WASHINGTON -- Attention must be paid to independents -- that's the message the Food Marketing Institute will try to get across to exhibitors at its annual convention in Chicago, scheduled for May 5 to 7.
To make the point of just how much volume independent operators represent, FMI will distribute to those attending the show buttons that read, "Independent Operators -- A $130 Billion Market."
According to Michael Sansolo, senior vice president of FMI and president of the Independent Operators division, "Despite all the competitive pressures, independent operators are a vital part of the industry, a source of tremendous innovation and an incredibly key component on the competitive landscape.
"Yet many manufacturers who exhibit at the convention don't have a good sense of who the independents are or what kind of business they represent. What we hope to do with the buttons is make a statement that as a collective, independent operators are a marketplace that deserves attention."
The buttons are part of a response by FMI to complaints by many independents that they feel slighted when they approach a convention booth, Sansolo explained.
"The first question they're asked is, how many stores do they have. And depending on the answer, the way they're treated can fluctuate wildly," he said.
"But many independents are at the show to do business. As one member told me, each operator may represent only one or two stores but he knows a lot of people, and if he buys a product or service, he may be able to reach thousands of other stores through his wholesaler, so exhibitors shouldn't base their opinions on how many stores he runs but what he's a part of."
Many larger exhibitors understand the importance of independents "and know they can be a powerful ally to establish communications with their wholesalers," he said.
To emphasize the strength of independents prior to the convention, Sansolo said he wrote letters to exhibitors, wholesalers and independent members.
In the letter to exhibitors, Sansolo wrote: "One group of attendees we want to highlight are smaller, family-owned companies [who] find our convention an invaluable way to see new products, learn about new promotions, and build relations with their valued suppliers. But too often they feel overlooked because exhibitors want to focus on the largest companies.
"Independents are a group you shouldn't overlook. Taken together, these entrepreneurs represent a staggering $130 billion in food-store sales [and] linking into this network can create new opportunities for your company."