DAYTON, Ohio -- Some considered it a surprise move when the School and Home Office Products Association here appointed an executive from publishing to be its new president.
Steve Jacober, former president of Macfadden Trade Publishing, an affiliate of Macfadden Publishing Inc., New York, who also was editor and publisher of Discount Merchandiser magazine while at the company, was chosen for the SHOPA position from among others with association backgrounds who were vying for the job.
Jacober, who began working for SHOPA in February, says his 10 years in publishing have prepared him well for his new role and change in career. Experience gained as a publishing executive is similar to what an association leader would bring to a growing service organization, he said.
"If someone asked me what I did [in publishing], I'd say I really served the retail marketplace. I didn't consider myself just a publisher, I was involved in an industry. I am still involved in that industry although now from a much more focused perspective," he said.
Having covered the retail sector for a trade publisher, Jacober brings with him many retail and supplier contacts he has made over the years as well as solid management skills that he says will benefit the association.
"I've attempted to foster a partnership approach to doing business with retailers and suppliers to bring them together in discussion on key issues to help grow our industry. What more can an association executive do to facilitate strong working relationships among its members?" he asked.
Jacober's role as president of the just over 1,000-member association is to achieve the strategic goals set by the association's board.
Those goals include:
The promotion of school, home and office products within the various distribution channels.
The continued growth of the SHOPA Show, scheduled to return to Dallas at an earlier date this year, Nov. 14 to 16.
The introduction of new value-added services that will benefit SHOPA membership.
Formed in 1991, SHOPA's membership has grown to comprise 613 manufacturing companies, 62 distributor/wholesalers, 176 manufacturer reps, 87 associate members and 67 retail members that represent over 29,000 stores. Among the retailer members, there are five major players from the supermarket channel: Kroger Co., Randalls Food Markets, Smith's Food & Drug, Spartan Stores and Supervalu.
Jacober views the small number of members from the grocery industry as an opportunity to gain penetration within the channel.
"Take a look at margin opportunities the category provides," Jacober pointed out. "It's perhaps the highest gross margin return on inventory investment than any product category out there today. This is a story that has to be told to a much greater degree," he added. While he agreed that the food industry's focus on prepared meals is a way for grocery retailers to enhance margins, he said their spectrum in providing new product categories must be much broader to give value and convenience to customers. This is a factor he sees as critical to consumer-purchasing decisions today.
"Since supermarkets have a weekly captive audience, grocery must offer a variety of products purchased on a regular basis," Jacober believes.
"Our product category represents a strong opportunity of growth for supermarkets. It's more than just back-to-school offerings. It can be merchandised on a regular basis, used to effectively utilize margin management, as well as create promotional opportunities to capture greater incremental purchases from consumers," he explained.
A distribution trends report, put out by the association, that covers the 1992 to 1994 period, indicates that supermarkets, drug, wholesale club and specialty stores are losing share in the $70 billion industry.
More recently, fourth-quarter figures tracked by ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., show that food, food-drug combos and drug stores are losing share in key category segments to mass merchandisers.
Except for mailing supplies, in which food stores gained 14.4 share points, supermarkets and drug stores lost share or remained flat in school, home and office supplies; computer accessories and software; drawing, coloring and art supplies; tapes and adhesives; writing instruments, and candles and candleholders. These categories represented over $4 billion in fourth-quarter sales last year.
Jacober described a rapidly changing retail environment where major chains are attempting to establish a unique position with their consumers. "Retailers are looking for opportunities that make them unique and give them a point of difference," he said.
He pointed to supermarkets' response to the wholesale club competition that developed several year ago. "Supermarkets have indeed reacted [to the threat of wholesale clubs]. They will continue to solidify their place in the market. The way they can do that is through general merchandise and school and home office specifically," he added.
Favorable consumer demographics support the general health of the industry, which grew 7% per year from 1992 to 1994.
"As the baby boomlet bubble of the late 1970s and 1980s ages and goes through school years, it is creating consumer demand for our products. This is of particular importance to retailers looking to expand their school and home office departments," Jacober stated. Also, the corporate downsizing of America has contributed to the escalation in sales of home office products, he noted.
While the industry grows, so does SHOPA's trade show. Last year the show featured 525 exhibitors and drew 9,600 attendees, among them 127 supermarket retailers.
The show also has achieved prominence among mass distribution channels, especially for previewing new fashion and licensing trends and product innovations. Getting an early jump on planning and placing orders for the upcoming back-to-school season has become a critical function of the show. This year's show is being held earlier due to retailers' need to place orders well in advance of the July selling season, said Jacober.
This year's show format will be enhanced with a focus on technology. A special features area on the trade show floor will again include a new products showcase, consumer focus groups and benefits the association is providing its members.
A silent auction will be conducted for the SHOPA Foundation for Educational Excellence. Attendees also can preview the 1997 show in Atlanta during a social event. Trade show products again will be donated to needy school districts.
A new project for SHOPA is the creation of a data base of electronic product scans that can be used in computerized shelf space management and planogramming, said Jacober.
He sees technology transforming the way retailers are allocating their shelf space.
SHOPA has just begun to work with ACNielsen on scan data information, tracking seven categories. "Without a doubt, the entire school and home office industry is learning more about adopting technology to help increase sales," Jacober said.
Although there are large corporations within the association using sophisticated technologies and scan data, the industry consists of many smaller companies.
"As the cost of technology continues to decline and the familiarity with the tools available increases, you'll find the investments people are making will pay tremendous benefits," Jacober said.
It's in the Mail
AC Nielsen, Chicago, has begun tracking seven school, home and office categories among four main channels of trade. Most of the categories within the supermarket channels like school, home and office supplies indicate little growth or a loss in share points for the fourth quarter of 1995 compared with that of 1994. Only sales of mailing supplies and accessories dramatically increased at food stores, jumping 14.4 share points. Source: AC Nielsen