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An eventful NACDS meeting

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The 2010 Annual Meeting of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores is history.

The 2010 Annual Meeting of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores is history.

Among the events that highlighted the meeting were these:

• The generally upbeat tone that characterized the three-day conference and punctuated the various business meetings between retailers and suppliers.

• The flawless performance of the NACDS staff in planning and executing the event, one that remains the centerpiece of retail trade association functions both in style and in substance.

• The first-time attendance of Jim Haworth, the new president of retail sales at Sears-Kmart, and Michael Luscombe, the CEO of Woolworths, Australia’s largest retailer and one of the truly impressive global practitioners of the retail art. In attending, Luscombe instantly became the retail executive who had traveled farthest to attend a meeting in NACDS’ 77-year history.

• The unexpected appearance of Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and Craig Jelinek, the retailer’s president, at a conference-ending ceremony honoring Charlie Burnett, the executive who has long run Costco’s pharmacy operations, with the association’s lifetime achievement award.

The Costco executives flew across the country from Seattle to be present at the Palm Beach, Fla., event, surprising Burnett and demonstrating to the 1,800 meeting attendees the definition of loyalty, support, affection and appreciation at a company that is at once truly great and wonderfully unique.

• The debut of John Agwunobi, Walmart’s top health care executive, as a member of the NACDS board of directors. Though Agwunobi, in his typical self-effacing fashion, insisted he was on hand merely to learn, the feeling is that he will contribute mightily to the board and the association in the years ahead.

But perhaps the two most interesting aspects of the meeting occurred offstage, contributed by two of the association’s outstanding supplier members — and, not coincidentally, two of the truly remarkable companies the American business community has produced over the past century. Both companies represent and define the social expression business — and each brings a level of excellence, creativity and accomplishment to that business that is seldom seen and rarely duplicated. Perhaps most interesting about these two organizations is that the families who founded them a century ago remain in leadership positions today.

The companies in question are American Greetings and Hallmark, America’s two leading greeting card businesses. And each left its mark on the 2010 NACDS Annual Meeting for different reasons.

Hallmark used the occasion of a final-day lunch to celebrate its 100th anniversary by previewing for a select audience of retail customers and industry friends some of the significant events the card company is planning in collaboration with Walt Disney Co., a longtime partner.

American Greetings used the NACDS Annual Meeting to introduce Taylor Swift, the ubiquitous pop entertainer and AG’s newest ambassador, to a packed house at the meeting’s most eagerly awaited and heavily attended social event.

Both the Hallmark anniversary and the American Greetings party quickly became subjects that dominated much of the convention talk, for their significance, their business implications and for the elegantly flawless way in which they were executed (with the possible exception of a briefly malfunctioning teleprompter at the Hallmark event, a blip for which Disney claimed responsibility).

But the point here is not about the events but about the organizations that sponsored them. Hallmark is marking its 100th anniversary this year; American Greetings turned 100 four years ago. For each, their first century in business was marked by unprecedented success, breathtaking innovation, a level of community support and service unsurpassed by any member of the U.S. business community, and partnerships with America’s leading retailers. Retailers that partner with AG and Hallmark enjoy excitement, innovation, and a level f customer loyalty and shared success not often duplicated in the long and sometimes bumpy road of retailer/supplier interaction.

But perhaps most significant is this startling fact: The families that founded these two companies some 100 years ago, in remarkably similar fashion — one whose patriarch sold penny postcards in Kansas City, the other whose founder hawked similar merchandise from a pushcart on the streets of Cleveland — continue to run them today.

At Hallmark, Don and David Hall, grandsons of founder Joyce Hall, guide the enterprise. At AG, Zev and Jeff Weis, great-grandsons of founder Jacob Sapirstein, head up the organization.

As significant as the families’ presence are their list and level of accomplishments. Both organizations today are at the top of their game, offering their retail partners and, through them, their global customers an array of merchandise that daily impacts businesses, behavior, attitudes, cultures and lives.

How many businesses, here or anywhere on the planet, can boast this kind of sustained excellence from one family? Indeed, how many American families in any business can rightly claim this level of unbroken achievement, one that, today, continues to lead and reflect the country in which these businesses were conceived?

As an answer, perhaps it is best to ask another question: Is there any family-operated U.S. business enterprise that has compiled the list and level of achievements these two greeting card organizations have turned in over the past century?

The answer is no.


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