NEW ORLEANS -- Information systems executives in town this week for the Food Marketing Institute's MarkeTechnics convention say the conference and exhibition is head and shoulders above any other and are sending more company representatives than in years past.
"Last year I went to the show with the company president and this year I will have four people going," said Jim Rau, director of information services at Prevo's Family Markets, Traverse City, Mich.
Rau said the show's focus on information technology is particularly valuable for keeping abreast of the latest systems available. By contrast, he said, some other industry programs, with broader agendas, don't deliver because they can be too general in scope.
"You can't absorb technology in five seconds," he added. "You can see the newest brand of beer in 30 seconds, but it takes longer to comprehend the newest version of software."
Indeed that's what IS executives told SN they are seeking: specific information on specific products and applications.
For example, Sutton Place Gourmet is intent on finding a direct-store-delivery solution; Tidyman's, like so many other retailers, is looking for that "next-generation" point-of-sale system, and Biggs, the Supervalu subsidiary, is here to collect information ranging from receiving applications and scale management to electronic payment systems.
SN interviewed a sampling of information systems executives to find out what areas of technology and operations they would focus on at MarkeTechnics. Here's what they had to say:
Art Froese director, MIS Tidyman's Greenacres, Wash.
One of the things I will be looking for is the next generation of front-end systems.
Last year I saw some of the preliminary Windows-based scanning systems. Even though the technology is not quite there yet, I think that is where the next generation will come from: a Windows-based scanning system.
I am also looking for other ideas -- to implement technology that will affect the consumer -- such as the different ways to use a customer data base. We are looking for ways to better utilize the data we are getting.
I am also interested in Internet opportunities and computer-assisted reordering.
Tony Rinella director, MIS Bashas' Markets Chandler, Ariz.
We go to MarkeTechnics to see the latest technology and to see several different vendors at one time. I am primarily interested in store systems and what is new and available in that area.
A couple of years ago I learned what people were doing and how they were utilizing a private network, and how to justify the cost. Now we are in the process of putting some of those techniques in place.
David Ashby director, MIS Bigg's Milford, Ohio
We will be looking at receiving applications, scale management and credit and payment authorization, among other things.
We will be sending a couple of people in addition to myself, so they will probably attend the workshops and I will probably stay on the floor.
Past MarkeTechnics conferences have proven helpful. For example, one year we made our final decision about a cash register company after seeing it at the show with people from our parent company and some sister companies. All of us agreed upon the company after seeing the equipment at the show.
Jim Rau director, information services Prevo's Family Markets Traverse City, Mich.
Our company is supplied by Spartan Stores and we are one of the sites for their Model Store re-engineering initiative. Between January 1996 and December 1997 our seven stores will be pulling out everything that we have and putting in everything new, from front ends through the in-store processor.
Everything will be connected back to Spartan in a new way. We are starting from scratch.
I plan to stop at all of the PC point-of-sale exhibitors and talk with them. I will pore over the information and come back and winnow down my choices. Last year I went to the show with our company president; and this year I will have four people going because there is so much there, and the workshops are excellent. The exhibitors are more in tune in terms of being able to address questions we are likely to ask. At other conferences, I often can not get the real in-depth answers I am seeking from people at the booths. Either the people were not there who could do justice to the product or they were dealing with attendees on an "assembly line" basis because there were so many people there.
John Lasater director, information systems Save Mart Supermarkets Modesto, Calif.
I will be looking at every kind of electronic benefits transfer technology and will research point-of-sale systems, scale connections and merchandising packaging.
This year we will have a team attending, including our chief executive officer, our vice president of merchandising, our store systems manager and our manager of information systems on the merchandising side.
We plan to divide and conquer at all of the workshops. Also, we will have a wish list for the exhibit floor. We are looking at a five-year plan for the company.
Marvin Imus owner Paw Paw Shopping Center Paw Paw, Mich.
I need to integrate the front-end system with all aspects of the store and have my wholesaler, Spartan Stores, as the host. I am looking for an information flow that is as seamless as possible.
I don't know if I will find what I am looking for. There are a lot of solutions but all are based on certain proprietary information levels, not true open systems. That is where we get into problems. Spartan has gone through a re-engineering process and developed a link between themselves and us as the retailer.
Nelson Bodenhamer VP, MIS Brookshire Grocery Co. Tyler, Texas
Areas of interest to me include category management, future trends in credit card programs, how we can use the Internet and where the industry is going with data base marketing.
We are getting ready to do something in the area of category management. As far as data base marketing, we are getting more and more data, and we have to learn how to use it to better serve our customers.
Ray Hamilton VP, information systems Sutton Place Gourmet Rockville, Md.
I am looking at some direct-store-delivery software right now from a company that I met a few years ago at the show.
I spend most of my time on the exhibit floor. For small retailers like us, it is not so easy to get vendors to visit and do presentations. The equipment show is 80% of the benefit for me.