NGA CONFAB: PAVILIONS TO REPLACE EXHIBIT AREA

RESTON, Va. -- The National Grocers Association here said it will introduce a series of interactive pavilions at its national convention next February to take the place of the traditional vendor exhibit area.Booth shows have been a feature of NGA's annual convention since the association was created in 1982 through the merger of two industry groups. One of them, the National American Retail Grocers

RESTON, Va. -- The National Grocers Association here said it will introduce a series of interactive pavilions at its national convention next February to take the place of the traditional vendor exhibit area.

Booth shows have been a feature of NGA's annual convention since the association was created in 1982 through the merger of two industry groups. One of them, the National American Retail Grocers of the U.S., had been offering a trade show at its annual gathering since the early 1950s.

The convention -- which NGA is calling a Supermarket Strategy Showcase, or S3 -- will also set aside time for manufacturers and retailers to meet in strategic business dialogues, NGA told SN last week.

NGA's convention is scheduled for Feb. 11 to 14 at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas.

According to Tom Zaucha, president and chief executive officer, "NGA is all about cultivating business relationships, and the new convention format reflects our commitment to deliver value to our members. As a result, convention sponsors will be able to communicate with our audience -- at the convention, before and after the convention, and throughout the year -- through a series of interactive tools we are developing."

The primary tool, Zaucha told SN, will be a series of interactive demonstrations in the convention's pavilion area that will encompass re-creations of sections of retail stores, geared to seven marketing and operations issues: center store; whole-health solutions; fresh and prepared foods; specialty and ethnic foods; fuel-center solutions; applied technology and fixtures; and operational services.

"In the months ahead, NGA will identify retailers from across the country that have been creative and successful in one of the seven concept areas," Zaucha said. "It is NGA's goal to provide convention attendees with a 'store-within-a-store' interactive experience in all seven solution pavilions."

There could be several retailers representing any one of the subject areas, Zaucha said. "We'll be concentrating on replicating what cutting-edge retailers are doing, and rather than asking vendors to invest in individual exhibits, we'll ask them to invest in the demonstration area."

The decision to substitute retail pavilions for the more traditional vendor exhibit area follows an experiment NGA conducted at its convention last January in Dallas, where a portion of Pratt Foods Supermarkets, Shawnee, Okla., was re-created in the exhibit's Healthy Living area.

"J.B. Pratt [president and CEO] spoke at a convention workshop one morning and told people they could come to the re-creation of his store that afternoon to see what he had been talking about, and there was a large turnout," Zaucha told SN.

"On the other hand, there was another workshop on self-scanning that intrigued a lot of people, but when audience members asked where they could see the scanners in operation, they were told they could not.

"What we're looking for is a show-and-tell extension of the workshops in the pavilion area, because we believe that a picture is worth 1,000 words, that seeing is believing, and that touching and feeling is a great way to educate people.

"There are so many components you can feature to demonstrate what a retailer is doing and what he's trying to capture, and the re-creations could be augmented by pictures or miscellaneous sounds, because the more we can re-create the actual environments of successful programs -- combined with the actual presence of the retailer to share what he's doing -- the more likely we are to communicate a credible message to independent retailers."

According to Zaucha, members of a retailer's staff will be available at each display, along with representatives of the manufacturers and vendors whose products are included, so convention attendees can talk about what they're seeing and the opportunities available to them. In addition, there will be areas nearby where one-on-one discussions can take place, he added.

The convention will also set aside time for scheduled face-to-face meetings between manufacturers and retailers before and after the formal educational program, Zaucha said. Those one-hour meetings will take place during the day on Monday, Feb. 11, prior to the start of the convention that evening, and on Thursday, Feb. 14, after the close of the meeting, "and other times may be added if the demand is there," he noted.

In response to an SN question, Zaucha said replacing the traditional booth-type show with interactive pavilions is not the result of any drop-off among exhibitors, "but because of feedback we've received and thinking we've done over the past three years.

"As more companies have consolidated and become more cost-conscious, they have indicated they are looking for a change," he explained, "with most being clear and direct in telling us that the money they spend on building, shipping and manning booths could be invested better in getting more interface activity.

"We think this type of retail demonstration and interface, coupled with the business dialogues and a series of yearlong programs that disseminate education and information, represent a significant step forward for vendors to get their message across to their retail customers.

"While traditional expositions may continue to have a role in the marketing mix, we believe the S3 format provides sellers with an efficient, cost-effective forum that offers an opportunity to interact face-to-face with buyers at a location where actual demonstrations are conducted in concert with educational activities."

In the past, NGA has allocated 100,000 to 150,000 square feet to accommodate exhibit booths for 300 to 400 companies, Zaucha said. By replacing the exhibit floor with demonstration areas, "We'll have more flexibility within the self-contained confines of a single convention hall to configure the facility however we like."

He said he suspects the pavilions will take up less space than the previous booth setups, "but we're still working on that. And we expect we will be able to offer the demonstrations within either the Paris or the adjacent Bally's Hotel so we won't have to bus people back and forth from the convention hotels to the Las Vegas Convention Center, and that's one of the advantages we're trying to achieve."

NGA also plans to bring the registration process "into the 21st century," Zaucha said, by launching a new on-line service for convention registration and hotel reservations.