Mack Elevation Forum aims to align boardrooms

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. —You can say that for some members of the industry, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Annual Meeting came a day early this year.

Though not an official part of the NACDS schedule, for a small group of supplier executives the action really began at The Mack Elevation Forum at the West Palm Beach Marriott on April 23. The share group, which merged with the Swanson Group last November—organized and coordinated by Dan Mack, the former Dentek marketing executive—brings together executives from noncompeting, generally smaller to mid-sized companies to examine critical business issues with the ultimate goal of enabling participants to align their sales and marketing strategies with the broader vision of the retailers they do business with; something Mack calls “boardroom-to-boardroom alignment.”

Costco VP pharmacy Vic Curtis served as a special keynote speaker for the group, setting the table with an insider’s view of how to do business with Costco.

Topics during the discussions included learning how to thrive in a world of emerging private-label growth and how a branded manufacturer can develop best practices for playing on both sides of the equation—that is, blending a branded and a retail-brand position.

“A blended branded and retailer brand strategy provides suppliers a differentiated and synergistic position with their retail partners,” noted Swanson Group principal Rich Swanson, who helped co-moderate the discussion, calling on his three decades of consumer packaged goods experience to help move the dialogue along. “The winners are providing broad brand solutions to the category—including both branded and retailer brands.”

“You must learn to tolerate failure when you play in the private-label arena,” added Vic Mazzacone, CEO for the retail division of Drive Medical. “A retailer brand position creates moments in which you could lose your position due to the bidding process. You have to be willing to [take a] risk to create a winning partnership.”

Coming back to the overarching theme of aligning the supplier’s objectives with the retailer’s boardroom vision, Elevation Forum founder and Swanson Group VP Dan Mack offered: “Suppliers must ensure full corporate alignment prior to moving forward with a branded/retailer brand strategy. This includes ensuring internal alignment with operations, management and marketing. Winning companies bring forward their assets, differentiated capabilities and emerging insights—not just their products.”

Microlife director of marketing Mark Boufford agreed. “Better positioning doesn’t just focus on product improvements; it includes packaging innovations, in-store experience and positioning advancements,” he said.

Other participants included David Kobel of Celsius, Darrick Blinoff of Traditional Medicinals, Bruce Montgomery of Fleet Labs, Jim Doyle of Sunstar Americas, Geoff Belz of Gojo Industries, Ron Yutrzenka of U.S. Nutrition, Mike Barna of First Boston Pharma and Mike Matulis of Pacific World.

The next Mack Elevation Forum is scheduled to coincide with NACDS Marketplace in San Diego in June.

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