Talking About Communication

Mary Ellen Kuhn

Just a few days before I sat down to write this column, I got an earful from my high schooler, who was complaining about the oral report requirements of his sophomore English class. Being forced to do such presentations was pointless, he maintained, with the blustery, overconfident logic so typical of some 16-year-olds.
 “You know, Mom,” he insisted, “once I’m out of college, I’m never going to have to do this kind of thing again.”
I tried to be tactful as I pointed out the fallacies of his thought process, but the gist of the maternal wisdom I dispensed was this: It’s always about communication — in life and on the job.
That point was brought home recently when I was invited to participate in a Convenience Task Force assembled by the Barnes & Noble College Booksellers buying team of Rick Wilshe and Betsy Bohne. In the course of the first group discussion, the theme of communication quickly emerged. Or at least that’s the word I scribbled down in my notes as I listened to the wide-ranging conversation among vendors and bookstore managers from campuses around the country.
One bookstore operator said he would like to get more (and earlier!) information on new product releases and product sales trends from distributors and vendors. Another expressed frustration about the fact that the chain’s distributor was out of stock too frequently and unable to get products to the store. Clearly these issues aren’t new ones, and sometimes there’s no way around them. But what a great reminder about the importance of improving new product communication to the retailer! And even in the unfortunate case of distributor out-of-stocks, wouldn’t the situation be a bit more palatable if the retailer was kept informed of the situation — and ongoing efforts to correct it?  
Communication, Part II
Listening is a major part of the communication process, as we all know, so I’m happy to report that the National Confectioners Association did an excellent job of listening to its key constituencies weigh in on the timing of the All Candy Expo. Which is why next year’s event will be held May 20-22 rather than in September as it was this year. (Mark your calendar now; we’re talking May 2008!)
NCA did its best to thoroughly research the move to September, so decision-makers there deserve kudos for not getting locked into the new timeframe. It would have been easy to sit back and congratulate themselves on a well-run event (Which this year’s Expo certainly was!). Instead, NCA kept the dialog going, polling exhibitors and buyers about their preferences, and moving quickly in response to that input. No single timeframe will please everyone, but from what I’ve heard from members of the candy and snack community, this one makes more sense for more people.