A Real Benchmark By Bridget White

Maybe I was really bored after a few months of no travel, maybe I was temporarily insane, maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment, but this year, I added a new trade show/conference to my schedule. So in the midst of January travel that includes CENTS, MANTS, TPIE, Mid-Am and many more, I flew off to New York to attend "The Big Show."

The Big Show is the National Retail Federation's (NRF) conference and trade show. Since NRF is the main international association that represents all of retail, there were attendees from all over the world representing companies that are household names. Retailers such as Nordstrom and Barnes & Noble attend the show; it's sponsored by companies such as Microsoft; and the speakers include the likes of Wal-mart's CIO (by the way, not one of my biggest fans; she doesn't like being asked direct questions, but that's another story).

No one, and I do mean no one, from our industry, and that includes the retail side, attends this show. I went representing our sister publication, Lawn & Garden Retailer. I thought I might get some good information on retail outside the industry, new technologies and RFID. I got that and a whole lot more.

Playing Catch up

When industry friends first asked about The Big Show, I laughingly described it as an event for "real retail." You know, the big guys where we all shop for groceries, clothes and everything else. Like I said, there were no garden centers there, and certainly no growers. So why attend an event that is not specifically for our industry, and why tell you about it?

If you had seen all of the technology possibilities, you wouldn't be questioning. This event gave me tremendous insight into the whole RFID/UCCnet situation I have been writing about in GPN (see the January and February issues). I was able to rub elbows and attend seminars with people who have already started and completed the process. I was able to see working examples of POP, computer systems and retail initiatives that our industry has not even thought of. One vendor stared blankly at me as I explained our industry was not ready for his technology because all of our products do not have barcodes. That's how far ahead of us everyone at this show is.

We're included

Least you think the NRF has left our industry behind, their major press announcement during the meeting was that the association is going to start tracking flower purchases. Recognizing us as an important retail category that is showing strong growth, the NRF will add several new floral categories to their monthly sales reports, periodic forecasts and holiday statistics .

The reports will not be perfect. Garden center sales will be lumped in with home improvement, which means it will be a little difficult to know how much of the monthly increase/decrease is from wood or bathtubs and how much is from fertilizer and begonias. There will, however, be a separate category for floral that will report information only from florists, and that should help supplement and interpret the data.

Like I said, this is not ideal, but it is 1) recognition from the "real" world that our industry matters and 2) better information than what we have now. We all know the USDA information is inaccurate. Not only does it cut out important states, but I know single growers who sell more than what is reported for some entire states.

As of now, floral statistics are not included in NRF projection numbers. Their staff economist is working to revise her numbers for the past 10 years so that when the data is available later this year it will be very complete, with a historical context and projections for the future.Until the numbers are posted, you can get a better idea of the kind of data we can expect from the NRF by logging onto www.nrf.com where you will find statistical reports about other industries.

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Bridget White

Bridget White, Editorial Director

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