FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Food Distributors International's 1998 agenda reminds wholesalers that they don't operate in a vacuum.
The association is gearing its shows to promote interactions between wholesalers and other supply chain partners. It is also increasing cooperation with other industry groups and launching a major study to help wholesalers understand how they can improve their relationships with independent retailers.
"We're trying to get wholesalers to interact more," said John R. Block, president. "Wholesalers must look at the entire supply chain."
These moves are particularly important amid major shifts in the supply chain resulting from industry consolidation, Block said. In fact, consolidation has had an ironic effect on FDI: It has helped spur two years of increased membership following four to five years of decline, Block said. "Companies don't want to be pushed out of the process in a changing industry," he said.
The association's Annual Business Conference & Partners Program is a major forum for pushing increased interactions, Block explained. The event, slated for Feb. 28 to March 3 in Orlando, Fla., includes Vendex meetings held between wholesaler merchandising executives and their supplier peers and Business Conference Suites that include senior distribution and supplier managements.
The meetings have been tailored to avoid overlap, with a full day of Vendex and an optional second day leading into three days of BCS programs. "That's what they want, to get Vendex done early so they can use some of the same people in the business conferences," Block said.
FDI considers these meetings so important that it is even shaving off time from the general sessions at the event. "We're aiming for more business to be conducted," Block said. "Our members like the partnering meetings best. So we've reduced the time spent on workshops and general assemblies."
Among general sessions, FDI may preview its major study on the future of wholesaler/independent retailer interactions. The formal release of that study will take place at FDI's midyear event in the fall.
Tying into the same theme at the Annual Business Conference, Peter Hample, managing director of the European Marketing Distribution Group, Pfaffikon, Switzerland -- a consortium of 12 wholesale food distributors serving over 500 independents -- will make a presentation. He will discuss the importance of wholesale/retail relationships based on European models. There will also be a panel comprised of U.S. wholesalers and an independent retailer to discuss business relationships.
The formal unveiling of the FDI's study will be a key aspect of the Midyear Executive Conference, Sept. 13 to 16 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"This study represents a major decision by our strategic planning committee and approved by our board," Block said. "It will be a major study of the wholesale supply system. Five or six years ago we did a study on wholesaling's future, and we feel it's time to do a new one because of the immense changes since then."
Dennis Madsen, FDI's vice president of education and operational services, noted that the last study was conducted by Anderson Consulting, Chicago, in 1991 and released in 1992. "ECR wasn't even on the radar scope then," Madsen said. "So we're returning to the research to see what wholesalers can do to work better with independent retailers."
The research will focus on interviews with supply chain partners and data collection and analysis. The National Grocers Association is helping to support the study by providing information on the independent retailer side. The study will focus on wholesaler/independent retailer links, but will also touch on the food-service wholesale side.
Spurring interactions between executives will be another priority at the Midyear Conference. The Top-to-Top wholesaler/supplier executive discussions focusing on key industry issues have been getting good feedback for this event, Block said. "We'll hopefully be planning for more interactions like that," he said, noting that planning meetings for the Midyear Conference would be underway shortly.
FDI continues to stress events that promote partnerships between trade associations, Block said. These include the Food Industry Productivity Convention & Exposition slated for Oct. 25 to 28 in Nashville, Tenn.; the Joint Public Affairs Assembly held March 16 and 17 in Washington; and the Joint Marketing Conference & Creative Choice Awards held Feb. 10 to 13 in Las Vegas.
"We've had a lot of positive experiences with joint meetings," Block stressed. "I think there's room for even more cooperation among associations on events. I would say stay tuned -- we'll be doing more of this."
The Productivity Convention involves a large number of participating associations, including FDI as the coordinating association and Grocery Manufacturers of America as a full partner, Madsen said. "We saw a 20% attendance gain in that show this year," said Paul Schulz, FDI vice president of industry relations.
ECR remains a key focus of that show as companies move further into implementation stages, Madsen said. "We're dealing with the next stages of ECR," Madsen said. "We try to bring in case studies. Those are powerful."
Added Block, "That's become very important because most companies in the early going didn't know what to do. But now they can see experiences from other companies. It gives them a road map."
The Joint Public Affairs Assembly enables association members to hear from and meet with lawmakers and discuss a wide range of political issues affecting the industry.
"We used to do it with FMI in February, and we then moved to doing it with NGA in the summer," Block said. "Now FMI will rejoin as all three associations come together for a unified effort in March."
The Joint Marketing Conference is a program with the NGA and is held concurrently with the NGA's Annual Convention and Exposition. It includes speeches, workshops and award programs. The Creative Choice Awards will be geared to honoring top merchandising and advertising efforts by wholesalers and retailers. This year there were more than 400 entries and that will increase for 1998.