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Convenience Distribution Association Is Not Done Evolving


LAS VEGAS — A year ago, the Convenience Distribution Association (CDA) transformed from the former American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA). But like the industry it serves, its evolution is not over.

Taking the stage at the Convenience Distribution Marketplace event in Las Vegas on Wednesday, 2016 CDA Chairman Chad Owen said continuing the status quo and hoping for the best is not the way to do business anymore. 

"Change is not easy, but it's necessary," he said. "That's what the new CDA is all about."

Owen serves as vice president of business affairs at Chambers & Owen Inc., a family-owned distribution business based in Janesville, Wis. Even though he grew up in the company and acknowledged that Chambers & Owen remains a family business, "we know today, more than ever, we need to change with the times."

The same goes for CDA as it makes moves to become more relevant in today's environment. More than just changing its name, the association has streamlined meetings and educational offerings, adding online webinars to its education programming. It also recreated an online directory for all CDA members with a single online login. 

Additionally, the association's new CDBX Meeting Match System helps member distributors arrange meetings with key trading partners.

Learning From Experience

Keeping up with change — and thinking one step ahead — was likewise a key theme of the keynote presentation during the Convenience Distribution Marketplace's opening session.

Keynote speaker George Blankenship knows all about staying ahead. The former executive worked at several top retailers ahead of their time, notably Apple Computers and Tesla Motors.

Blankenship began his retail career at The GAP Inc. After 20 years, at the invitation of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, he joined the technology giant as it prepared to make its push into every mall in America. Apple faced an uphill battle because consumers did not want an Apple product. To meet this challenge, the company opened stores in high-traffic shopping centers and "ambushed" consumers when they were not thinking about computers, he recounted.

At the time, the press gave the retail concept two years before Apple gave up — hard to believe now, said Blankenship.

"You can never let anyone else stop you from doing what you want to do," he noted.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since Apple opened its first two retail outlets in May 2001. What made people go from never wanting to buy an Apple product to dressing up like an iPhone and waiting hours in line for one? According to Blankenship, the answer is threefold: innovation, design and simplicity. 

Even with all the benefits of technology, customers are still king, he cautioned, recommending that companies in the retail industry keep several elements in mind: have a great space, hire great people, train them well and then, "fire them up and turn them lose on an unexpected world."

Still, winning in the ever-changing retail world takes more than winning over customers and earning their loyalty. Blankenship said all players in the convenience channel, regardless of which side of the supply chain they stand on, must think about the circumstances behind their business decisions — for example, generational changes or increased competition.

"Think about what you can do for your customers and what they want," he said. "What do they really want? What could they get that they didn't know to ask for? What can you give them others can't? What can you do that would be unexpected?"

He encouraged the audience members to close their eyes and think about what is going on in the industry. Whoever comes up with a solution will hold the industry in the palm of their hands, he stated. 

"To change the world, sometimes you need to do the impossible," Blankenship explained. "It's not impossible; it just hasn't been done yet."

The Convenience Distribution Marketplace event is taking place at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Feb. 16-18. 

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