It's time to pack up and head south—for the Southern Association of Wholesale Distributors' annual convention, that is.
According to SAWD, its 14 member states encompass 46 percent of all convenience stores in the United States—or more than 66,653 stores in all—and the majority of these stores obtain their services from SAWD members.
“It is a buying trade show,” said Greg Martin, Chief Executive Officer of SAWD. “It's open to wholesale distributors in the convenience store and grocery industries. The folks walking the aisles will be convenience store wholesalers.”
The show gives the region's manufacturers and wholesalers a unique opportunity to meet and talk, and attendees say they make the most of the opportunity.
“We do a lot of networking at the show and learn a lot from our peers,” said Thomas Massey, Sales Manager at Stewart Candy Company, which has been attending the show for 12 years. “We'll just be seeing new items and meeting with manufacturers.”
Massey said the atmosphere at the show was always friendly in spirit, encouraging making connections as well as mutual exchange of ideas.
“It's a Southern camaraderie, I guess you'd say it is,” Massey said. “It's mostly family-owned businesses that share a lot of knowledge with each other.”
“We're looking for increased exposure, free contacts, new clients,” said Gary Cornwell, Chief Operating Officer at Galactic Ltd. “We just view it as a way to solidify our relationships.”
Martin said the show seeks to accomplish three major things: to provide networking opportunities for wholesalers, to provide industry-specific educational opportunities and to function as a traditional trade show.
The show provides a venue to unveil new ideas; Galactic will be introducing MPG Rewards, a program that enables distributors to reduce their fuel costs by three to five percent, Cornwell said. It also provides an opportunity to learn, whether about specific aspects of the industry or more general business concerns.
“What drives the difference in our shows from year to year is the difference in our education programs,” Martin said. “We try to make sure that they're timely. That's the goal.”
This year's speakers include Bruce Wilkinson, who will speak on “One Voice Leadership: The Key to Personal and Organizational Success” and lead a workshop on “Surviving the Storms of Change: Leadership Lessons From Hurricane Katrina”; Ashley Gillihan, who will speak on the recent health care legislation; David B. Riser, who will speak on recent state and federal legislation relating to the industry; and Viv R. Penninti, who will lead a workshop on “How Sales Data Will Help Your Competitors Beat You.”
It's a schedule that, with its emphasis on adjusting to a changing world, reflects today's business environment. While the last two years have been a pressing time for many U.S. industries, Martin said that the convenience store industry has weathered the economic storm surprisingly well.
“You've got more folks shopping in convenience stores now than they ever have otherwise, so it has not been the negative driver that perhaps it would appear to be,” Martin said.
The SAWD 2010 Annual Meeting and Exposition is June 18-19, 2010 at the Savannah International Convention Center in Savannah, Ga. For more information and a list of events, visit www.the-southern.org.