Giant Eagle's Brian Ferrier: Turning Adversity into Opportunity with Virtual Tools  8/4/2020

Face it, we all miss meeting in-person. That ability to see, touch and taste products. Feeling the energy of people when you are sitting across the table face-to-face. Or sharing a joke with them over cocktails during a networking function. Last year I traveled to almost two dozen ECRM Food & Beverage Sessions and other industry events, and like everyone else, I’ve had to accept the fact those personal connections will not happen for quite some time.

However, adapting to a virtual world has forced us to embrace new technologies, and in doing so we’ve learned the efficiencies they can deliver. Brian Ferrier, Merchandising Manager for Giant Eagle, is a case-in-point. While he loves meeting with vendors in person, he admits that virtual tools have driven efficiencies into his day-to-day activities, particularly his participation in ECRM’s recent Candy Planning: Easter & Valentine’s Day Virtual Session.

“The CPG community is very close knit,” he says. “There’s just something about being in a room with someone where you have that personal interaction. But the pandemic has forced us to take a step back, to change and adapt in a way where I find we’re honestly being more effective. What ECRM has enabled me to do is transform what normally takes five to seven business days down to nine hours, and have those meetings be extremely productive with the right conversations and the right follow-ups. So if we can’t be there in person, between teleworking and platforms like this [ECRM Connect], we’re in good hands.”

Indeed, Ferrier says that the virtual session has allowed him to reallocate the time he would normally spend traveling (and catching up on emails afterward) to those things that are more strategy-based, such as seasonal pricing and promotions.

It’s all in the prep
Ferrier was particularly impressed with the ECRM Connect platform’s ease-of-use, and attributes much of this to the prep work with the ECRM Client Success Managers in advance of the virtual session.

Listen to the full interview with ECRM's Joseph Tarnowski on The ECRM Podcast (or watch the video below)

“From the preparation side, the ECRM team took care of everything,” he says. “They were very accommodating and went above and beyond to make sure that deadlines were met. You guys knocked it out of the park; anyone could log into the platform and use it, so from an ease and functional perspective, you absolutely accomplished that.”

In addition to the typical prep work of learning the buyer’s needs and objectives – which happens regardless whether it’s an in-person session or virtual – the CSMs took Ferrier through the ECRM Connect platform, made sure his settings such as wifi and camera were optimized, then took him for a test run during which they instructed him on the various tools and features, including the notes functionality, the ability to rate meetings, view presentation decks and to indicate follow up timelines. However, in Ferrier’s case, he prefers to take limited notes and instead devote his full attention to the supplier and their presentation. “I want to encourage the supplier community to use that presentation time to give it their all and have me walk away from the meeting with exactly what they need me to know,” he says.

The ideal supplier presentation
So, what is it that makes for a great supplier virtual presentation, in Ferrier’s opinion? It’s simple: “Be different, be unique,” he says. “Put together a presentation that tells your story and ‘wow factor’ with a productive discussion around strategy.”

The word “productive,” is key. Many candy suppliers have a breadth of assortment with different sizes and pack types, and while in an ideal world, he’d have enough shelf space to take it all on. But as this is not the case, he likes suppliers to do their homework in advance and present a couple of key opportunities that they can build a plan around and successfully execute against. 

Moving forward, Ferrier sees virtual as a key component of not only his efforts, but those of Giant Eagle and the industry as a whole. “Things are going to be different to some extent, and that should not make us uncomfortable by any means,” he says. “No one should be uncomfortable jumping on a virtual meeting; this is the new normal for now, and the more we can adapt and encourage folks to do this we’ll all be more productive and effective. Ultimately, there is just so much upside to being able to connect with someone in seconds rather than jumping on a flight or having folks visit the office, and it puts everyone in the best possible position to stay safe.”

Candy suppliers looking to meet with buyers from major retail chains like Giant Eagle can find several Virtual Program options throughout the remainder of this year:


Sarah Davidson

SVP of Grocery

Sarah Davidson is ECRM's SVP of Grocery, and can be reached at 440-542-3033

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