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INDEPENDENTS REPORT: Where the heart is

When Dr. Tom Haggai invited me to be his guest at this year's IGA Global Summit in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., I felt honored, to say the least. Having been an IGA retailer for over three decades prior to joining Progressive Grocer, I looked forward to reuniting with many longtime friends. For me, participating in the event would be like coming home.

While attending the three-day conference held in March at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort, I experienced the passion and uniqueness that are inherent in IGA. Most inspiring, however, is how successful independents from around the world continue to set their standards high, learn from one another, and weave themselves into the very fabrics of the communities they serve.

Leading the global summit was Haggai, IGA's devoted chairman and c.e.o. "In planning this year's event, a proverb which symbolizes our IGA system came to mind," he says. "It was shared with me by our fellow IGA'ers from South Africa, and reads simply: 'A family is like a forest: When you are outside, it is dense; when you are inside, you see that each tree has its place.'"

He continued: "When we look at our 4,400 IGA family members worldwide, we find that each is as diverse as the community in which it operates. Each has grown to fit its environment and the needs of those around it, making it not just a supermarket, but a true community center."

It is, perhaps, a sense of cohesiveness that recently guided Haggai and hundreds of his retailers down one of the most challenging roads in IGA history. Fleming's 2003 bankruptcy was certainly no picnic for storeowners operating in the United States, some of whom were forced to leave IGA as a result of having no licensed distribution center to support the banner.

Nonetheless, a year has passed, the dust has settled, and Haggai and his troops are forging ahead. The mood at the global summit proved that.

Focusing on the future, IGA featured on its conference agenda several acclaimed presenters who shared with retailers how to grow business by concentrating on people and practices -- not the competition. Most notable were the following:

-Ram Charan: The president of Charan Associates and a former faculty member at the Harvard School of Business, Charan is co-author of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done."

"Practice makes champions," said Charan, whose popular business articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Time, USA Today, and other publications. "Practice until it becomes habit."

He continued: "Success comes to those who understand and act upon what are defined as the six building blocks of execution: master the guts of the business; identify laser-sharp priorities; get the right people in the right jobs; manage the social system of the business; promote quality dialog, conversation, and closure in meetings; and, lastly, follow through and reward the doers."

-Allan Noddle: "Generating $23 billion in annual sales presents tremendous opportunities for IGA retailers to leverage their collective strength in the areas of procurement, training, information technology, private label products, and securing lower costs of capital," said the retired e.v.p. of Royal Ahold.

He advised: "Find the right niche and exploit it, exchange best practices by department through chat rooms and the use of a worldwide intranet system, and localize your IGA store to the neighborhood and competition. The local neighborhood is where the battle is really won or lost."

"Overall," he added, "IGA's strength will be in the ability to share information and care for one another, which will form an unbeatable spirit of teamwork."

-Mark Wetterau: Sharing his expertise with IGA veterans during the first day's general session was Mark Wetterau. Wetterau, who began his food industry career in 1980 at Wetterau, Inc., a $6 billion food manufacturer and distributor founded by his great-grandfather, is today chairman and c.e.o. of Irvine, Calif.-based Golden State Foods. GSF, as it is commonly known, serves as a distributor to over 30,000 McDonald's restaurants operating worldwide.

A creed to live by

Wetterau's message to IGA was simple: "At the heart of most successful businesses lies a core set of values much like those established by Golden State Foods: Treat others like you want to be treated. Make the best product. Give the customer a fair deal. Maintain the highest standards."

"In working with McDonald's, we have no written supply contracts," Wetterau noted. "Our business relationship is based on a handshake --and trust." However, a business creed is written, as well as shared with all GSF associates and customers. "It's a powerful tool that serves as the conscience of our company," he said.

The GSF creed reads as follows:

We believe in God and the dignity of all people. We believe that people should be treated as we would like to be treated, and this applies to all of our associates, their families, our customers and suppliers, and to all others with whom we do business.

We believe that successful independent business is the backbone of nations, that our success is dependent upon the success of our customers, and that only by working together can the ultimate success of all partners be assured.

We, therefore, dedicate ourselves to work for our mutual success and pledge our best efforts always toward the attainment of our common goals.

Wetterau's parting words? "The success of each will become the success of all," he said.

As the 2004 IGA Global Summit concluded, I sat back and observed the positive attitudes and enthusiasm filling the crowded room at the early-morning breakfast. It was during Dr. Haggai's closing remarks that I recalled an inspiring message shared by Charan.

"Effective leaders anticipate, distill, and prepare," he said. "They understand that the future is not preordained, but is created by people -- people who must decide whether to be distinct or extinct."

Independent Retailing editor Jane Olszeski Tortola can be reached at [email protected].
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