WASHINGTON -- Retailers and wholesalers applauded the recently announced changes in the Food Marketing Institute's annual GM/HBC Conference, but said the show's fate could hinge on the success of its 1995 edition.
Those contacted by SN, many of whom are either on the conference's Educational Planning Committee that met here last month or have attended the show previously, said they believed the format for 1995's program will make better use of time.
Alterations planned include: private, 10-minute, targeted business reviews among retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers; fewer but more intense conference workshops; consolidation of the show into one room; casual attire for participants, and free or reduced registration fees for those who sign up early. These highlights were announced last month by FMI president and chief executive officer Tim Hammonds at the trade organization's Midwinter Executive Conference in Orlando, Fla.
Retailers responded most favorably to the idea of targeted business reviews, which will be similar to the ones featured at shows run by the General Merchandise Distributor's Council, Colorado Springs, Colo. The GMDC, and its president, Rick Tilton, were instrumental in helping FMI refocus its nonfood show, retailers and FMI executives said.
"The targeted business reviews are a very good change," said Les Knox, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Abco Foods, Phoenix, who is also a member of the show committee. "The [reviews] will prompt much more conversation between the vending trade and the retailers."
"We heard [about the need for targeted business reviews] overwhelmingly from the vendors last year," said Bob Norton, vice president and general manager of Grocers General Merchandise Co., Los Angeles, also a committee member. He explained retailers, wholesalers and suppliers have a difficult time discussing business on the exhibit floor because of noise, distractions and lack of privacy. Proposed enclosed booths will be far more conducive to "quality time," Norton said.
The success of the business reviews, as well as the other proposed modifications, are crucial to the survival of the conference, said retailers and wholesalers.
"If there's not a marked improvement for the 1995 show, they'll lose interest from the manufacturers, which is just as important as the retailers and wholesalers," said Patrick McGivern, vice president of wholesale nonfood procurement, GM/HBC, Supervalu, Eden Prairie, Minn., and a former committee member. He approved of the proposed changes, but said he had to "see the results first" before deciding on FMI's success.
David Lowe, nonfood sales manager for Fleming Cos., Johnson City Division, Johnson City, Tenn., agreed the show would be at risk "if something doesn't change in 1995. The floor traffic was very light [in 1994], and everybody likes company."
Norton of Grocers General called 1995 "a pivotal point" for the conference, adding, "It's very important that this show becomes a success. If Philadelphia [the site of the 1995 conference, Oct. 8-10] doesn't work, it'll be difficult to go back" and rework the show again.
FMI executives said they are hopeful the changes will boost attendance and generate excitement in the supermarket industry. The new format was well-received by FMI members, too.
McGivern of Supervalu said the consolidation of the conference into one room was a good idea. "Every time you can make the different aspects [of a show] more accessible to those involved, it will be more productive."
Knox of Abco said FMI has pared the number of workshops at the show to "five or six" that will be "hard hitting and more retailer-driven. Retailers needed to hear from other retailers. If our goal is all the same, stopping the erosion of GM/HBC sales, we need to pull together in a noncompete type of environment and share some of these ideas."
Workshops on supercenters and on efficient consumer response "as it directly relates to GM/HBC" will be among the 1995 show's highlights, Knox said.
Lowe of Fleming said he was hopeful the conference workshops really would be retailer-driven. "People want to exchange ideas on their own," he said. "That's when they relax and really get the most out of it."
Every committee member contacted said FMI executives were open to suggestions on how to improve the show.