Approximately 500 attendees representing retailers, merchandise suppliers and service providers – an attendance increase of about 10 percent from last year's event – gathered for the Retail Value Chain Federation (RVCF) Annual Fall Conference, held November 8-11, 2015 at the beautiful JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, AZ. The theme of the conference was "Consumer Driven Supply Chain" as industry stakeholders continue to look for better ways to satisfy the ever-increasing demands of the end consumer.
The Fall Conference featured 45 educational programs, a number of breakout sessions, and more than 700 pre-scheduled One-on-One meetings between retailers and suppliers. These fast-paced One-on-Ones, with the Sonoran Terrace serving as home base, gave trading partners the chance to discuss issues, identify disconnects, and open the door for improved communication. No other industry event offers this kind of opportunity for personalized collaboration.
Retailer breakout sessions allowed our retailer members to explain new and upcoming initiatives and outline requirements for suppliers. This helps suppliers proactively prepare for these initiatives and become better trading partners. Of course, networking and relationship-building were constant at the RVCF Fall Conference, whether attendees were chatting between sessions, during lunch and dinner, at the bar, or on the golf course. The goal of every RVCF event is to provide as many opportunities for collaboration as possible, both formal and informal, so problems can be solved and the industry as a whole can benefit.
Here are a few of the many highlights of the RVCF Fall Conference:
Mike McKinley of Alive! Alive! Associates delivered an inspiring keynote that truly focused on the title of the session – "Getting Back to Basics." Why are we here? Why do we do what we do? By asking these simple questions, Mike inspired each attendee to do some soul-searching and assess the purpose of not only their jobs, but their lives, discussing how daily behavior should be a reflection of professional and personal priorities.
In an informative retail-only session, Rob Oglesby of the Parker Avery Group discussed the logistical challenges of filling e-commerce orders from the store. Rob pointed out that inventory precision and accuracy are critical to omni-channel success and customer satisfaction, and offered ideas for improving inventory management and servicing customers who choose to pay online and pick up in store. Ken Lettre of Stage Stores and Jeff Eckel of OpenText/GXS also delivered a retail-only presentation about how a new web-based iPad solution can improve the processes of capturing and sharing compliance violations.
On the supplier-only side, Rachel Greer of Cascadia Product Testing Solutions provided valuable insight into the inner workings of Amazon, shedding light on the e-commerce giant's business practices. Rachel explained what suppliers can do to better manage compliance and navigate Amazon's Vendor Central and Transportation Manual. She offered recommendations for getting issues addressed, discussed why suppliers were experiencing problems with communicating with Amazon, and frankly outlined where suppliers will likely continue to see resistance.
The term "best practice" is often misunderstood and abused. In many cases, best practices are manufactured by consultants to ensure that best practices are aligned with their services. Focusing on retail consumer products, Jamie Tenser of VSN Strategies first helped attendees understand the true definition of "best practice" and what a best practice must support. Jamie then outlined and explained the five key traits of best practice in the retail consumer products industry – designed, conscious, realistic, measurable and customer-oriented.
In assessing the financial impact of drop-shipping, Annibal C. Sodero of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas presented the initial findings of a study being conducted jointly by RVCF, Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas. Annibal started by reviewing the market conditions and business reasoning that have been driving retailers to become increasingly dependent on suppliers to fulfill e-commerce orders directly to customers. He then outlined the research completed thus far via interviews with retailers and suppliers, explained the broad variations he has uncovered, and discussed difficulties experienced by both retailers and their supplier partners.
Leslie Montgomery of GS1 US led a workshop focused on industry initiatives related to the implementation of images and attributes guidelines and discussed the need for and benefits of these initiatives. By providing additional information required for extended attributes, ensuring that all product information is accurate and complete, and all images are compliant, you make it easier for the end consumer to make educated decisions about online purchases. This results in greater customer loyalty and satisfaction as well as a lower risk of returns.
Doug Cowan of Cognizant led a workshop and live demonstration that showed how to optimize SAP workflows and processes for accounts receivable and deduction management, incorporating real world applications and roadblocks from audience members into his presentation. Specific areas covered included dispute management, auto assignment and automatic write-off of reason codes, dispute workflow, and dispute correspondence.
EDI cost management required a double-length session and Kelvin Takhar of Edisoft, Inc. filled the program with valuable information. Kevin reviewed trends and challenges facing suppliers and retailers, such as omni-channel data management requirements, and laid out the five key principles desired in a high-quality EDI solution configuration – greater flexibility, full configurability, end-to-end modularity, scalability, and support for B2B or B2C compliance. The session then transitioned to a workshop format focused on addressing actual issues raised by audience members.
David Schneider of We Are The Practitioners discussed how collaboration and not the chargeback is more likely to result in a quantum shift in supply chain performance. This requires a change in mindset rooted in a genuine desire to better understand problems and perspectives – first between departments within the retail organization, and then with each supplier. This is how you enable proactive problem-solving based on communication and mutual respect.
From a global perspective, Karen Dickinson of the Polsinelli law firm and Deborah Weidenhamer of iPai Auction Company and Auction Systems Auctioneers and Appraisers discussed the ins and outs of joint-venturing in China. Karen discussed the cultural differences between the U.S. and China and how this impacts business relationships and practices, and explained the new five-year plan (2016-2020) for economic transformation and upgrading by the Chinese government. Deborah profiled the Chinese middle class consumer and emphasized the need for truly understanding this consumer when developing an e-commerce strategy.
Ron Marotta of Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc. and Kevin Smith of Sustainable Supply Chain Consulting discussed the factors to consider when navigating the sea of risk in global trade. After getting the audience up to speed on major global trade agreements and China's political and economic issues, Ron and Kevin laid out the primary risks encountered globally. These risks include changes in East and West Coast port volumes, increasing container capacity outpacing demand, Panama Canal expansion, the growing trend of "near sourcing," and driver shortages.
We at RVCF would like to thank everyone who attended and participated in the Annual Fall Conference. What parts of the conference did you find particularly helpful or valuable? What topics or issues would you like to see us cover more comprehensively at future conferences? We want to hear your feedback!
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