LOS ANGELES -- Independent operations, even when they cannot be primary shopping destinations, can still be very successful as secondary destinations, according to Alfred A. Plamann, president and CEO of Unified Western Grocers here and incoming chairman of Food Distributors International.
Interviewed just prior to FDI's annual Business Conference this week in Atlanta, Plamann said there is no stigma attached to being a secondary destination.
"In many cases integrated chains are taking the largest market shares and serving as primary shopping destinations," he pointed out. "But many shoppers simply don't want to go into a 60,000- or 80,000-square-foot store for just a few specific items.
"So as long as you have a niche -- whether that niche is ethnic, specialty, upscale, neighborhood-oriented or whatever -- you can be either a primary destination within that niche or a secondary destination overall and still be successful either way," he said.
The key is for independents to work with their wholesale suppliers "to become more efficient through implementation of technology and category management" -- a goal that should become more attainable once results of FDI's retail coverage study are finalized.
"The study is going to suggest methods to enable retailers and their wholesalers to compete more efficiently, taking category management to a new level in terms of in-store implementation," Plamann said.
Preliminary results of the study are scheduled for discussion at this week's meeting, with the final study due for presentation at FDI's Midyear Conference in September.
According to Plamann, even the threat posed by the Internet should not have a negative impact on the survival of the independent grocer.
"The battle on-line will involve high-margin, easy-to-stock items," he said. "But the fulfillment centers will be relatively small, and the number of stock-keeping units will be limited in terms of brands, sizes or total offerings.
"So to be efficient, the Internet will have to stock items customers don't want to shop for -- paper goods, for example, and other commodities people need on a regular basis. But it won't offer impulse and specialty items -- consumers will still have to go shopping for those -- and that's where the battle will shake out and provide an opportunity for independents to provide a good, secondary shopping experience."
For trade associations, the challenge in the next few years will be helping members deal with ongoing industry consolidation, Plamann said.
For FDI, the specific objective for the next few years will be making sure its members are up to the challenge, he noted. "We must provide educational resources for wholesalers to help them stay ahead of the game and to form alliances with other associations to find ways to make educational expenditures most efficient."
Plamann said he believes there will be an ongoing, growing need for associations to work together to develop educational and training resources for independents in concert with each other "because no single trade association has the resources to do it individually."