November 8 2018  |  Associations

FDFA Convention wows delegates with new format and management changes

By Hibah Noor

Barbara Barrett, Executive Director, Frontier Duty Free Association, addresses delegates at the FDFA Convention that was held at the prestigious King Edward Hotel in Toronto, Canada

The Frontier Duty Free Association (FDFA) registered a healthy 223 delegates at this year’s Convention at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto.

Operators and buyers numbered 64; exhibiting suppliers, 137 (54 companies); networking registrations (new category, non-exhibiting) 8 people (6 companies); and craft distillers (new), 6.

This compares to 2017 figures (when the Convention was held in Montreal) of 56 buyers, 130 suppliers, and a total of 186 delegates; and 2016 figures (Toronto) of 52 buyers, 150 suppliers and a total of 202 delegates.

After deciding last year on some harsh changes to its senior management and the Convention, this year, the decisions came to fruition. All suppliers and retailers that Americas Duty Free spoke to were impressed with the new show format. They felt that the changes were necessary and that they were benefiting from these changes.

Suppliers were apprehensive about the changes, but were impressed with the way the Convention turned out.

Abe Taqtaq, President, FDFA said: “We’re very pleased and excited. The amount of engagement we’ve seen from the attendees has been better than it has been in recent years. The new format has created excitement around the convention. Our supplier engagement is better.

“More importantly, we have a new location, format and we’ve tried to put together all the partners and all the components of our industry to create dialogue, to exchange more ideas and to collaborate more. We want to bring the innovation that is happening around us in the retail world directly into our stores.

“We wanted to relook at everything, take note of what’s happening around the world in terms of retail, not just duty free but also look at the domestic market. The whole idea is to upgrade our stores to a level where we can start seeing some real growth in the future.”

Collective challenge for border retailers

Turning to industry challenges, Taqtaq emphasized that the number one concern was the whole purpose of duty free and why it exists. “It has to be a value proposition. If we start to look at moving away from that it’s going to be a problem for our industry,” he said, explaining that the FDFA’s members are located on the border, in between two of the biggest trading partners in the world, whose customers have access to the most competitively priced market in the world: the US.

Taqtaq believes the key to the Canadian border stores’ success is the brands being present in stores, while also ensuring that there is a value proposition for their customers. “At the end of the day, if they’re not going to buy from our store, they’re going to buy from the domestic market. “In comparison to airports, our customers are more price sensitive and purchase are less impulsive in nature,” he said.

Also, it is important to ensure that product gets to stores in a timely manner, so that when there is innovation, people see it. “Sometimes we seem to be delayed with some of those launches. It doesn’t look good upon us as retailers. At the end of the day we are at the mercy of suppliers,” he noted.

“For us to grow as an industry, we need to be relied upon as cutting-edge retailers, just like everyone expects the domestic market to be.”

The biggest challenge, he continued, is to get suppliers to understand that border stores are separate and distinct from the airport model. “We can absorb price increases, we can raise our prices, but it always has to be relative to the domestic market. If we don’t have those savings, there is no reason for anyone to shop in our stores They will go to Macy’s, Target and Costco.”

Commenting on the success of the days dedicated to specific categories/suppliers, introduced at this year’s Convention, Taqtaq said it was too early to tell, but from the presentations he had attended as an operator and from what he had heard, they were well received. “Different suppliers took different approaches for that. It’s the first year, it’s an evolution. We will get some feedback post-show. Next year I can’t imagine it being exactly the same. We are definitely going to try to make it better.”

He explained that before implementing the changes, the FDFA had consulted with all the major suppliers.

The Convention will be held at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto for two more years, he added.

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