One merchant industry – or two?

It’s high time we got together, merchants and suppliers, and talked with one another about what the recovery’s looking like and what happens next.

June 2012: the industry is still bumping along the bottom, but everybody feels it’s high time we got together, merchants and suppliers, and talked with one another about what the recovery’s looking like and what happens next. June 2012 is your long-awaited date, ladies and gentlemen, for the next Merchant Industry National Conference.

What should it look like, this first National Merchant Industry Conference for four years? Well, thanks to the wonders of free markets, we actually have a choice. We can have an NMBS-only independents-only conference. Or we can have an all-embracing, all-industry conference. We could, even, have both – there is, after all, a week between them! But I suspect that might be a pretty big ask from the sponsoring suppliers.

After over a year of consultations with our supplier members and a really helpful last-minute sanity-check with our regional chairmen, the BMF announced on April 8 we are planning to organise an all-industry event for June 14-17 2012, along the lines that served our industry so well from Cyprus to Tenerife: one event, open to all merchants and suppliers.

We had hoped to repeat the proven formula of BMF, Unimer and NMBS all acting as stakeholders to develop the best possible content and encourage the maximum attendance. And we added in a day specifically for members of the various merchant buying groups to undertake their own business meetings: a deliberately all-industry affair.

After discussions at their management board, meanwhile, NMBS announced on April 11 that they are planning to organise an independents-only conference for June 21-24 2012 along the lines they followed from the Barcelona cruise-trip to Athens: an exclusive event, deliberately independents-only.

Both organisations have done their homework: both have perceived only a small appetite for a UK-based event among merchants or suppliers; both have discovered the long-standing BMF conference dates of early to mid-June remain most companies’ preferred option. And both have chosen high-class hotels which have been used successfully for previous BMF Conferences – NMBS in the Don Carlos in Marbella on the Spanish Costa Brava; the BMF in the Marinotel at Villamora on the Portugese Algarve.

So: do we have one merchant industry, or do we have two? Do we have one merchant conference, or do we have two? Are independents really best served by a cynical refusal to acknowledge the immense influence of the national chains? Come to that, are nationals best served by using conference as a cynical excuse to network with potential acquisition prospects?

Or have we all, maybe, grown up sufficiently in the last few years to acknowledge that a merchant’s a merchant? That if our whole industry is under threat as never before, then maybe our whole industry might be best served by taking thought together as never before?

About Guest Blogger - Chris Pateman

Chris Pateman is the former MD of the BMF

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