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2012 NGA Convention Evolves, Expands: Larkin

2012 NGA Convention Evolves, Expands: Larkin

ARLINGTON, Va. — Peter Larkin is continuing to listen to his membership.

In his second year as president and chief executive officer of the National Grocers Association, Larkin is beginning to implement some of the changes and suggestions he’s gleaned from talking to retailers, wholesalers and suppliers — both in terms of The NGA Show this week and the initiatives NGA is implementing (see “Larkin Cites Progres,” third page).

“It’s been very valuable for me to listen to what the members have to say,” Larkin (right) told SN. “Generally speaking, people are happy with the convention, but after talking with attendees, speakers and exhibitors on-site during last year’s show and since then, some have offered suggestions for improving the event.”

NGA formed a convention committee last fall consisting of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers, plus IGA, which is partnering with NGA at this year’s show. The committee spent several days going through the entire program to discuss what they like and dislike about each area and how it could improve.

“After all that listening, I think we’ve preserved the best of what we’ve always done and added things we hope attendees will respond to in positive ways,” Larkin said.


The changes at this week’s convention will include:

• Additional space on the show floor to accommodate more exhibitors, including a pavilion featuring member companies from the Produce Marketing Association and another area called “Center for Collaboration,” in which attendees will be able to talk face-to-face with representatives from the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“Members told us they wanted to see more perishables suppliers on the show floor,” Larkin said. “As a result, we developed a very large pavilion where 20 PMA member companies will be exhibiting.”

The availability of GMA representatives on the show floor takes the place of one-on-one meetings retailers were formerly able to arrange with suppliers during the convention. “The new arrangement will allow retailers to get together with manufacturers to discuss common issues,” Larkin explained.

“There will be a seating area and food and beverages available so our members can talk with GMA members about issues of mutual concern in an informal setting.”

The total exhibit space will be up 25% this year, and the number of exhibitors will be up 10%, with the entire show having sold out last month, Larkin said.

Some of the additional space available this year had been allocated last year to the National Meat Association, which co-located its annual convention with NGA. The NMA meets every other year and will be back as a partner at next year’s NGA show, Larkin said.

More Show Changes

• A reduced number of workshops, with sessions organized into separate tracks and each featuring more retailer and wholesaler speakers than in the past.

“’We’ve cut the number of workshops from 28 down to 24, and we’ve organized them into six tracks, based on topics the convention committee felt were most important to attendees: promotions and marketing; employee development; operations; technology; growth strategies; and digital marketing,” Larkin explained.

“We also decided to make sure workshops included more retailers and wholesalers as presenters so they would involve peers talking to peers because members said they liked that approach and got the most takeaways from those kinds of speakers.”

Breakfast sessions will also feature retailers and wholesalers — dealing with results of the association’s own consumer panel surveys one day and with ways to compete with smaller formats the next.

• A new idea exchange area on the show floor to provide extended opportunities for members to talk with speakers from that morning’s workshops in more depth.

“This is something we’re trying for the first time,” Larkin noted. “Often speakers and workshop attendees don’t have time during or after a session to get all their questions answered or to discuss the topic fully, so these afternoon sessions will give people more time to talk.”

• The addition of a “town hall” meeting on Sunday afternoon, before the formal start of the convention that evening, “so members can talk about issues with members of our staff and our lobbyists,” Larkin said.

• A general session on Monday morning featuring highlights from a study on social networking, presented by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council and geared specifically to the independent grocer — the first time the council is previewing part of its research at an NGA convention, Larkin pointed out.

• A new Wednesday morning general session featuring Harold Lloyd, who will talk about merchandising and operations, then lead a series of store tours to illustrate some of his talking points — in place of a breakfast session with an industry speaker, followed by unrelated store tours.

“We’re trying to add more value to that final day,” Larkin said, by having Lloyd discuss things in the morning and then demonstrate them in a real-world setting during the tours.

Larkin said he expects the number of people taking the store tours to increase from previous years because of Lloyd’s commentary during the store visits.

• A separate charge of $25 per person to attend the chairman’s dinner that closes the convention, with all proceeds going to relaunch the Grocers Research and Education Foundation, which has been inactive for several years.

In the past the cost of the dinner was included in the registration price, Larkin pointed out, “but this year we’ve imposed a nominal fee to attend the gala, with all proceeds going to the foundation, which we’re relaunching so it can conduct research — including a salary and benefits survey for the independent sector as one of its first efforts.”

• An expanded competition among students from universities with food programs.

Introduced during last year’s show, the competition will pit student teams against each other on a real-world topic that was assigned to them last fall. This year’s topic is, “How Can Retailers Use Mobile Coupons to Grow Sales?”

A total of 57 students from nine schools will be participating, compared with 33 students from eight schools at the inaugural competition last year. Teams will present their reports to a panel of judges during the convention, with winners scheduled to be announced during the chairman’s gala Tuesday night, Larkin said.


Larkin Cites Progress

ARLINGTON, Va. — The National Grocers Association here is moving forward to implement new initiatives and to draft additional ones as part of its ongoing Member Value Project, according to Peter Larkin, president and chief executive officer.

The initiatives, which were announced last spring and approved by the NGA board in August, fall into eight categories: trading partners; share groups; technology innovations; government relations; operational programs and services; education, research and training; communications; and membership.

“This is a long-term effort — nothing is intended to be short term — so there’s no rush to implement everything at once,” Larkin explained.

He gave a few examples of the work under way in several areas:

Trading partners: “We’ve formed a new advisory council with representatives from the retail, wholesale and supplier segments of our membership. The council held an organizational meeting in September and identified several working groups, each of which will move forward on various projects and programs.”

Share groups: NGA has already launched a new human resources share group, Larkin noted, “and we’re about to launch two or three more on topics of interest and need for operators who never had an opportunity to be part of share groups before.”

Government relations: NGA has expanded its efforts to have a louder voice on Capitol Hill with the hiring of Brian Callahan as the new manager of government relations, Larkin said, “and we’ve revamped our government relations committee, with a new three-year action plan developed by the NGA board.”

In addition, NGA has retained Harriet Melvin, of The Capitol Group, as a new contract lobbyist; has expanded its work with a labor-relations law firm to help with regulatory issues; and is about to launch a new political action committee for the upcoming elections.

NGA had a PAC years ago, Larkin noted, and the association is reviving it now “because it’s important for independent grocers to have a voice in the political process.”

Larkin said he believes the role of the independent operator has strengthened during the recession. “Like so many other industries, independent grocers have proven to be great competitors, even during this downturn and the accompanying unemployment, tougher regulations and uncertainty that exists.

“As I’ve traveled around the U.S., I’ve been impressed at how resilient the independent grocers are. Although they face tremendous challenges, they’re faring very well, with many expanding and growing their business and adding stores.

“And at a time when many large chain operators are scaling back and closing unprofitable stores, it’s not unusual for our members to come in and acquire those properties and expand their businesses.

“So despite the strong headwinds and while there’s no doubt the economy has had a serious impact and it’s been difficult for some independents to get capital, many of our members have continued to grow.”

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