Nonfoods Forum: An advocate’s perspective

As the 40th annual General Merchandise Marketing Conference gets underway, some of the challenges facing nonfoods remain the same. How will the industry respond?

By David McConnell

On the eve of GMDC’s 40th Annual General Merchandise Marketing Conference in Phoenix,  I was contemplating the many changes that have taken place within GMDC and our industry over the association’s impressive four decades of service to its members. This process brought me to the conclusion that although things have changed over the years, in many ways much remains the same as it was back in 1970 and that element of sameness has me concerned.

In 1970, GMDC’s charter members were an entrepreneurial group of six wholesale grocers who were convinced that the general merchandise and health beauty wellness (back then it was known as HABA) products offered many untapped sales and profit opportunities for their supermarket customers. There were no trade associations available to serve them so they created GMDC and its two annual conferences as forums in which they could interact and collaborate with their supplier partners to build business opportunities.

Looking back on the vision of that founding group with 40-year hindsight I can confidently submit that they nailed their objectives. Since its founding GMDC has evolved and had its up’s and down’s but over the years the association’s commitment to driving incremental growth in the GM and HBW categories has been unwavering. We’ve expanded our membership to channels beyond food but at our core we’re still very much a food channel-oriented organization. We continue to produce our two annual marketing conferences utilizing the Controlled Casual Conference (CCC) format as the cornerstone of connectivity but have augmented those programs with the Senior Executive Conferences (SECs); product visibility and introduction via The Showcase; and for nearly fifteen years we’ve been the only association to focus on business education and consumer insights work designed to drive incremental retail sales for GM and HBW products.

Now as we’ve reached the milestone of our 40th Anniversary I see GMDC’s leadership facing many of the challenges our charter members faced in 1970, particularly in the food channel. As Grocery Headquarters so ably chronicled in its February 2010 cover story Building Up Nonfoods, the supermarket industry has been reducing space for these key categories over the past decade. As a result we’ve seen retail footprints of both GM and HBW departments in supermarkets being reduced; increased competition from other channels for these categories; declines in formerly big selling categories (particularly in GM categories); and a mindset change in some GM categories toward line merchandising versus item merchandising that is reducing variety and retailers’ ability to differentiate within their markets.

At GMDC we believe that the GM and HBW categories are absolutely vital to a complete store assortment in supermarkets. We’ve been doing extensive study work on the health and wellness opportunity that recently resulted in the publishing of our Consumer Shopping Habits for Wellness and Environmentally Conscious Lifestyles study. This work highlights many opportunities to maximize sales of both GM and HBW products throughout the store as part of a holistic approach to supermarket health and wellness merchandising programs.

At our GM Marketing Conference, to be held May 21-25, our Education Leadership Council and General Merchandise Supplier Advisory Board are collaborating to introduce study output that focuses on helping our members take advantage of the strategic sales opportunity a complete general merchandise program can provide. Key elements of the study work being developed for 2010 and beyond include:

  • Development of retail and supplier “best practice” models for achieving maximum GM sales;
  • Identification of the barriers to success and workarounds for those barriers;
  • Development of measurement standards to assist our members in benchmarking their performance and potential; and
  • A commitment by GMDC to serve as the association providing an ongoing and evolving plan for building wholesale/retail and supplier member GM product sales.

In his February 2010 Nonfoods Talk column, Grocery Headquarters‘ publisher and editorial director Seth Mendelson asked the rhetorical question, “Where are the advocates for nonfoods among supermarket executives?” I’m here to answer that question by asserting that GMDC is that advocate just as it has been over these past 40 years. GMDC remains committed to developing more effective GM and HBW category programs that meet the needs of today’s marketplace and the consumers our members serve.

David McConnell is president and CEO of GMDC, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

This entry was posted in 2010 05 Article Archives, Columns, Nonfoods for Profit. Bookmark the permalink.