AWMA Chairman Steve Shing on What’s Ahead for the Association

The past few years have been a critically important time in the history of the American Wholesale Marketers Association, the association for convenience store distributors. During this time, leadership of the organization has been working hard to revitalize the association, which had suffered from decreased participation among members of both the distribution and the manufacturing communities.
In this one-on-one interview, AWMA’s new chairman, Steve Shing, vice president of marketing and trade relations for Sulphur Springs, Texas-based distribution company GSC Enterprises, talks about some of the big issues the association is addressing.
Q. For an organization that was treading water a few years ago, to borrow AWMA President Scott Ramminger’s phrase, AWMA has made some major strides in the past couple of years. What do you consider the association’s most significant advances?
A. Creating an organization that channels the concerns of convenience distributors to the manufacturer community and to our government heads the list. To that, I would also add, providing a platform that encourages manufacturers to communicate their concerns to convenience distributors.  
I also am pleased about the complete overhaul of the Education and Research Committee work. This committee is conducting studies on manufacturer programs, compensation, dollar store sets in the convenience channel, electronic surveys (short and effective), and our educational offerings to convenience distributors.
Embracing supply chain initiatives that involve the manufacturer, distributor and retailer has been exciting as well. A great example of such an initiative is the Warehouse-Delivered Snack Committee. This committee—comprised of manufacturers, distributors, and retailers—developed the Multi-Vendor End Cap, a merchandiser featuring snack items. We demonstrated that retailers could achieve significant cost savings when they purchase these items from their wholesaler vs. purchasing from DSD companies.
Q. Other AWMA achievements?
A. We also have added a new meeting to our annual Distribution Summit—the Business Exchange (ABX). This format encourages open discussions between the sponsoring manufacturers and their wholesale customers. Last year’s Distributor Summit was our first run at the Business Exchange, and it was a big success.
Then there is the very important area of industry affairs.  We’ve conducted a major overhaul of this area and have been really striving to represent the concerns of distributors before the manufacturing community. This is an area of AWMA that was virtually dormant a few years ago, and now is very, very busy.
Q. How did AWMA accomplish this revitalization process and move itself back onto more stable financial footing?  
A. We reviewed our total membership, determined the entire membership’s needs from an association, and then we filled the voids. Sounds simple, but it was a huge task.
We redrafted the staffing requirements of the association, both in terms of costs and skills sets. We outsourced several functions that were once performed in house. We relocated the association’s office from Washington, D.C., to Fairfax, Va.  We placed manufacturers on the board of directors, and listened to their input. The “change agent” was Scott Ramminger, AWMA’s president. The entire AWMA staff are responsible for “turning the ship around.”
Q. What are the areas that need the most work in the months ahead?
A. The area that needs the most work is our annual exposition/trade show. The wholesale distributor industry is not growing in terms of actual number of companies. The manufacturer community is experiencing the same. So it has been difficult to grow the size of our Expo.
Realizing the changing landscape, the AWMA has focused on quality and not size. We feel our mission is to create a venue that encourages interaction between the manufacturers and distributors, offers exhibits that directly impact the distributors’ and the convenience stores’ profits, and allows time to develop relationships with each other. The recent AWMA Expo held in Las Vegas proved this to be true.  Most of our manufacturer and distributor participants were pleased with the show.
Q. Do you think it is important for the AWMA to get involved with the obesity issue?
A. This is a very important issue for our confectionery manufacturer and distributor members. We joined the American Council on Fitness and Nutrition in an effort to find a reasonable, workable solution to the problem of obesity in the United States.  AWMA is one of many associations that share the same goal.
Legislation addressing obesity will likely reappear in this session, and will be supported by AWMA. These bills would provide funding for improved nutrition and physical education programs in our schools as a way to combat obesity, as opposed to increased taxes on so-called “junk foods” and more repressive regulation.
Q. What are your personal objectives as AWMA chairman?
A. My personal objective is to assist and provide support to Scott Ramminger and his staff in moving the association along its present path.  I want to continue to position the association to be attentive to the needs of all members, listen to their input, to enhance our current services, and to be ready to “turn on a dime” as needed.  I believe the AWMA should be all about value...real value to all members.  
Q. What are the industry issues that you feel most passionately about?
A. I feel most passionately about industry affairs. I believe it is absolutely essential that we continue to work to improve the relationship between the distributors and manufacturers in this supply chain. We are all in the same supply chain, and we must work together to advance the common good. n