PRACTICAL PRACTICES

RESTON, Va. -- Following the lead of industry operators, the National Grocers Association here has found ways to make its upcoming convention more efficient.For the first time, the convention -- to be held Feb. 9 to 12 in Houston -- will overlap with the Washington-based Food Marketing Institute's MarkeTechnics show and feature a joint marketing conference with Food Distributors International, Falls

RESTON, Va. -- Following the lead of industry operators, the National Grocers Association here has found ways to make its upcoming convention more efficient.

For the first time, the convention -- to be held Feb. 9 to 12 in Houston -- will overlap with the Washington-based Food Marketing Institute's MarkeTechnics show and feature a joint marketing conference with Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., said Thomas Zaucha, NGA president and chief executive officer.

"Just as there are many re-engineering processes going on at the retail-wholesale end to make operations more efficient, there has been a strong expectation that those same questions need to be looked at on the association level," he told SN. "I think we are accomplishing what has been our goal, and that is to create an annual meeting that showcases the unique interdependence between wholesalers and retailers in cooperation with manufacturers and suppliers."

The convention will start the same day MarkeTechnics ends. MarkeTechnics, considered the supermarket industry's premier information-technology show, will run Feb. 7 to 9 in an adjacent Houston location. The linked shows are expected to be beneficial to technology-oriented exhibitors and independent retailers.

Though the organizations would like to meld future conventions, it may be difficult to do so because of the logistical challenges involved -- particularly in finding sites that accommodate such large groups. Due to such obstacles, the associations would not be able to schedule a combined show until 1999, and even that is not determined yet, Zaucha said.

On a smaller scale, the joint NGA and FDI marketing conference will be a key step in eliminating some existing redundancies between the groups while also fostering better relationships between retailers and wholesalers, Zaucha said. Although FDI directors rejected a proposal earlier this year to totally link the group's annual meeting with NGA's convention, offering a conference together would make sense since each organization traditionally has set up similar programs on the same topic, he explained, adding that such a move also would merge the advertising and merchandising competitions each group conducts annually.

The marketing conference will feature workshops and seminars that appeal to independent operators and food distributors. Topics to be discussed include building consumer loyalty, developing private label, using electronic marketing and beating supercenter competition.

"It made absolute sense for our segment of the industry to showcase the relationship between wholesale distributors and independent retailers," Zaucha told SN. "Why not create one contest for both groups and run a concurrent conference?" He noted that he is confident that the joint marketing conference will be a longstanding convention feature.

Besides the marketing conference, the NGA convention will include seminars about home-meal replacement, technology, category management, human resources and efficient store development.

"It's the best series of workshops and general sessions we have put together," Zaucha said. "We have surveyed the membership and the leadership, and the workshops reflect very much the identifiable needs and issues that the membership has communicated to us."

By teaming up with FMI, FDI and other organizations, NGA hopes to trim some of trade-show duplication and to emphasize the value of industrywide cooperation, Zaucha noted. Though the groups have worked together in the past, the possibility of combining certain aspects of various shows is picking up momentum as the industry becomes more dependent on each other, he added.

"As we look to win back categories and create new categories, one thing to remember is that for us to be independent companies in the future, we must learn to appreciate the concept of interdependence between the retailer, the wholesaler, the manufacturers and the suppliers," he said. "There have been a lot of initiatives on a number of different levels on how we should make [conferences] more efficient for our industry members to participate in."

Other key events on NGA's calendar include the Executive Management Council, April 19 to 22; the NGA Washington Conference and Employment Law Symposium, June 22 to 24; and the Industry and Trade Relations Executive Conference, Oct. 13 to 15.