Inside This Issue - Opinion
FMI aims to extend retail base
May 16th, 2011
by David Pinto, Editor
In an effort to extend its retail base, the Food Marketing Institute has set out to attract as members such nonfood retailers as Walgreens, CVS, Dollar General and Family Dollar.
To do so, FMI intends to broaden its appeal by adding fast-moving consumables to a merchandise focus that has thus far been limited to food and other core grocery categories, a focus that, though essential in attracting grocery retailers, has done surprisingly little to catch the eye of general merchandise, drug and dollar chains.
On the face of it, the strategy is a logical one. There’s no denying the power of FMI’s strong grocery-based retail membership or the compelling nature of its grocery-centric business agenda. Much like the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, its chief rival for member support and participation, FMI offers its membership a series of productive meetings, conferences and display shows throughout the year. Moreover, though grounded in grocery retailing, the association’s business agenda often explores issues that transcend specific categories or retail formats.
Then too, nonfood retailers have of late been devoting more attention and store space to food, which squares nicely with the fact that FMI attracts many grocery suppliers that still remain elusive to NACDS, the majority of them drawn to the grocery-based organization simply because it is a grocery-based organization. Food, after all, remains the largest and most compelling retail trade class.
But there are difficulties FMI must address and overcome if it is to attract any meaningful participation from nonfood retailers. Foremost among them is the undeniable fact that NACDS, the association most of these nonfood retailers embrace, is today the superior trade group. The main reason for this is the reality, apparent to almost everyone who pays attention to these things, that NACDS can honestly boast the stronger, more robust, more experienced, more energized staff, one that interacts more easily and effectively with both the retailers and suppliers that constitute its membership.
Many reasons account for this situation, paramount among them the fact that the veteran senior staff at NACDS is more comfortable and more effective in interacting with its retail members than is the comparable FMI staff.
The reverse is also true. NACDS’ retail members are more committed to, more engaged and involved in, and more supportive and appreciative of their primary trade association than are many of the large food retailers that are at the core of FMI’s membership roster — and whose involvement with FMI would logically be expected to add a compelling reason for nonfood retailers to involve themselves with that organization.
In FMI’s defense, the association is clearly a work in progress, only now emerging from the dark and largely unproductive years that characterized the tenure of the association’s previous top manager.
Leslie Sarasin, the organization’s new leader, is only now learning her way around the industry she was asked to lead just two and a half years ago. In some ways it is too much to expect that she will simultaneously grasp the intricacies of America’s nonfood retailers as well. And if she doesn’t know the players or the issues, it is unreasonable to expect her to understand, embrace and respond to their interests and concerns.
But the most daunting challenge facing FMI as it strives to extend its retail base and influence remains NACDS. The stunning announcement the chain drug association made last month in telling its membership that, beginning in 2013, it will move its Marketplace Conference from its inconvenient and ill-considered June date to August, where it will be bundled with the association’s valuable pharmacy and technology conference and its equally productive supply chain and logistics meeting, has met with universal approval. To further simonize the newly integrated meeting, initially called the Total Store Expo, the association will attempt to further broaden its appeal by involving many of the grocery categories that have until now been pretty much the exclusive terrain of FMI.
The announcement of the new meeting agenda, intentionally or not, further distanced NACDS from every other retail trade organization in America — including FMI.
Make no mistake: FMI is a strong trade association — and Leslie Sarasin is developing into a capable leader. The question both Sarasin and the retailers she seeks to attract must ask is whether FMI offers a value proposition that is compelling enough in its content and irresistible enough in its appeal to effectively engage a group of retailers that have thus far managed to survive quite nicely without FMI.
It is a question only the parties themselves can answer.