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Supply chain conference to showcase new solutions

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. To the surprise of no one in pharmacy retailing, supply chain activities have become one of the most critical aspects of the business. With Wal-Mart setting the bar on just-in-time distribution efficiency and operating costs rising across the board, the quest to boost productivity through supply-chain improvements has taken on increasing urgency, and has elevated the role of supply-chain executives.

That quest also has made the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ annual Supply Chain and Logistics Conference one of the industry’s most anticipated smaller-scale events. This year’s conference, slated for March 2 to 4 at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort in Chandler, Ariz., will draw executives representing some 23,000 chain pharmacies and provide a showcase for new developments in source-based product coding, radio frequency identification, just-in-time delivery, inventory returns and other key productivity areas.

“The supply chain has improved its visibility and importance within retailing,” said Steve Perlowski, NACDS vice president of industry affairs. “Wal-Mart built a model of supply chain efficiency, and got chief executive officers talking about it. And when you look at some of the issues we face today, with gas prices and sustainability issues, those expenses can really drain a company’s bottom line.”

That, in turn, is driving attendance. According to NACDS spokeswoman Chrissy Kopple, this year’s gathering will draw some 450 attendees, about 5 percent more than last year.

“The No. 1 reason why companies attend is to meet with their trading partners,” Perlowski said. “It’s all about improving efficiencies and taking unnecessary costs out of the mutual supply chain. It’s arranged to make it very productive, so that in two days’ time you can meet with a good portion of your trading partners and come up with solid action plans to improve your performance over the coming 12 months.”

The other group that will be attending, Perlowski said, are the vendors that serve the supply chain industry—the transportation vendors, the returned-goods processing companies and the technology providers that offer solutions for such critical activities as inventory and warehouse management.

The meeting agenda includes a talk on hiring and training the disabled by Walgreens executives Randy Lewis, senior vice president of distribution and logistics, and Deb Russell, who heads the chain’s career outreach department. NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson also will update attendees on NACDS activities in 2008.

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