COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The General Merchandise Distributors Council's willingness to innovate keeps the association growing strong in its 35th year.
By reinventing itself through technology and education in the face of continued channel blurring and competition the association has stayed best in class.
"We're change facilitators -- not for the sake of change, but to make the organization and the industry we serve better," said David McConnell, president and chief executive officer, GMDC.
"In a word, it's reinvention. GMDC is all about change and doing things that support what the clients, the retailer/wholesalers and the manufacturers want from an association," said Dan Nelson, senior vice president, marketing and development, and chief operating officer, GMDC.
In recent years, GMDC has added new elements to its traditional eight- and 16-minute Controlled Casual Conferences in response to member feedback. When members complained there was no product component to the tabletop-focused show, the association added both a physical and an online product showcase where retailers were scheduled time during marketing conferences to peruse new product introductions.
When members recently noted there wasn't quite enough time in the tactical CCC sessions for long-range strategizing, GMDC decided to test a new element for its conferences, Senior Executive Meetings, at this year's fall HBC show. The SEMs will be 50-minute meetings hosted by manufacturer executives in rooms separate from the CCC floor that start one half day in advance of the show and overlap with the traditional show by a day. The association will also roll out a roundtable format at the GM conference later this month to facilitate idea sharing between retailers and manufacturers on key industry issues.
When show attendees expressed frustration that following the busy days of the marketing conferences it was easy to lose track of follow-through on new relationships and products, GMDC turned to its technology department, as it has in the past, to see what could be done.
"GMDC's core competency is our show, the productivity that people experience at our show. The way I see it, technology is a way to extend that productivity both before and after the conferences," said Mike Winterbottom, vice president, information technology, and chief technology officer, GMDC.
With that role in mind, he said, GMDC will be piloting some key tools tied to facilitating communication and follow-through leading up to and after the CCC meetings this year. Because of the broad category focus of the GMDC show, not every buyer responsible for a category attends. After the literally hundreds of quick, focused meetings that occur, follow-through was a problem for some members, Winterbottom said.
GMDC facilitates communication through its Web-enabled CCCnet, which allows show attendees to attach memos and agendas to scheduled appointments prior to the show to help target their face-to-face meetings. CCCnet is also enabled to allow attendees to keep track of Product Showcase visits.
This year, GMDC will add an information "hand-off" system in which it forwards details from the CCCs to the parties that need to have it in the wake of the marketing conferences, Winterbottom explained.
Prior to the conferences retailers and suppliers provide the names and contact information of the people at their organizations who would implement decisions made during their meetings. At the show, using a new sheet designed to help attendees keep track of the details of their meetings, both sides of the table check off the contacts they want involved in the follow-up of a specific meeting. GMDC passes the relevant information on electronically, he said.
"I call it connecting the dots. The people sitting at the table identify the end points [for the information discussed in the meeting], and GMDC connects the dots afterwards," said Winterbottom.
As a niche organization that focuses on high-level interaction at its trade shows, McConnell said, GMDC considers technology critical. Over the past year and moving forward, GMDC will implement a number of new technology initiatives designed to further boost the productivity of its marketing conferences.
"Technology touches everything we do. To me, it's the most important enabler for us," he said.
Technology will also tie into another of GMDC's core competencies: the GMDC Educational Foundation, New York. In the future, a new technology element will help the foundation provide more timely and efficient updates, and disseminate information quicker, McConnell said. GMDC hopes to create a learning center and education environment on its Web site to provide training tools for its members and act as an information resource.
The Educational Foundation will continue to be a differentiator, McConnell said. "Our niche is education, and it's really action -oriented education designed to help our trade partners sell more product to consumers."
More white papers and shorter, focused tactical studies are possibilities for the future, he said.
As the industry continues to change at lightening speed, all the components of GMDC will come under scrutiny to make sure they still represent best practices, McConnell said. This is true not only the addition of technology pieces to the show elements and to the Educational Foundation, but also for the meetings that have been at the core of the organization, too, he said.
"We've utilized that CCC format for a long time, but it needs tweaking."
The future could hold new business frontiers for GMDC as well, McConnell said. Around 70% of the association's membership is in the food business, but he sees evolution in other channels, primarily drug and value, as the lines dividing them continue to blur.
"Our industry is going to continue to change" said Nelson. "As long as we stay open-minded to change and we continue to solicit input from our customers and attack each opportunity with an open-minded approach to how we can get it done, we'll be more compelling in five years than we are today."
"The two things that have never wavered or changed within the organization are the core competencies of its partnerships and the CCCs. What's really evolved over the last five to eight years has been the level of sophistication of that partnership and where we're taking it," said McConnell. "We feel like we're being proactive with technology and our leadership in the area of education. We feel like no one out there is doing what we do."