SAN DIEGO, CA — Deadlines being what they are, this column is being written late at night at the end of first day of the 21st Annual Food Marketing Institute Energy & Technical Services Conference here.

The weather has been hotter and more humid than is customary for this part of the country in mid-September. Utility deregulation has hit here first, and most everybody is complaining about rising costs and voicing fears of brownouts and blackouts.

That is not good news for the supermarket sector and, serendipitously, long-planned first-day sessions at the conference were on coping with the latest wave of challenges.

Day-one sessions were not on topics like changing out compressors and figuring out what oils to use. They dealt with how to make the Internet work faster and more cost effectively. They dealt with technologies for self-generation power on-site, instead of relying on public utilities. They dealt with different ways to deal with contractors and technicians who do supermarket work. Stories on these and other matters will begin appearing in The News over the next few weeks.

For now, here are a few thoughts for the aforementioned contractors and technicians:

• The Internet aspect promises to find storeowners relying more and more on websites for buying products and managing the store. In fact, one presenter wants you contractors who do service work to fax your workorders and job tickets to his Internet business. (He claims his people will actually be able to read your writing.) He will cull all the reports and allow the storeowner to access that data via the Internet. The idea is to get paperwork off of the boss’s desk and allow the boss to easily find the information he wants.

• The self-generation equipment opened the possibility of power coming to the racks and other mechanical equipment by nontraditional means. That may not mean much to those doing service work on stationary equipment, but when there is a power-related question, contractors working on the equipment may have to consult someone other than the local utility.

• A different approach to dealing with service techs could also find storeowners working through an insurance company to secure service maintenance agreements. How about that, friends? One more insurance company to go through to get a potentially profitable job.

Still Looking for Mr. Goodwrench

Before the end of the day, one session did cover more familiar turf: the finding and holding of good service techs.

Not a lot of good news; the supermarket sector is having the same trouble as every other sector.

Some familiar ideas were suggested, such as linking up with vo-tech schools. Some new territory was covered, such as tapping into the growing Hispanic population. Stay tuned for more details in the weeks ahead.

One final point: In the 15-plus years I’ve been following the refrigeration industry, the supermarket sector has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to exploring and trying new technologies and alternatives, including leading the move away from CFCs and then HCFCs.

So I’ve leaned that no matter how abstract, offbeat, and unusual talk at this conference sometimes seems, never write it off. Often the result is cutting edge and not off the wall at all.

Publication date: 10/02/2000