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by Kevin Coupe

Sometimes, it is good for an industry to remember where it came from. And be thankful.

Once a year, since 1996, at the annual Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference, there would be a picture taken of a bunch of guys with gray or white hair. It was always at one of the conference breakfasts, and it was a whimsical little moment engineered by Paul Corliss, who was a pioneer in the card marketing business. "The Silver Fox Club," he called it - and it was his notion of a kind of in-industry affinity group.

A lot of industry titans have been in those pictures over the years. People like Fred Meijer, Mark Hollis, Dean Werries,  Bob Tobin, Neil Golub, Jim Moody, Hugh Phillips, Rick Tilton, Rich Neiman, Bill Macaloney, Jim Keller, and, of course, Corliss. (You can see some of those faces in the picture accompanying this story, which was taken in 1996.)

Now, to be honest, I wasn't always supportive of the Silver Fox Club. Maybe it was the idea that my own hair was getting gray, and I didn't want to to be part of any club that would have someone like me as a member. A few years ago, here on MNB, I gently suggested that perhaps it reflected a certain reverence for the past in an industry that needed to be better about embracing the future.

Last week, however, I got an email from Paul Corliss (who had a good sense of humor about my chiding), noting that the last meeting of the Silver Fox Club took place last January, and that at the next FMI Midwinter, the breakfast would not feature that gathering of aging executives. And I have to admit that I was saddened by that. Maybe I was a bit of a wisenheimer in my previous remarks. Because while I was right that the industry needs to be better about embracing the future, there is nothing wrong with recognizing the foundation upon which it all has been built.

So look at the faces in the picture. They are the foundation.

And be thankful that they came before, making everything else possible.
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