ECRM Virtual Platform a 'Game-Changer' for Hy-Vee's Todd Gean  6/8/2020

Todd Gean, Candy Category Manager for Hy-Vee, was originally a bit skeptical about participatng in ECRM's Virtual Session for Easter & Valentine's Day Candy Planning. After all, he had been working remotely for a couple of months now and had been setting up virtual meetings with suppliers on his own. So he figured, why would he need ECRM to do it? 

But that all changed once his meetings began, and he saw the value delivered by the people, process and platform behind ECRM's virtual sessions.

In this podcast, I chat with Todd about his experience participating in ECRM's Virtual Session, and why he thinks it will be a game-changer for buyers and suppliers moving forward. Below is an edited excerpt from the podcast, along with links to the full podcast and video interview.

Click here to see the full list of ECRM's category-specific Virtual Sessions!

Click here to listen to the podcast (watch the video on YouTube below)

ECRM: How have you had to adapt in your role as category manager with all these travel restrictions?

Gean: We're currently working remote, and so we're able to do our jobs, connect with our partners and connect with the our stores and far as the flexibility goes, we're just as effective right now as we ever have been, and our customers and our stores are our number one priority. 

ECRM: So you've no doubt been doing a lot of virtual calls and meetings, correct?

Gean: Yes. I think what this has taught us is how we can be more efficient with the virtual world and the tools that are available in it. We really haven't missed a beat. About 50 percent of my day consists of virtual calls and WebEx calls. When we came into the office, we would have an hour meeting; now we're doing that same business within about 30 minutes, and a lot of times we complete the task and we're done five minutes early. So I think it's helped us to be more on point and I think we're actually achieving better results. I think we're closer to our vendors, we're closer to our stores. It is something that has really benefited us.

ECRM: When you heard about our virtual sessions though, you didn't think that way.  You were a little leery at first. What changed your mind?

Gean: I was not in favor because my thought was that – as we were doing things virtually anyway – why couldn't I do the same type of process on my own? So, I was very leery going in. But the first day I had 12 meetings and I will tell you, I fell in love with the system by about the second or third meeting. There is no way I’d be able to pull this off on my own and it is absolutely the way that that I would recommend that we go as a company. 

Unless you're going to a show to touch and feel things where it's important that you be there, I don't really see the benefit of doing that consistently four times a year. Maybe it's every other year, maybe in-person is dramatically cut down. We would not have to go in person like we did in the past, but I think it's important that maybe once every other year or maybe doing two shows physical and then the other ones are virtual on a two year rotating basis. What virtual would allow me to do is when we do get back to our office environment is bring other departments like merchandising or SKU assortment into those meetings and we could accomplish so much more. We could physically plan the entire season more efficiently virtually than we probably could onsite. I don't know why we would go back to having to travel, to be out of the office for four days when I can accomplish the same thing in my location and be as effective or even more effective with this. It’s a game changer.

ECRM: We like to say that it’s the people behind the tech that make the difference. Can you tell us how you worked with our team to do the test run on the platform and prep for your meetings?

Gean: Let me just say that your ECRM folks – between Laura, Jessica and all the folks that take care of us – are first class, they are professional, they are compassionate. Both Laura and Jessica explained to me how the tools worked. It was 10 minutes to get me up and running, to test my microphone, test my process, show me the tools that are available how the meetings would run. And it went off without a hitch. I felt very comfortable in how the process works. Everything is in one place just like what you do on site with the iPads, but its right here on the computer screen. I would definitely recommend the test run for all participants to make sure everything is up and running, how the tools work, the microphone works and how your remote location will work. 

ECRM: We definitely agree. It minimizes the chance of issues. In a virtual situation, things are going to happen. You are dealing with hundreds of computers and hundreds of wi-fi setups, you are bound to come across an issue or two. What’s important is how quickly those issues are addressed.

Gean: Yes. In the first meeting, there was some suppliers that had different people in different locations, so they were not able to hear and some of those things, but I quickly learned that there's a little help button on the bottom left hand corner, and the ECRM people were right there to fix it.

ECRM: Which platform tools did you take advantage of to help you with your meetings and plan your follow ups with suppliers?

Gean: During the meetings I was taking notes with the note function, I was able to research the people that I'm talking to If I have not met them previously. After the meeting's over I was able to leave feedback [rate the meeting], request samples and then it allows you to request a follow up in one to two weeks, four to six weeks or not interested. All the tools are in one place and it was so efficient I absolutely loved it.

ECRM: In your opinion, what makes an ideal virtual supplier presentation? 

Gean: I think the ideal supplier presentation for me is someone knowing the customer, knowing our stores, knowing our key initiatives, what our point of differences are or where our growth strategies should be. I would like to see their new innovations that they think that that might make our stores successful. It’s very important that the suppliers are able to achieve those top points within their allotted time. 

ECRM: How do you see virtual playing a role once the pandemic passes? 

Gean: I think once this pandemic is over it's going to change how we think about virtual, and the tools that everyone is used to using and the collaboration, the resources, the partnering with folks that this format and this platform allowed us to do. I was able to accomplish in two afternoons what would have taken four days if I was traveling. I received all the information that I need for my follow ups, and I have things already in process. That prep work that you do on the front end is going to be so much more efficient for me on the backside of it. There is no comparison. I think more suppliers should absolutely take advantage of this environment and how the process works.


Joseph Tarnowski

VP Content

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