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NACDS, FMI should collaborate

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Two of the more compelling and impressive personalities to emerge recently in the retail trade association ranks are Steve Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and Leslie Sarasin, his opposite number at the Food Marketing Institute.

Two of the more compelling and impressive personalities to emerge recently in the retail trade association ranks are Steve Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and Leslie Sarasin, his opposite number at the Food Marketing Institute.

Their current prominence is due in part to the fact that they head the two most significant trade groups in the mass retailing community. But only in part.

Equally significant is the fact that both have skillfully rescued their organizations from irrelevance. When Anderson was named president of NACDS in 2007, the association had become a victim of indifferent leadership, mismanagement, misdirected strategic priorities and isolation from a membership that was increasingly ignoring many of the association’s programs and initiatives.

Sarasin, who was named FMI president and chief executive officer in 2008, took control of an association that had largely become dysfunctional, the result of years of indifferent leadership and a failure to understand, much less address, the needs of its membership.

Both associations have been revived under the current leadership. However, both still face some daunting challenges, foremost among them the task of engaging, or reengaging, an increasingly diverse membership offered an array of options, some of them compelling.

For starters, both must learn to engage a retail membership anchored on the one hand by companies that have in many ways outgrown the services the associations offer, and on the other hand by regional retailers that, while clearly benefiting from and appreciative of these services, lack the stature to attract the larger supplier companies that traditionally fund and support much of the associations’ activities.

Then too, particularly at FMI, several of the largest retail members find it more difficult to support the association to the degree they once did — a problem not yet confronting NACDS, which continues to enjoy the support and involvement of its largest chain drug members.

This disparity in size and priorities between the large and small retail members has also been a daunting factor for the associations’ larger supplier members, many of which have come to deal with their major retail accounts outside the confines of association activities while undervaluing, ignoring or misunderstanding the smaller retailers that increasingly constitute the core members at both associations.

Some time ago, there was talk of a merger of the two organizations, but it didn’t come to much — for the usual reasons, foremost among them the fact that each organization was understandably reluctant to sacrifice a measure of leadership, authority and control that is the necessary prelude to a successful merger.

Yet, if this is not the time to revive merger discussions, it is certainly time for these two very important associations to begin working more closely together — for at least one critical reason: Recent supplier-driven attempts to circumvent NACDS and FMI by forming, supporting and championing a global retailer-supplier organization have not come to much, nor do they promise to exert an appreciable impact going forward. Then too, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the third U.S.-based trade association of considerable impact, strength and vitality, offers its diverse retail membership a dramatically different agenda from either NACDS or FMI, one that, while laudable and effective, does not directly compete with those of either of the more traditional trade groups.

Which makes closer collaboration a logical choice for NACDS and FMI. The logical starting point for this joint effort clearly lies in the annual meetings and conferences each offers its membership. Some of these meetings — the NACDS Annual Meeting and Marketplace Conference, the FMI Midwinter Conference and Future Connect — can clearly continue to stand on their own. Not only do they effectively function as anchors to the associations’ agendas, they are among the most powerful, productive initiatives offered by any retail organization anywhere.

No. The place to introduce a measure of closer cooperation is at the NACDS Pharmacy and Technology Conference. The pharmacy conference is among the most important, and least appreciated events on the NACDS calendar.

This year’s conference, impressively attended and crammed with meaningful events and information, was further proof, if any was needed, that NACDS stands alone in its ability to attract and engage the world of community pharmacy.

FMI, despite the considerable efforts of Cathy Polley, the association’s very effective vice president of health and wellness, has not yet been able to exert the impact in pharmacy enjoyed by the chain drug association. This, despite the fact that pharmacy has emerged in this century as a core supermarket category, far more valuable to the store and its customers than its dollar volume contribution or promotional emphasis would indicate.

The reasons pharmacy has not caught on in a supermarket setting, at least as far as the health care supplier community evaluates business opportunities, are many, too many to mention here. Suffice it to say that chain drug store pharmacy enjoys a cachet and a reputation generally reserved for food categories in a supermarket.

If, however, NACDS and FMI could agree to combine forces in a pharmacy conference that would supplement chain drug store attendance with key pharmacy executives from across the supermarket community — and if, indeed, NACDS could be persuaded to broaden the already broad appeal of its pharmacy conference by framing it not around pharmacy and related businesses but around health and wellness — the groundwork will have been effectively laid for providing the retail pharmacy community with the most important, most relevant and most timely event ever mounted in the long and sometimes uneven history of community pharmacy in America.

At a time of unprecedented opportunity for both NACDS and FMI, a time of dramatically expanding importance for community pharmacy and the issues surrounding it, a time to challenge retailer and supplier members with new initiatives, and a time at NACDS and FMI when two significant leaders have emerged simultaneously, this is clearly an idea worth pursuing.

Emerson Group Industry Day 2023

Emerson Group Industry Day 2023

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