Remembering the History of GMDC|Retail Tomorrow

In the past 50 years, the retail industry has experienced its share of disruption, but also innovation that stems from such challenges. We’ve seen this pace only accelerate most recently, as retailers work to prioritize evolving consumer needs and introduce new concepts to the retail marketplace. Throughout this time, GMDC|Retail Tomorrow has been at the forefront of these trends, as a trusted leader and advisor to some of the world’s largest retailers, equipping them with resources, data and consumer-focused insights that lead to sustainable and profitable growth in the face of industry disruption and the evolving consumer.

The industry has always been changing, but our vision remained true and relevant for our members for more than 50 years: Lead innovation and empower industry participants to grow and thrive.

As we close out this association’s chapter at the end of this year, we’re taking moment to reflect, honor and celebrate our past.

In this final blog series, we’ll take our members on a walk down memory lane to look back on the milestones we’ve achieved together. We’re proud of the risks we’ve taken to create new platforms that inspire the need to innovate, the connections that have been made, the insights that have been shared and the legends in the industry who have joined us along for the ride.

Founded in 1970 by Fran Willmes of Spartan Stores and purchasing executives from five general merchandise wholesale companies, GMDC|Retail Tomorrow evolved into the industry authority in the general merchandise, health, beauty and wellness arenas. Out of the growing demand for nonfood items in grocery stores came the need for connection and innovation. In 1971, the association hosted the inaugural GMDC Marketing Conference to foster industry collaboration and nonfoods product discovery. Since its inception, GMDC|Retail Tomorrow created a leading conference lineup including the GM Conference and Selfcare Summit events.

In our early years, the association established a strong presence with conferences, and employed a traditional booth format like many other organizations. Seizing the opportunity to create a more effective solution for conferencing and networking, GMDC|Retail Tomorrow established a tabletop format, employing brief, pre-scheduled “touch-point” meetings. The association assimilated the required resources, identified ways to implement them, and ultimately introduced this approach to the marketplace.

GMDC|Retail Tomorrow pioneered this speed networking approach, disrupting the traditional format that was ubiquitous during the time the association came into existence. Through the introduction and refinement of the tabletop-based speed networking appointment format, GMDC|Retail Tomorrow has been recognized for introducing the conference format nearly 30 years prior to the appearance of the “speed dating” model to which the tabletop meetings are frequently compared.

In 1987, the association included direct-buying supermarket chains to its membership, and within five years, the organization launched its Educational Foundation (later rebranded to the Education Leadership Council), founded to provide and publish proprietary insights, and expanded membership to include service merchandisers, non-direct-buying supermarket chains and club stores.

Since the inclusion within its membership of all mass market wholesale and retail channels by 1999, GMDC|Retail Tomorrow grew to represent more than 125,000 retail outlets worldwide responsible for $500B in nonfood sales.

Amid this boom, the association launched an industry innovation initiative, Retail Tomorrow. This initiative inspired a rebrand – GMDC|Retail Tomorrow – and an enhanced emphasis for the association: A focus on innovation in retail to provide invaluable opportunities for members to connect, grow and thrive through data-driven, consumer-focused insights that guide retail decision-makers and impact every aspect of the marketplace, from discovery to delivery and to the point of sale.

When the coronavirus pandemic shook the world in 2020, it flipped the script for retailers everywhere. It became mission critical for the industry to adapt quickly, identify strategic connections and partnerships while adopting new technologies that deliver upon customer demands and expectations.

GMDC|Retail Tomorrow also saw the need to adapt to this “new normal” to ensure member needs were met, so we pivoted the format of our traditional conference offerings to an entirely virtual approach. While the meetings now took place behind computer screens, the virtual events still guided members offering insight on the new business landscape, inspired new product assortments and merchandising strategies based on post-COVID shopping trends, and provided invaluable resources for navigating the anticipated lasting effects on the industry as they continued to unfold.

During this time, our Member Directory also became a new means for members to reach out to partners and further their businesses goals via the GMDC*Connect year-round video conferencing service. Discovering new ways to create and nurture partnerships was pivotal to ushering the industry forward with resilience.

Now, more than ever, it’s imperative for brands and stores to work together to create an experience that consumers can’t get anywhere else. As the retail landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace, brands must understand that the customer experience remains a top priority, while focusing on new ways to enhance each customers’ journey to stay one step ahead.

Amid changing consumer demands and a fast-evolving retail landscape, GMDC|Retail Tomorrow has demonstrated incredible business agility and has remained a reliable, trusted advisor to the world’s largest retailers, building unique capabilities to facilitate strategic and meaningful one-to-one connections and offering each of its members individualized support as they navigate industry disruption and opportunity.

While no one can accurately predict the future of retail, the manner in which the industry has rapidly responded to current circumstances portends a future that holds much promise. With collaboration, innovation and the introduction of new solutions and technologies, we trust our members and the retail industry as a whole will be well-positioned for success.