In this, our annual Program Group Overview issue, it is appropriate to consider what the future holds for the Program Group model and how effective or ineffective this model may be for the members who have aligned themselves with these groups. Throughout their emergence and subsequent evolution, one could argue that the Program Group concept has been very effective in propelling like-minded businesses forward to greater growth and profitability. Certainly, there have been a few failures along the way, both at the group and member WD levels. But for the most part, the Group concept has enabled many independent warehouses and/or stores to not only stay afloat and compete, but thrive and grow.
I see no reason the Group concept wouldn’t continue to be successful, not only in the near-term future, but for years to come. Why? Well not for the obvious reasons like negotiating leverage, marketing/branding strength and reach, or enhanced and consistent training programs (though those things will remain powerful and important benefits of Program Group affiliation). It’s for another much more subtle yet oh-so-powerful reason: individualism.
The great thing about joining a group is that, while you may have to change certain actions or activities, you never have to conform completely. You’re able to retain some level of independence or uniqueness, which can be a very powerful asset. The very best and most effective program groups (or groups of any kind) provide you with a menu of products and services from which you can choose to help you compete in the marketplace or run your business more efficiently.
The term “compliance” is used a lot with regard to program group participation, and for good reason. Without it, some of the groups’ leverage is compromised. But “compliance” is typically not necessary when it comes to gathering information or being technologically superior. And it is these two factors that bode well for program group growth and effectiveness.
The open exchange of information among like-minded group members whether it is face-to-face or via technological means is an asset not to be downplayed. It wasn’t long ago the information-hoarding model of the Communist Soviet Union fell apart completely because of the country’s inability to confine its citizens and shelter them from the growing and open information systems of the time.
The open exchange of information between individuals with the same goals is the most efficient way to enable those individuals to succeed. Openly exchanged information can propagate faster and be utilized and implemented more effectively than closed or structured information. Think of how Wikipedia has set the encyclopedia model on its head!
In our market, I believe that the more access a repair shop or store has to multiple sources of information, the better and more efficient they will be at performing their services.
Even the ability to cross-pollinate or exchange information with independent entities outside of the group is a benefit of being an independent member of a group. Technologically advanced entities, in any market will be the ones with the best chance at sustaining long-term profitable growth.
The ability to openly exchange information about technological advances, critical application identification or product specification information is the essence of the power of individuality. That independent empowerment is the very reason why Program Groups will succeed. If they remain “open” and allow their members to be independent while at the same time part of the group, they will not only survive but thrive.