OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. -- Food brokers who gathered here for a nonfood conference heard a "call to arms" to embrace the Efficient Consumer Response movement and its many components.
"Willy Loman is dead," said Bob Schwarze, president of the National Food Brokers Association and Education and Training Foundation, as he described how technology and a competitive marketplace are changing the way brokers do business. Willy Loman was the salesman in Arthur Miller's play, "Death of a Salesman." Brokers are being transformed from salesmen to category managers who are adept at "integrating logistics, syndicated data, electronic shelf management, demographic data and technology into everyday operations," said Schwarze.
With those remarks, Schwarze set the tone for the General Merchandise, Health and Beauty Care Conference, jointly sponsored this year by NFBA and the Grocery Manufacturers of America. The conference took place at the Squaw Creek Resort here, June 5 to 7.
During the meeting, 140 brokers and manufacturers heard presentations and participated in workshops on topics that dealt with nonfood merchandising and moving products more cost-effectively through the distribution system -- including implementation of category management, inventory control, and analysis of syndicated and demographic data.
Referring to the ideal scenario, Schwarze said, "What I see is a team of individuals on both sides
of the desk. A multi-functional mix of knowledgeable and dedicated individuals who sincerely want to move more product in a profitable, cost-efficient way to the consumer."
Today's consumer, who demands variety, value and service, is a driving force behind the ECR initiative, Schwarze added.
He urged all members to "embrace technology as a way of life," and pointed out that an integral part of using technology is to take advantage of Electronic Data Interchange.
He mentioned that Wal-Mart is the largest single user of software in the world and that the retailer is presently partnering with more than 5,000 suppliers on EDI.
Schwarze said, "ECR is the driving force to allow us all to look to the future, to evaluate what and how we have been conducting business, and to make positive changes."
A key component of ECR is activity-based management, a tracking system that measures costs of real activities and not overhead allocations. ABM also was a featured workshop session during the conference.
Schwarze told the brokers that ABM will allow brokers to re-allocate resources for those activities that are the most productive and offer the greatest return on investment. It also will enable brokers to track activity from principal to broker to customer and back again. As a result, all parties will be able to work together to measure that activity for efficiency and to find ways to improve the process.
"This way of measuring our business is not the easiest to understand, but once mastered, it will be a real driving force for making changes to the way we manage our business," said Schwarze.
According to Schwarze, many brokers are already at the forefront of the ECR initiative. "We have more brokers registered with the Universal Code Council than manufacturers, and from the very beginning our members have been on the cutting edge, willing to invest in whatever it will take to satisfy the principals we serve and the customers we sell," he said.
Schwarze described as "awesome" the work that some brokers already have accomplished with technology that makes ECR possible. "Let there be no doubt about it, Willy Loman is dead and what we have are very sophisticated sales and marketing organizations, adding value every step of the way."
In his call to arms for ECR, Schwarze also called for a level playing field in order for ECR to work.
"ECR can be detrimental, or it can go wrong if we do not insist on a level playing field and give everyone an equal opportunity to compete," he stated.
Schwarze said a dual approach to finding solutions to problems and opportunities is needed.
"We need data, information, and a lot of computing Power. But we also need talented people. We need human insight, creativity, imagination, intuition, uniqueness, invention, brilliance. They must combine and cooperate with the explosion of technology, hardware and machinery."