TECHNOLOGY DRAWS A CROWD

TAMPA, Fla. -- A record number of retailers will be attending the MarkeTechnics show here this week, reflecting a surge of interest in technology that is thought to be critical to the industry's survival.The three-day show, sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, chalked up a 66% increase in preregistrations by the end of January, and floor space for the 150 exhibitors sold out in December.The

TAMPA, Fla. -- A record number of retailers will be attending the MarkeTechnics show here this week, reflecting a surge of interest in technology that is thought to be critical to the industry's survival.

The three-day show, sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, chalked up a 66% increase in preregistrations by the end of January, and floor space for the 150 exhibitors sold out in December.

The exhibition is so extensive and the seminars so inclusive that, although only a year old, the FMI MarkeTechnics show is quickly becoming a mecca for the industry, making an annual pilgrimage necessary to keep competitive, retailers say.

"It's critical for anyone who is going to successfully compete in the future. You can't compete without technology today in the supermarket business," said Mark Williams, president and chief

operating officer of Carr Gottstein Foods, Anchorage, Alaska.

"If you want to be competitive, you have to see what the offerings are," Williams said.

"It's a great opportunity to stay up with what's new. It's better focused [on technology] than the annual FMI conference," said Ed Martin, director of information systems and technology at Save Mart Supermarkets in Modesto, Calif. "It tends to be more specific both in technology and for the technologist [than the other conferences]."

Efficiency will be a dual theme. "I think it's one of the most important conferences we have now. All the players are going to be in one relatively small area at one time so we won't have to run through huge halls at FMI's annual conference," said Ray Noland, director of store systems at Roundy's, Pewaukee, Wis.

The technology will show us "ways to accumulate [data] and convert it into information we can use to operate our stores," he said.

The exhibits at the exposition will be a virtual lexicon of retailer technology, including bank check verification systems, bar-coding equipment, coupon scanning, distribution-warehousing systems, electronic benefit transfer systems, electronic shelf labels, frequent shopper programs and inventory control systems.

Other vendor products will include labor scheduling, merchandising and marketing systems, point-of-purchase software, systems for scanning, space management and security, satellite communications networks, time and attendance software, shelf label printing equipment, personal computers and peripherals, and pharmacy software systems.

Retailers said they would be shopping the aisles for a variety of systems to keep them current or push them ahead of their rivals.

"We like to see what's going on. We have everything in place, so the question will be to see what's there and how does it compare," said Scott Ramsey, senior vice president of administration at Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass. "The question is, are we ahead of the industry, equal to the industry or behind?"

Carr Gottstein's Williams said, "From our vantage point we will be looking at leveraging network applications -- looking at how you start with a very small network and develop it into a sophisticated one." The retailer is just now rolling out a frequent shopper program and will be comparing its program with others in the marketplace. Cindy Cooper, management information systems manager at Pay Less Supermarkets, Anderson, Ind., also cited specific reasons for going to the show. "We're going to be looking for different ways of communicating from point-of-sale systems throughout the store and also back to the corporate office." Similarly, Chuck Brazik, senior vice president of human resources at Dominick's Finer Foods, Northlake, Ill., said, "We'll be looking for new and innovative things that might prove profitable for us. I'm just going to be wide open."

MarkeTechnics evolved out of three long-standing FMI conferences: Merchandising for Tomorrow, In-store Systems and Electronic Payments. FMI saw a need to showcase technology, differentiating it from the annual FMI show in the spring.