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    INDEPENDENTS REPORT: IGA's extended family

    At its recent Global Summit, IGA celebrated its ability to keep its members close despite the physical distance between them.

    Flying their banner in 40-plus countries, commonwealths, and territories around the world, IGA, guided by chairman Dr. Tom Haggai and his Chicago-based leadership team, is focused not so much on helping the association's 4,400-plus retailers survive, but also thrive. That was the prevailing message of the IGA Global Summit, held last month at the Marriott Las Palmas Resort in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

    Participating in the event, "Bringing the Family Together," were 350 of the global alliance's best -- retailers, suppliers, distribution center executives, and IGA staffers, along with members of the IGA Red Oval Partners, a group of 45-plus national and international suppliers, manufacturers, and service providers committed to supporting IGA retailers through in-store marketing programs, up-to-date research, training opportunities, and information sharing.

    Said Haggai in his opening remarks: "Our singular passion at IGA is the growth and development of the family-owned supermarket, whether it be one store or 100. IGA is unique in that we differ in as many ways as we agree. As an alliance, we seek not to control and command, but to comprehend and commit. As a result each individual store is empowered to serve its local community, making no two stores exactly alike."

    Among those sharing success stories were two IGA family members from Down Under, Lou Jardin, c.e.o. of IGA's distribution center in Sydney, and Fred Harrison, representing IGA's Australian retail delegation. Also presenting was Mark Price, development director for Britain's Waitrose Ltd.

    The retailers shared the podium with three highly regarded academics, Ohio State University's Neeli Bendapudi, whose studies in consumer behavior within the service industry have been published in the Harvard Business Review, and Richard George and John Stanton of Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, both lauded as experts in the field of marketing and customer service.

    Encouraging retailers to build relational capital within their stores, the educators articulated how supermarket retailers can best differentiate from the masses by implementing effective target marketing programs and branding not just their products, but also, and more crucially, their employees.

    "It's people who brand the business -- and it's the shopping experience itself that always trumps the ad," said Bendapudi, whose MBA class on services marketing was recently cited in BusinessWeek as one of Ohio State's finest. She's convinced that the best place to work is also the best place to shop.

    "We must realize that our employees are our internal customers," Bendapudi explained. "The goal of every successful entrepreneur should be to turn customers, both internal and external, into apostles for the company. How can we achieve this? We must create value through our people."

    Haggai noted the synergy that the conference achieves. "Bringing the IGA family together for the global summit is one opportunity for us to help our retailers to be what we say we are. Those who are real dreamers are willing to pay the cost -- and they have the courage to stay the course."

    Independent Retailing Editor Jane Olszeski Tortola can be reached at [email protected].

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