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Enthusiasm, Upgrades Seen At Unified Grocers Expo 2013

Unified Grocers' Bob Ling

Excitement and confidence were the feelings that dominated the Unified Grocers Expo 2013 in Long Beach, Calif., this week.

Bob Ling, president and CEO of the Commerce-based wholesaler, said those sentiments were shared by both Unified employees and vendors.

“Nobody is going to declare victory over the recession just yet,” Ling told The Shelby Report on Thursday, “but there are certainly some pockets of success and some people are experiencing some growth, and maybe everybody is just tired of all the bad news that has occurred over the years. But there is an uptick in enthusiasm amongst the members.”

The show itself saw some big improvements from the year prior.

“We have a technology upgrade this year, both in terms of the way we approach the show, but internally we are tracking in real time the sales by customer, by region, by commodity, and comparing it to last year,” Ling said. “It’s allowed us to track the activity on the floor, to direct some people to vendors who are perhaps a little more aggressive than others and create a little further competition amongst the members…”

Ling said Thursday that activity appeared to be up vs. the 2012 show and noted that the information currently is only being shared internally. He revealed his company will soon share customer-specific information by customer.

Additionally, Ling—who took over as president and CEO role at Unified in May—discussed what changes the industry can expect to see from the co-op.

“I think there is a sense of both urgency and a sense of enthusiasm and a sense of mission by all of our employees to become more creative, more demanding when necessary, to be more entrepreneurial and to work closely not only with the vendors but our members to drive sales through the channel,” he said. “The pace has been quickened; that’s certainly one of our initiatives.

“We’ve done a lot of reorganization amongst our team members in all aspects and tasked them to be more flexible and creative in terms of the way they go to market,” Ling added. “One major initiative that is in its early stages but is going to be very useful going forward is an issue we call our Scan Data Initiative, where we are investing in both technology and getting great early response. There’s member participation, where they’re giving us their scan data in real time and we’re feeding back to them already some analytics in terms of are they selling the right products, are they missing products that they should have on the shelf. And that information is flowing now where we’ll be able to communicate that to the trade to make sure our forecasting is better and that we can deliver in terms of promotional activities.”

Under Ling’s leadership, Unified also is empowering its regional divisions to act more locally.

“With respect to the Pacific Northwest, we have melded together a lot of the activities between Seattle and Portland to make that more of a regional presence and much more efficient and I think we’re more effective communicating with the vendor community in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “We have consolidated up there.”

He pointed out, too, that Unified is “aggressively” looking for business both in its current market as well as outside it.




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