As the Retailer Owned Food Distributors & Associates (ROFDA) celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, the organization is reflecting on its past and looking forward to the future.
Jeff Pedersen, president and CEO, said ROFDA was established with the purpose of trying to enhance the success of independent retailers. Today, eight cooperative wholesalers comprise its membership, along with vendor companies that are associate members.
“When you think about the wholesale members that are part of ROFDA – and of course the associates that support the wholesalers – the endgame is: Are we doing everything we can to help the independent retailers be successful every day?
“In many cases, that’s family-owned grocery stores. What are we doing to help them fight the fight and compete every day? That’s foundationally the purpose of why ROFDA was established 60-plus years ago,” Pedersen said.
“That support comes in part from bringing the wholesalers and associates together, looking for programs, best practices, ideas and solutions, that we either need to take advantage of or programs we were unaware of and that we can begin to take advantage of – again – with the idea being that we bring this forward to help support independent retailers.
“When we have our share group discussions or presentations from industry leaders, it may be ideas that help us become more productive, effective and efficient in wholesale operations. In turn, if you’re more efficient and you pass those savings on to the members, you’re able to operate at a lower cost every day. In today’s environment, that helps benefit the independent…there’s always that full circle goal of how we invest and learn and teach and coach and come up with ideas and solutions that help independent retailers.”
Share groups play key role
Share groups are an important part of the ROFDA mission of bringing wholesalers and associate members together to discuss a variety of issues.
“The ROFDA Share Groups bring like-minded people together and talk about problems, solutions and opportunities that they are having in the industry, and share those ideas and solutions with their peers. One big idea or program could mean huge cost savings or improvement for a wholesaler or a retailer,” Pedersen said.
In the early days of the organization, the idea was to gather executives and leaders to talk about issues as a group and look for ways to help each other. As Pedersen explained, CEOs would form a share group where “they lean on each other to talk about things they’re dealing with and how they may be able to look at one of their brothers or sisters and see how they’ve solved for a similar problem.”
Fresh procurement and grocery procurement share groups lately have been focused on supply chain issues. “Talking about ways that they’ve solved some of the challenges is very, very beneficial,” Pedersen said.
The HR share group has been addressing workforce challenges, such as recruiting and retaining employees.
Different share groups are brought in at the two annual ROFDA conferences, in May and November. While they may meet in person just a couple of times a year, Pedersen said share group members talk to each other throughout the year.
At the May conference, each member invited two retailers to create a retailer share group. That share group is now part of the ROFDA family. Also at that conference, Pedersen said the retailers were asked to come on stage and talk about “what keeps them up at night.”
“That was very valuable…when retailers are telling you what keeps them up at night, I can promise you everybody in that room was listening and looking at how they can help,” he said. “There’s just that relationship of really caring and trusting that you’re going to be able to do something to help them and then work on trying to solve for some of those things.”
One of the ideas that came from that recent discussion at the spring conference was the formation of a retail technology share group, which will meet at ROFDA’s upcoming fall conference.
Several technology partners will speak at the conference, giving a “state of the industry” talk and discussing where companies should be investing their money in technology.
“There are so many different options out there,” Pedersen said. “How do you prioritize?”
At the May conference, the retailers reported that there were so many challenges around technology and different ways to take care of customers that it has become overwhelming.
“Loyalty programs, data, how you mine your data, how you keep customers coming back, all these things that are in that space today. Many of the retailers said it’s overwhelming and we freeze and don’t do anything,” Pedersen said. “Yet the people they’re competing against, the chains, are moving quickly utilizing technology.”
A decision was made to create the new share group and try to help the retailers and wholesalers with industry insights and bring programs and solutions forward that are simple, easy to use and can be implemented quickly.
According to Pedersen, having these idea exchanges through share groups and using the relationships built through ROFDA may help members “lean on lessons learned” from their other partners in the organization. This also may lead to them being able to move forward at a faster pace and streamline processes.
Pedersen has created four pillars of focus for share group discussions:
- What are we doing to help our wholesalers, our members, in the area of people?
- What do we do in the area of new programs and services that we can offer?
- Are there things we can bring forward in the area of processes – process enhancement, process improvement, process changes – that they may be able to implement within their facilities to help them become more effective and efficient?
- How do we establish priorities with the wholesalers on things that they are focused on, or they aren’t focused on but could be?
“Those are four pillars that, operationally, we’re trying to execute where we stay focused. We all know that the shiny new coin that lands on your desk today doesn’t always have to be the area of focus,” Pedersen said. “We’re really trying to compartmentalize these items, so that we can move initiatives forward for ROFDA and for our members and our vendors.”
Whether you are a wholesaler, an associate or a retailer, one of the primary benefits to ROFDA membership is the relationships.
“The opportunity to build relationships and have really valuable conversations at ROFDA conferences and then beyond, I think that’s a unique benefit that ROFDA brings to the table,” Pedersen said.
These relationships extend to the share groups and partnership programs. The partnership programs include benefits the associate members bring to the table: volume discounts, aggregated performance, and incentive programs.
These are all factors in benefiting “the greater good,” according to Pedersen.
There are over 6,000 retail locations throughout the United States that are independently owned and supported by the ROFDA members. Looking at aggregated volume, this equals over $35 billion in retail sales, he said.
Looking to the future
Pedersen, who started as CEO of ROFDA in February, said an early point of discussion with members was including retailers. Inviting 16 retailers to the May conference was the first step toward that goal.
The fall conference will include those same 16 retailers. After that, the organization will look at rotating retailers and broadening the share group topics and participants.
“Post conference, we want those relationships to continue and facilitate discussions, and build a broader base of retailers that are involved in the ROFDA share group activity and how we can help them,” Pedersen said.
“Will there be more in the future? Absolutely. Will there be more than 16 at every conference – to be determined. But I believe 100 percent that our members believe it is a real positive for the organization and retailers and our associate partners. The additional involvement will bring new thoughts, new ideas, new opportunities for us to focus on as we move forward and help the greater good of the independent retailers.”
ROFDA is also re-evaluating its by-laws to expand its membership to more than just cooperative wholesalers, Pedersen said. The organization is looking at other wholesalers that are out there taking care of the independent retailer and could benefit from being a member.
“One of our goals is to expand our wholesaler membership. Another goal is to expand our vendor partnerships, our associate program, and bring new ideas, new faces into the conferences,” he said.
“This would help build relationships with the wholesalers and introduce programs and services we may not have today but others may be using.”
In looking toward the future, Pedersen said “the energy, the enthusiasm and the passion that I’m sensing through ROFDA – and I’m being told from others – is at an all-time high. People are really, really excited for what the future will bring. And I’m just excited to be a part of that.”
ROFDA’s fall conference is scheduled for Nov. 10-13 at the Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate in Orlando, Florida.
“The theme for our upcoming conference is ‘We are ROFDA.’ ROFDA isn’t Jeff Pedersen, ROFDA isn’t Teresa Pope, ROFDA is really the retailers, the wholesalers, the vendor partners. Together, ‘We are ROFDA,’” Pedersen said.
“I think it’s so important that it’s never about one person but really about the energy and the enthusiasm of ROFDA and how we move that forward to help independent retailers for the future.”
The invitation-only event is designed to be a relaxed, intimate setting “where people really get a chance to spend some time together face to face,” he said. “It’s not just this overwhelming event where you don’t have a chance to talk to many of the people that you want to.
“When you come to a ROFDA conference, you will have a lot of opportunities to spend time in front of decision maker because most of the folks that are there are executive level, leaders within their organization, and are decision makers. We really put the right people together.”
Another highlight of the conference is the one-to-one meetings, where vendors can meet with wholesalers and “talk about what’s going on with their company and maybe do a sales pitch or an update on how business is with their company,” Pedersen said.
ROFDA also offers opportunity meetings at the conference. “If there’s something big, and something you really want to talk about with the CEOs and the retailers… we get that company in front of a larger group to talk about what’s going on with their company – a new program, new solution, something exciting, or it may be just to build upon some things that they’ve been working on together in the past,” he said.
Another offering is one-to-many meetings, where vendors can give industry updates on topics such as retail technology, supply chain or HR solutions to the retailers in attendance.
“The one-to-many is in front of retailers, and many, many of our associates and vendors are excited about having that opportunity,” Pedersen said.
Share groups meeting at the fall conference will be retail technology, food service and grocery procurement, along with the retailer share group.
The conference also will feature guest speakers, including Jessica Rector, who will deliver a keynote address on Nov. 12 on burnout in the industry and how companies are dealing with it.
“I think that’s very relevant with all the stress and the pressure and the supply chain issues, so we’re going to talk about burnout,” Pedersen said.
Other speakers include Leslie Sarasin with FMI, who also will speak on Nov. 12. She will give an industry update to the entire group.
Greg Ferrara with NGA is scheduled to speak Nov. 11. Pedersen said Ferrara is “really good at giving an update on what’s going on at the Capitol and on the Hill and the election process.” He will speak on political affairs after the election.
On Nov. 10, Steve Black, formerly of Rouses who now does some leadership coaching and leadership speaking, will speak on the five rules of engagement.
“Steve’s got a very inspirational talk about success in business and life,” Pedersen said.
ROFDA’s anniversary also will be observed at the fall conference, as it was in the spring.
Pedersen, 61, said he sees ROFDA as being 60 years young. “I think that we have a tremendous roadmap ahead of us…we’re going to continue to focus on the things that have made us successful and evolve in the areas that we need to. But really, the share group activity and supporting the independent retailer are the things that have made us successful to this point. And we’re going to continue to stay focused on those things as we celebrate being 60 years young.”
Pedersen added that he is thankful for the opportunity to be leading ROFDA. He worked with Associated Wholesale Grocers for nearly 25 years and with Hy-Vee prior to that.
“I’m excited to lead this next venture with ROFDA and really help the greater good of the independent retailer,” he said. “A big thank you to the board to have the foresight to put somebody in leadership here and give me this opportunity.
“It’s a tremendous blessing that I’ve been given, and I look forward to continuing to help our wholesalers, our associate vendor partners and the independent retailer for many years to come.”
For more information, visit rofda.com.