by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer
Over the past year, ROFDA has been an organization in transition. This transition has been to address the new realities in the marketplace and to continue to serve independent retailers. “All of these changes that we’re making are geared to allowing our respective cooperatives, individually and collectively, to enhance the value for our independent retailers,” said Chairman David Bullard.
ROFDA will place emphasis on four primary areas: enhancing share groups; maintaining and growing programs and program partners; cultivating relationships; and conferences.
The organization’s share groups are going to meet more often, at least quarterly via Zoom, which Bullard believes is “a great way to take advantage of the new normal – less travel, less expense – and actually enhance communication.”
As for programs, ROFDA hopes to maintain and grow its current programs between the suppliers and the organization, again using the new technologies that are available. These programs are agreements that ROFDA has with vendor communities that allow the warehouses to take advantage of opportunities that aggregate the buying power of the ROFDA warehouses.
And for relationships, Bullard said the key to maintaining programs is ROFDA working to cultivate business ties between the vendors and the appropriate personnel at the warehouses.
Another side to relationships that ROFDA stresses is those with the associates, especially the organization’s long-term sponsors. Bullard said the people who have supported them through the years will continue to be a big part of ROFDA.
As for gatherings, Bullard cited a certain “ROFDA magic” in the relationships formed at them. “Everyone knows that ROFDA conferences have always been very special,” he said.
While COVID-19 has affected traditional industry conferences, ROFDA has shifted its fall conference from Birmingham, Alabama, to a virtual format with the hopes of delivering meaningful connection to the industry until in-person gatherings can resume.
Though it will be different, Bullard said the conference will “continue to provide efficiency and value for the sponsors and suppliers.”
“The board members and the share groups are going to spend ample time with the sponsors and associates,” he said. “For example, the human resources share group – any ROFDA associates that deal primarily with human resource initiatives will meet directly with the entire human resource share group.
“This will allow valuable opportunity for suppliers to meet with the entire group, cutting out the middleman and speaking directly to the people that are responsible for their areas of expertise. In addition, that will give them face time with all of those members, which should provide opportunities for follow up and help build relationships.”
Bullard reiterated that every change is for the benefit of the independents – the workforce he’s been the proudest of through the pandemic.
“They have truly shown how essential they are,” he said. “They’ve worked through seven days a week of exhaustion, meeting the needs of the people in their communities. It’s very important they feed the people in their communities, and they have – in an outstanding and extraordinary way – stood up to that challenge.
“The demands have been incredible, both from supply chain and logistical obstacles, dealing with COVID to ensure that their shoppers are safe and meeting the extraordinary demand.”
Bullard has seen these challenges firsthand at Piggly Wiggly Alabama Distributing Co., a wholesaler based in Bessemer, Alabama, where he is president and CEO.
“I believe that all of the cooperatives and various wholesalers suffer from the same problems – the same disruptions in the supply chain,” he said.
“I want to say that the challenges of the last few months have actually contributed to an increased enthusiasm at our cooperative. We’re excited about growth.
“I think that this has added a new dimension and will enhance the futures of most retailers. This is due to their increased sales, their increased cash flow…and some of those retailers, because of these things, are growing their businesses and investing back in their companies.”
Piggly Wiggly Alabama is working every day to provide food amidst the pandemic.
“I believe it will take some time to recover, both from the manufacturers ability to produce as well as the tremendously increased demand, but we look forward to working with our supply partners to meet the needs of our retailers and their customers,” he said.
Another area of importance is working in year two of the wholesaler’s five-year plan. Among other areas, large investments are being made in technology, providing many improved services to the retailers. There’s also a lot of internal growth happening at the warehouse in both volume and store counts.
“We have a goal, and that is to become the absolute best smaller wholesaler in the Southeast because not everybody wants to do business with the larger cooperatives,” he said.
“We’re as excited as we’ve ever been. We’re really looking forward to competing in the next few years. And the future, though challenging, is very exciting.”
All in all, ROFDA has always been a special organization to Bullard and his cooperative at Piggly Wiggly.
“The relationships and the learning with and from people who are more knowledgeable than I have provided incredible value and greatly enhanced our service to our retailers,” he said. “These business relationships and program offerings help our independents be more competitive in their ever-challenging marketplaces.”