The CAAR Conference is Feb. 16-18 in Saskatoon, Sask.

Canada’s agri-retail sector carries the weight of many responsibilities. The products you sell are the subject of myriad regulations, speculations and scrutiny. Your customers are – at once – innovative and pragmatic, and busy with their own mission of providing food for a growing population.

Your workforce is changing, and there’s a constant need for fresh faces in an industry where many job seekers don’t recognize or seek out the variety of opportunities available.

The ability to tackle all of these challenges, and to empower your business and your customers to thrive, is within your grasp. It’s a matter of arming yourself with the knowledge and insights needed to unlock the potential of your business.

The CAAR Conference is the agri-retail sector’s premiere industry event, and is tailored specifically to help agri-retailers address the unique challenges found in their business. If you haven’t already registered to attend, don’t miss this chance to find efficiencies, opportunities and successes that are already within your operation. Contact the CAAR office to have your name added to the list.

"The goal is to ensure that the program is as valuable as it can be for Canada's agri-retailers." - Delaney Ross Burtnack

Delaney Ross Burtnack, president and CEO of CAAR, has helmed a shift in the focus of the CAAR Conference in recent years. She explains that changes were made to more efficiently address the unique challenges that face agri-retailers, and how the industry is quickly becoming more complex.

“In the past, CAAR recognized that there were multiple groups attending the conference – suppliers, and even some farmers. Back then, we would try to bring value to all of those groups,” she says. “But we came to find that because they all have different priorities, it tended to water down the program. So we have renewed our focus. Instead of trying to serve several groups, we are bringing it back to who we are here for: the agri-retailers. The goal is to ensure that the program is as valuable as it can be for Canada’s agri-retailers.”

Understanding Customer Needs

An important area of focus for this year will be understanding ag customers, and using these insights to help retailers increase their own value offering.

Large Commercial Producer Survey Results and The Producer Perspectives on Agricultural Salespeople will each focus on different ways that retails can perceive, engage and interact with their customers to promote mutual understanding and success.

Justin Funk, from the University of Guelph, will be presenting The Producer Perspectives on Agricultural Salespeople. He expects his presentation to help retailers adopt a new approach to their product and service offering, tailored specifically to what today’s producer is looking for.

“The study has been designed to explore what producers are looking for in the individual salespeople they work with,” he says. “The goal is to allow suppliers an opportunity to customize sales approaches to meet the relationship needs of customers, not just their product and service needs.”

Dr. Allan Gray, presenter of Large Commercial Producer Survey Results, expects attendees to discover important discrepancies between what they think their customers need, and what producers have said they want from an agri-retailer.

“Research on large commercial producers’ buying preferences, which compares farmers’ responses to retailers’ responses, reveals some interesting gaps in what retailers believe producers are looking for versus what farmers say,” he says. “Pinpointing these gaps between retailer and farmer perceptions provides opportunities for retailers to tailor their services, information and people resources to create a stronger value proposition.

A New Generation

A particularly timely topic at this year’s conference will be the arrival of Generation Y as a significant segment of Canada’s workforce. Studies have shown that in the next decade, Gen Y (or millennials) will grow to account for over 75 per cent of the working population.

This influx of fresh faces will be of particular importance to the agriculture sector, where an estimated 25,000 job vacancies have created a serious need for new talent.

Emerson Csorba, of the generational consulting firm Gen Y Inc., will present Understanding Gen Y as an Employee and Customer, designed to help attendees grasp the needs of this demographic as job candidates, and as the new decision makers in many Canadian farms.

Csorba sees a division in understanding between older generations and this new group of candidates and customers. “The question of how best to work with a new generation of leaders in the agri-retail business, both as employees and buyers, is one of increasing concern for those in the sector,” he says. “A lack of social capital – the shared values, links and beliefs which foster trust between people and companies – is an intergenerational issue that is both a challenge and opportunity for the future of the agri-retail business.”

Understanding Gen Y as an Employee and Customer will aim to bridge this gap, and provide retailers with the knowledge needed to forge successful relationships with the new arrivals.

The ultimate goal of the speaker series at the CAAR Conference will be to unlock opportunities in retailers’ operations, by providing a deeper understanding of the elements already present in their business.

“Our members already do understand their customers very well – but by deepening that understanding of their customers, and deepening the understanding and engagement of their staff, they can more effectively connect to their customers and unlock that business potential,” says Burtnack.

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