Fire twirlers, snake charmers and gala dinners were all features of The Leading Edge Group's annual conference for retailers, held recently at Coolum on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
Yet for all the festivities, the conference remains the most important event on Leading Edge retail calendars, providing a rare chance for proprietors from all around Australia to meet with other independent retailers and the vendors that supply their products. Twenty-six suppliers featured in the event's trade show.
"When you consider where we came from in 1998, when we only had one supplier featured at the conference, we have come a very long way," said Leading Edge Computer general manager Ross Whitelaw.
"It is a wonderful way to bring our suppliers and members together, because with the great regionalisation of the group it is often difficult to get them talking face to face. It is a very important process in building a relationship."
The Group also announced the addition of a new supplier for UPS, M+H Power Systems.
Leading Edge members from the computer and telecommunications division met at the beginning of the conference to discuss the issues affecting retail and the future direction of the group. The theme of the 2001 conference was "Raising the Bar" - an issue Whitelaw considers should be of particular relevance to retailers in the current climate.
"We chose that theme because we know the majority of players are working very hard to grow the market place and the industry has to respond in a whole range of ways," he said.
Members were also treated to an address by round-the-world sailor Kay Cottee, as well as more industry-focused seminars on issues such as the GST, BAS and changes to tax legislation, retail marketing strategies, Web site marketing, store design and visual merchandising.
"It would be difficult to think of the conference as being any more positive," Whitelaw said, adding the group was even able to recruit a new member at the event.
Mark McKibbon from Leading Edge in Warragul, Victoria, won Store of the Year in a special awards ceremony. Melbourne-based distributor BBF won supplier of the Year, with Tech Pacific runner-up.
Last year saw the launch of the Leading Edge Group's Web strategy, whereby each store is assigned its own homepage through the group's LEshop site. The strategy is primarily aimed at building brand awareness and relationships between stores and their customers as well as with other Leading Edge stores.
Retailers met at the end of the five-day conference to network and elect a merchandising committee for the following 12 months. This year's committee is made up of proprietors from stores from Burpangary in Queensland to Bernie in Tasmania and Bustleton in Western Australia.
"The committee is a conduit for feedback. The members assist in developing our future strategies and dealing with suppliers and we get a lot of coal-face information," Whitelaw said. "Many have been on the committee since it was formed, but this year we have elected a number of new faces and the level of interest is growing."