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Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

There are a number of reasons that I'm looking forward to next week's National Grocers Association convention in Las Vegas - beyond the fact that it is likely to be a lot warmer in Vegas than in Connecticut.

For another thing, as you may have noticed from reading the ample number of mentions here on MNB, Michael Sansolo and I will be hosting a party on Monday night at the Mirage, sponsored by PepsiCo, EJ Gallo and Anheuser Busch. And if there is one thing that we like to do, it is host a party. If you're at NGA next week, I hope you'll join us.

Finally, I'll also be moderating a panel discussion on Monday morning that I think will be interesting ... it will be based on conclusions reached in a new Nielsen study that focuses on the things that independent retailers do better, as well, or not as well as chain retailers.

One of the things we'll be focusing on in our conversation is the connection and differences between the human aspect of customer relations and the personalization that technology enables. One presumption is that independents do a better job when it comes to making personal connections, but that the technological aspect is one that remains an opportunity that needs to be exploited.

I think this is true, but with some caveats.

First, I think that independents have to be careful not to take the whole "we're small and we're local and therefore we offer better customer service" thing for granted. One of the things that I am hoping to discuss on Monday is how cultures are created that make this part of a company's DNA. That's of critical importance, I think. Employees have to feel engaged and invested if they are to be a company's best ambassadors.

The other thing is that there is no excuse for an independent retailer not to be looking for ways to use technology to better connect to shoppers before they come to the store, after they've been to the store, and while they're in the store. They certainly cannot compete with Amazon's technology advantages, or its selection, or even its prices ... not if they are going to have a profitable and sustainable business model.

But they have to find ways to be compelling that will resonate with the shopper. That means partnering with manufacturers for appropriate assortment and definitely not trying to be all things to all people, developing relevant digital platforms and figuring out approaches to replenishment, and figuring out how to best create a differentiated narrative around areas such as health and wellness.

Anyway, that's what we'll be discussing next Monday morning at NGA. If you're in Vegas, I hope you'll get yourself a big cup of coffee and join us.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

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