RBA STIRS LOCAL GROUPS INTO ITS MEMBER MIX

LAUREL, Md. -- The Retailer's Bakery Association here has entered into a partnership agreement with 22 local associations in an effort to increase membership and offer new programs tailored to specific regions.According to Peggy Hoffman, membership director for the RBA, the decision to combine resources with the local groups is part of an ongoing effort to reach a larger retailer audience."We know

LAUREL, Md. -- The Retailer's Bakery Association here has entered into a partnership agreement with 22 local associations in an effort to increase membership and offer new programs tailored to specific regions.

According to Peggy Hoffman, membership director for the RBA, the decision to combine resources with the local groups is part of an ongoing effort to reach a larger retailer audience.

"We know that in order to continue to develop solid bottom-line programs, we need increased involvement by retailers," said Hoffman. "We also know that the best way to sell retailers on RBA is to be face-to-face. As a national association, that's very difficult. Local associations, though, can be up close and personal."

Hoffman added that the partnership was also intended to help the smaller-staffed associations, which may have been struggling over the years to offer quality programs and services to members. She said that the many resources once readily available to the regional organizations in the past have now become harder to find.

"We can provide administrative support, initially invoicing and data management, to these associations," she said. "We can also pool resources so that associations can learn more and become better service providers."

Under the new partnership agreement, a "universal membership" has been created that will better link the services offered through the RBA with those of the smaller associations. In return, the smaller groups can act as conduits to reach the 2,500 retail members who make up the majority of the RBA's total membership of more than 3,500, as well as attract new retail members. Vendors, schools, students, industry professionals and retired individuals make up the balance of the RBA's membership.

The new services provided to members as a result of the new universal membership include programs for controlling costs; managing finances and planning for the future; growing business and facing competitive challenges; and recruiting, motivating, training and retraining staff.

For example, the RBA has been developing a merchant services program that can help retailers save on credit-card and check-processing fees, plus help them do a better job of using credit cards to boost sales. The program offers retailers a low discount of rate of 1.59% and transaction fees of 20 cents on credit-card purchases.

The rates are based on a group rate, which makes them more competitive than the rates single retailers are typically offered. In addition, the RBA offers low rates on verifying checks and reimbursement for bad checks, as well as affordable equipment rates.

Hoffman said that it's important for retailers to maintain a credit-card presence in the bakery department because studies have shown that the typical shopper purchases more when credit is a factor.

"The real story is that the average customer spends 15% to 20% more on credit purchases," she said. "That translates to increased purchases in the bakery when a customer can swipe a card. It's easy to add a dozen cookies for the party to the cake order."

Another educational program the RBA has been developing is focused on teaching retailers how to train and retain staff in the bakery department. According to Hoffman, research has shown trained employees tend to be more satisfied and remain with an employer 40% longer than those who are not trained.

To help educate retailers on training issues, the RBA partnered with Payback Training Systems to develop three computer-based training programs: bakery skills, deli skills and sales associate. "This type of training is not only proven to be more effective, but it reduces the training time by an average of 50%," said Hoffman.

"Supermarkets have long used CBT for cashiers, but they've left the counter people behind and that's where all the added sales can be found, whether we're talking about the bakery counter, deli counter, seafood, etc.," she said. "Those people who effectively 'suggestive sell' and give accurate information about the products can increase sales per customer and build solid relationships that bring the customer back."

The RBA is also launching a new training/computer program called BOSS (Bakery Order and Scheduling System). BOSS is a one-of-a-kind software program that lets a bakery manager control and monitor the daily details of production, scheduling and delivery. For example, a bakery department using the software could greatly simplify the order-taking process, as well as ensure orders are correctly communicated to the production department.

Two other new programs in the works include the creation of copyright kits and retailer promotional kits to assist retailers in growing their businesses.

The copyright kits will help to inform consumers about the laws that prevent retailers from placing copyrighted materials on cakes and other bakery items.

"Bakery managers have long complained that the consumer doesn't understand the law, and so they must either lose a sale or break the law," she said. "There are, however, many reasonable and lawful ways to provide alternatives to the customer."

For example, she said, the retailer could explain the law and then provide an alternative like a photo image of the child as a way to get make more profit on a personalized cake.

The promotional kits provide retailers the tools to create ads, banners, posters and other promo-related materials, as well as learn more about sales promotion. "The idea is to help these retailers -- independent shops and supermarkets -- do a better job of attracting the customer," said Hoffman.

To gain access to the new programs, retailers will have to purchase one of two memberships. The Universal Corporate costs $175 and the Golden Circle Universal costs $500. Hoffman said the Golden Circle membership is designed to better serve a medium to large retailer, because it provides more subscriptions, additional mailings and added breaks for the Marketplace, the RBA's annual convention.

Previously, the RBA's basic membership, which has now been discontinued, sold for $85 for a single-unit and $300 for a multi-unit operator.