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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

I’m filing this report as I travel from Orlando, Florida, to Bentonville, Arkansas…going from moderating the general session at the GS1 US U Connect conference to covering Walmart’s annual shareholder meetings and media days. As they say in “The Godfather,” this is the life I have chosen…and I’m actually having more fun than anyone has a right to. As I often say, don't tell my wife, she thinks I’m working…

I’ll be filing reports from the Walmart meetings later in the week, so let me take this opportunity to give you some reflections on the panel discussion at U Connect.

Compliments to the folks at GS1 US for pulling together a terrific group of retailers to talk about supply chain issues and the role of standards in a fast changing business environment. These guys represented four very different kinds of companies – Walmart, CVS, Lowe’s, and Macy’s; we put our heads together trying to figure out what products or product lines they might have in common, and the only one we could think of was small appliances.

And yet, they had a lot in common. One of the recurring themes in the panel discussion, as it turned out, was how the use of industry standards actually freed them to be able to be more innovative and flexible in dealing with situations that did not fit into the neat little boxes that make up the vast majority of their business transactions. A number of you, when I asked recently what questions you thought should be posed to the panel, asked about how current shifts toward private label and local buying had affected their supply chain efficiencies and standards, and pretty much to a man they said that while these trends pose challenges, disruptions to business were at a minimum because a strong foundation has been created.

And at the same time, the general agreement seemed to be that the standards and supply chain efficiencies that have been put into place over the past decade actually are making these companies more or less resilient in dealing with the current economic downturn; they aren’t immune to the recession’s impact, and Macy’s would certainly testify to that, but it could be a lot worse.

Another thing they all agreed on, more or less, was that a constant challenge was aligning the sales and supply chain organizations within their companies – they all said that this continues to be a high priority, but that progress is being made.

The bottom line: Peter Longo of Macy’s said that “there is no finish line,” and that seems to be a pretty succinct summing up of the supply chain situation at hand, as these four companies – and virtually every other company in the room – seek both efficiency and effectiveness. These guys are far more knowledgeable than I when it comes to supply chain issues – which is why I was asking the questions, not providing the answers – but I found the session to be largely reassuring. These are smart, extraordinarily competent people who, while their primary jobs require them to focus on supply chain issues, never seemed to forget that the in-store experience and a high degree of customer-centricity is required to be successful in retailing. Nobody was thinking in a vacuum … and I believe the industry is better for it.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

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