BOSTON — Goodbye International Mass Retail Association, hello Retail Industry Leaders Association.
IMRA board members voted Sunday during a meeting in Phoenix to drop the once-defining word “mass” from the 650-member trade association’s name.
Membership ranges from Wal-Mart and Target — Wal-Mart Stores president and chief executive officer Mike Duke and Target Stores president Gregg Steinhafel both are board members — to the bank Washington Mutual. Supplier members include Sara Lee, VF Corp. and consumer packaged-goods giants such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever.
“The name didn’t reflect the diversity of who our membership had grown into,” said RILA senior vice president Jenny Keehan. “We initially focused on discount department stores, then value-oriented retailers. Fortunately for us, those have been the most successful retailers out there. But now that we would like to broaden our membership, the term ‘mass’ was holding us back.”
Since Sandy Kennedy, a veteran of the National Retail Federation, took the top position at IMRA in late 2002, the association has added 13 retail members, including German discounter Metro AG and U.K. drugstore chain Boots plc.
Companies outside the retail industry, looking for case studies on branding or supply chain development, are soliciting the association.
“Washington Mutual came to us,” Keehan noted. “They said they wanted to learn from Home Depot and Target rather than from traditional banks. They’re looking for ways to draw people back into banks, to get traffic and create excitement in the door.”
RILA is also courting innovative specialty concepts, such as Starbucks, Chico’s FAS and off-price gourmet food retailer Trader Joe’s to become members, according to Keehan.
Thomas Haig, president of Canadian discounter Zellers, an IMRA member for two decades, said the organization has moved to be more collaborative about the sharing of data.
“Yes, we’re competitors and we’re not going to share everything, but there is more willingness to learn together,” he said. “Going to a global innovation committee is where we’ve first heard about some of the new supply chain technologies. All of a sudden you hear about something like RFID [radio frequency identification] and you go back to your organization and say ‘Are we on it?’ Or [a gathering] confirms a direction you’re already going in.”
In September, RILA will debut its Annual Leaders Exchange in Dallas, which Keehan bills as “a culmination of our topic-focused leadership councils. We will be doing a lot of interactivity and audience response.” Out of it RILA plans to produce a state-of-the-industry report.
IMRA, now RILA, was founded in 1964 — two years after Kmart, Target and Wal-Mart all opened their first units. It was primarily a gathering of regional discounters that weren’t yet competing against each other in a national arena but were excited about the potential of discounting, Keehan recalled. “Long-term members all have a Mr. Sam story,” said Keehan, referring to Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, an early advocate of the group.