Reflections From the Fall NEMOA Conference
Poor NEMOA. Last spring’s conference was overshadowed by the recent folding of BlueSky Brands, and many of its exiled execs were mulling around the Cambridge, Mass., event networking. During last week’s NEMOA in Burlington, Vt., the chill was blowing all the way up from Wall Street, as news of the market’s tumble had many attendees checking their BlackBerrys throughout the first day of the event.
But once the smoke cleared and the market surged back the next couple of days, NEMOA returned to its traditional spirit of being a warm gathering of old friends; catalog stalwarts; and a growing number of people from vendors, consulting firms and service firms.
Despite the swell of noncatalogers, many of the vendors present have been coming to NEMOA conferences for several years now and blend in quite merrily with the catalog/multichannelers. In fact, unlike any other conference on the DM show “circuit,” NEMOA stands out because people come to catch up with other attendees and schmooze. At larger conferences with exhibit halls, multichannel attendees are more reserved, less there to mingle.
My own personal take on the content of the sessions at this fall’s NEMOA is that it was considerably better than past conferences. There was considerable meat in just about every presentation. A big difference between this event and other larger conferences is that although NEMOA continues to follow the growing trend of getting vendors to sponsor all the eating and drinking functions, it never lets that wear off on the sessions. Multichannel attendees get their money’s worth.
For instance, the conference’s theme was sustainability. But all the green-themed sessions focused heavily on ways to go green (or preferably go greener) in an affordable manner.
Memorable Eddie Smith Memorial
Clearly the highlight of the conference came when NEMOA President Margot Murphy Moore, who’s also the CEO of 1-800-Homeopathy, presented a special award posthumously to National Wholesale catalog founder Eddie Smith. Eddie died a little more than a year ago at 88 of cancer. I had the fortune of knowing Eddie, meeting him at conferences over the years. He lived a very special life, and rather than going any further, I encourage you to click here for the obit that ran in The Dispatch (Lexington, N.C.) last year.
His daughter, Lynda Swann Smith, who’s run the company ever since, literally brought the house down in accepting the award. She brought several family members with her for the occasion, and the manner in which she memorialized Eddie; his eternal optimism; his overwhelming success; and his incredible impact on his family, friends, company and the catalog business was unforgettable.
More Than Cost Cutting
The NEMOA organizers also recognize how very tough the selling conditions are right now. For instance, rather than just focusing on cost cutting, board member Russ Gaitskill from the Garnet Hill catalog led a “town meeting” session with consultants Ted Pamperin, George Mollo and Will Von Klemperer. The discussion featured myriad ways to cut costs while building up the bottom line.
Line by line in a P&L statement model, they went through cancellations and sold-out products, returns, cost of goods sold, advertising expenses, fulfillment, net shipping expenses, operating expenses, general and administrative expenses, and other income.
As Gaitskill pointed out, there’s no one customer contact strategy anymore, adding that his company’s doing a lot of testing on various strategies.
Garnet Hill has made significant reductions in page counts with virtually no impact on response. “We have this philosophy that everyone who should receive a catalog should get it,” he said. “So we sought to reduce costs by reducing page counts. When looking at how to cut pages, it may be a great time for one category, but not for another,” suggesting that not all product categories work 12 months a year — a prime target for page trimming.
As for merchandising, especially in today’s environment when consumers don’t need much reason to avoid spending money, if you give them too many choices, their propensity to buy goes down, Mollo said.
And among multichannel merchants’ greatest opportunities for impact is negotiating with vendors, Pamperin said.
People worked the conference hard and seemed to garner a lot of great takeaway pointers and, as usual, they had a great time. In next week’s edition of Tactics & Tips, I’ll provide some more synopses of the best of the sessions from NEMOA week. I’ll share a good number of tips, but one thing I can’t share is the incredible views we all took in of the amazing sunsets over Lake Champlain.