring a technology focus back to the show," he said.

"We are trying to tie together the education program and the show floor, and not just leave it to chance," Smoyer said. All the technologies and products shown in the pavilion will be from exhibitors at the show, he noted. While specific technologies will be shown, the presentation itself will be generic and the audience will receive a list of all competitive products or services on the show floor, he said.

"There will be nothing in this exhibit that people can't go out and see immediately on the show floor," added Ken Fobes, chairman of Strategy Partners Group, Point Vedra Beach, Fla., who is consulting with the FMI on the project. "They can literally go out, ask their questions and get more detail."

Attendees will have to book appointments on-site to take the tour, Smoyer noted. He projects that about 2,500 to 3,000 people will be able to take the tour, while the show has registered as many as 35,000 total. As a result, the program will be limited to retailers, and as much as possible to top executives, he said. But what they see will dramatize the link between existing technologies and their retail operations.

"It's hard for these people to see the benefit of technology," said Fobes. "Many, many people within retailing have traditionally looked at information technology as a cost center. But as we go into the new millennium, we are finding that technology is an enabler that can help bring business initiatives and vision to reality. So the idea is to take all of this technology, hook it together so it has a strategy and a vision, and demystify it. Don't talk about the bits and the bytes," he said.

The presentation will stress customer benefits, and how retailers can get closer to customers, business partners and employees, he said. Also, it will show "how to make your operation more efficient, less focused on maintaining the operation and more focused on serving customers," Fobes said.

The tour will begin with a presentation in a small theater, and then go out into simulated consumer, store, corporate headquarters, distribution and manufacturing environments, emphasizing technological connectivity along the way.

"We will start in the home and then watch the information the consumer uses flow into a supermarket, and then see how the supermarket can capture that information and use it strategically," Smoyer said.

In the pavilion, FMI will attempt to:

Demonstrate technology's role in transforming the supermarket industry from a supply-chain to a consumer-driven demand-chain environment.

Show how technology can help retailers gain competitive advantage, while attracting and keeping new customers.

Define how the supermarket business is being changed by the "e-enterprise."

Demonstrate how information systems can be integrated into a total business solution.

Examine the role future technologies will play in the food industry.

"SuperTechMart offers an exciting illustration of the impact technology will have on each food retail department and the influence consumers will have on store design and operations. It will provide defined strategic direction for food retail executives seeking to utilize technology for the creation of real solutions," Smoyer said.

"It's how to take advantage of what is happening out there and not be afraid of it. The advances in technology and the advances in the empowerment of the consumer are things you should not run and hide from. These are things you should learn how to deal with and keep up that relationship that you built for 50 years with your customers," Fobes said.

The FMI, working with Strategy Partners Group, defined the technologies that will be demonstrated in the pavilion, said Smoyer. "We weren't going to let the vendor community dictate the messages we were going to send," he said. There will be six or seven major sponsors who will help offset the cost of the exhibit, but there will be no mention of any vendor's names inside, aside from existing names on equipment, he said. The sponsors have not yet been named.

A big part of the exhibit is its implementation, which is an ambitious technical undertaking in itself, he said. "If we can set it up in seven days, in a city like that, in a trade show environment, that's a message. Reasonable people can do this," Smoyer said.