The few, the proud, the Sam’s Club JBP partners

"Come grow with us," could have been the title of the presentation Sam’s Club EVP of merchandising Charles Redfield gave earlier this week at the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s annual executive conference.

Redfield, only three months into his role as Sam’s top merchant, appeared as part of a panel discussion on the topic of joint business planning that included key trading partners such as Dave Dudick, SVP of General Mills, Melvin Landis, chief retail sales officer with Coca-Cola Refreshments and Sean Fallman, president of Georgia-Pacific’s North American consumer business.

It was the second consecutive year GMA conference organizers included on their agenda the topic of Sam’s Club joint business planning. Last year, it was former head merchant Linda Hefner who weighed in on the subject and this year it was Redfield espousing the benefits of a system his predecessor spearheaded while at Sam’s.

"JBP is a great way of developing trust," Redfield told an audience that included Sam’s merchants such as SVP of grocery and beverages, Todd Matherly, and SVP of health and wellness, Jill Turner-Mitchael.

Trust is key to the entire process, according to Redfield, because it fuels collaboration and the ability to have an honest dialogue. It also enables companies to challenge one another and be open to new approaches to doing business that foster the type of risk-taking that drives growth

"Suppliers are not the enemy. We have plenty of competitors to compete with," Redfield said referring to the importance of being open to new ways of doing business that form a cornerstone of Sam’s JBP process. "Where trust becomes broken is when companies treat JBP as an exercise or piece of paper."

He went on to detail how JBP requires a high level of commitment from senior executives because it is a top down process designed to deliver long-term growth.

"This is not a quick win philosophy," Redfield said.

Sean Fallman with Georgia-Pacific reinforced that notion, noting that, "JBP should not be about things that salespeople and buyers can do on an everyday basis."

According to Melvin Landis with Coke, real change and results only come when companies change the conversation and that is what JBP enables because it creates a framework for tough conversations.

"I give a lot of credit to Sam’s because they really invested in the process," Landis said. "Prior to JBP, we had a plan for our business and they had a plan for the category, but they weren’t always the same plan."

According to Dave Dudick with General Mills, JBP has been a blessing because the consumer goods giant has products in 25 categories and works with 13 different buyers and four different GMMs.

"Before the JPB process we were force fitting things into clubs and a lot of things didn’t fit the consumer," Dudick said.

One of those was the Cheerios brand where growth had slowed. Some simple changes to packaging improved the value propositions for shoppers, supply chain efficiency and delivered sustainability wins while improving sales. Because JBP creates a framework for candid conversations about the business it improves predictability.

"That enables us to build better plans with less conflict and more efficient use of resources because we know where there is alignment," Dudick said.

Although JBP is producing results and is now in its third year, Redfield acknowledged it is not for everyone and currently fewer than 20 companies are engaged in the process.

"Don’t get into it if you are not into it," cautioned Fallman with Georgia-Pacific. "This is not your father’s top-to-top meeting. There is a high level of senior executive engagement and commitment required to make this work."

And it doesn’t always work for those companies even when they opt to engage with Sam’s.

"People can fall out of the process and they have," Redfield said.