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Candor and Courage Help Drive Collaboration

Candor and Courage Help Drive Collaboration

Anyone who knows the food industry realizes all retailers are excellent golfers. No exceptions.

Or at least that's what retailers have been led to believe by their supplier golfing buddies.

Which is part of a much bigger problem, observed Randy Edeker, president of Hy-Vee, during last week's Grocery Manufacturers Association Executive Conference in Colorado Springs.

His point during a session on collaboration was well taken: If trading partners can't be honest with each other on the golf course, how are they going to do so in meeting rooms?

“It takes candor to accomplish what we need to do,” he said. “As retailers we can't think that we're perfect, and vice versa for suppliers.”

Sometimes candor requires taking a courageous stance that challenges partners.

That kind of behavior was displayed by Scott Schnuck, chairman and CEO, Schnuck Markets, who during the same session challenged manufacturers to raise their games in collaborating with his company.

He outlined how Schnucks has improved its operation in ways that help make it a better partner.

“We've taken steps to get our house in order,” he said, “and I'd encourage you to make sure you're getting your house in order in how you come to us to work together.”

The problems he cited aren't unique to Schnucks but rather are often experienced by other independent chains as well. These include having to work with less experienced manufacturers' representatives because of high turnover in those ranks, and not getting enough attention from vendors.

“My request to our vendor partners is that when you come to call on Schnucks that you have smart people who know the business so we can get to collaborative efforts and strategic partnerships,” he urged.

Schnuck is to be congratulated for shaking up the conversation. Call it tough love or just plain honesty, it's the kind of candor and courage that will eventually lead to more substantive relationships.

Which, as Schnuck pointed out, is needed more than ever in the face of the challenging economy, reduced consumer spending, higher input costs from manufacturers, and the need for business growth.

Given that context, a golf course may seem like a safe haven, but if progressive partners have their way even the green will be changed by new collaborative approaches.

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