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VSDA Aims to Revitalize Regional Chapters With a Slew of New Summer Events

25 May, 2001 By: Joan Villa

After years of uninspired evening meetings that commingled a handful ofretailers, a speaker and a few refreshments, the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) is trying hard to reinvigorate its regional chapters with a slew of new events this summer.

The three event models mix varying levels of work and play; chapter leaders from the Northwest to the South and points in between choosewhat most appeals to their local membership.

"These sessions really are taking the place of some of the chapter meetings and that’s intentional," explains VSDA v.p. of membership MarkFisher. "In many cases they were starting to die out and this is revitalizing them."

With VSDA financial support for the pilot project, the decentralized approach enables local VSDA leaders to put together one-, two-, orthree-day events that let retailers network on specific issues without traveling too far from home. Each chapter then takes ownership ofdifferent planning functions, breaking a large job into more manageable tasks.

"There is a realization that in order to hold really great events, it takes a group of chapters working together to pool manpower" as well asgenerate new ideas, Fisher says.

The VSDA launched the new concept — the executive conference and retreat — in New England May 9 and 10 and continues with the Californiachapters June 19 and 20 in Monterey.

This model works best with about 50-100 retailers, Fisher says. Session leaders are professional facilitators from outside the video industry, "who know how to initiate a process where a group of retailers can puttheir heads together to discover common problems and come up with solutions," he says.

Kathleen Dean, owner of three Village Video stores in Syracuse, N.Y., agreed to attend the $195 New England event as her "duty" as an Upstate New York chapter board member, but came away saying "it was the bestthing the VSDA ever did."

Dean believes she brought home "a whole lot of ideas" as a result of being mixed in groups with a variety of noncompeting retailers todiscuss the issues. The team-building games the facilitator provided helped break down barriers and provide a forum to "pick other retailers' brains," she says.

Stephen Bissette, co-manager and buyer for First Run Video in Brattleboro, Vt., also feels the work was constructive and provided asurprisingly comprehensive analysis of individual and industrywide concerns. The facilitator "gave us a crash course in the fundamentalskills for conducting meetings, assigning or delegating responsibilitiesand sharing the information that emerged," he adds. Although sessionsoften "start with gripes, they gave us the tools to move on and develop ideas."

The VSDA will withhold the topics and ideas suggested at the New England event until after California holds its executive summit so eachexecutive session will produce original solutions, Fisher says.

Although the executive summit is brand new, two other tested models are spreading to more chapters. One mixes networking and a full slate ofseminars, is geared to a larger crowd and is based on the original New England educational forum that the Delaware Valley chapter successfully duplicated last year. Delaware will host its second annual event May 29and 30. Similar networking and workshop sessions will follow. The Northwest chapters meet June 5 and 6 in Seattle, and a coalition ofGreat Lakes chapters meet June 26 and 27 in Cleveland.

The third model is based on the popular Carolinas chapter Sunsplash, slated this year for Aug. 2 to 4 in Myrtle Beach. Fisher describesSunsplash as "primarily networking with some degree of seminars."

A first-ever Texas Fiesta pegged to Cinco de Mayo relied on this family-friendly multiday format, while the Orlando Funspree will also use the model July 15 and 16. The 7th Annual Grand Slam Summer Classicis a similar event scheduled for June 20 and 22 in Biloxi, Miss.

As chapters launch more new events, the VSDA hopes they will become self-sustaining with studio and distributor sponsorship. So far, retailers seem to feel that the model of fewer, more targeted and localized, events makes sense.

"If it means you’ve got to travel a little farther to a couple of events a year, so be it," concludes Dean, who is working with her chapter on the Great Lakes forum next month. "Nobody can really afford to go clear out to Las Vegas [the site of VSDA’s annual convention] anymore."

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