AMERICAN COLLEGIATE RETAILING ASSOCIATION
THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS
HISTORY AND COMMENTARY
Professor Jack Gifford
Miami University
May 2000


The date was January 10, 1949. The place was New York University School of Retailing. The agenda, to create an association of college and university professors of retailing dedicated to:

  1. "raise the vocation of retailing to professional status;
  2. maintain and elevate the standards of instruction in college offering courses in retailing;
  3. broaden and to diversify the retailing curricula in their institutions

    [ added in next 18 months ]

  4. gain wider recognition for retail distribution as an indispensable function in an expanding economy; and
  5. maintain working relationships with other groups concerned with improving retail distribution."

The leader of this movement was Dean Charlie Edwards, Dean of the New York University School of Retailing, along with: Wenzil K. Dolva, Head of the Department of Retailing at Washington University (St. Louis), Jennie S. Graham, Head of Retail Instruction, University of Buffalo, and Behrens H. Ulrich, Drexel Institute. At this meeting the mission of the organization (above) was formulated, and additional charter members were identified. These included Donald K. Beckley, Director, Prince School of Retailing (Boston); John W. Wingate, Professor of Retailing, College of the City of New York; Bishop Brown, Director, Research Bureau for Retail Training, University of Pittsburgh; and Rosemary McMillan, School of Store Service, College of William and Mary (Williamsburg). These eight distinguished visionaries in retailing became the founding charter members of the American Collegiate Retailing Association.

During the summer of 1949, this group of eight professors of retailing held an election to select four officers and to establish an agenda. By unanimous acclaim the following four individuals were selected as the first officers:

Dean Edwards, President Jennie S. Graham, Secretary
Wenzil K. Dolva, Vice President Behrens H. Ulrich, Treasurer

The next recorded event of ACRA was a decision by the first officers to establish a "Careers in Retailing Week" in New York City. To assure the success of such a project, a committee was established to work out the details of such an event and to secure the support of the leading practitioner association at that time, the National Retail Dry Goods Association. In January of 1954 a combined meeting of ACRA and twelve executives from the National Retail Dry Goods Association met at NYU to plan the first "Careers in Retailing Week." At that meeting John E. Raasch, President of John Wanamaker Corporation and an officer of NRDGA was appointed chairman of the committee. In "only" 27 months, the event was planned, and in April of 1956 the first "Careers in Retailing Week" was held. Although no records could be found to document the location of the session and the turnout, it is assumed that it was a smashing success. As a result of this success, the NRDGA and ACRA created a subcommittee to continue the program. This committee was broken down into four sub-committees including 1) Research, 2) Public Relations, 3) Retail Relations, and 4) Educator Relations. "Careers in Retailing Week" soon became a regular event at the NRDGA January meetings until approximately 1981, when they were discontinued due to budgetary constraints and complaints of crowding caused by student attendance at the NRMA sessions during the national convention.

Having attended the last of these sessions, your author can report that it did not die due to lack of attendance at the careers session or lack of enthusiasm on the part of either ACRA or the National Retail Merchants Association. The last session was held in one of the large second floor ballrooms of the Hilton with approximately 360 students, 25 members of ACRA, and 35 members of NRMA. Most of the NRMA individuals represented the personnel departments of major department stores plus the NRMA Committee of Personnel Officers. The format included talks about careers in retailing (mostly merchandising), a slide presentation of buyers at work, and a final slide presentation of growth opportunities in retailing in the coming decade. Some of the ACRA members in attendance, to the best of the author's memory, included: Bob Bell, William Ash, Leroy Buckner, Saul Diamond, Margaret Muther, Woody Baldwin, Stanley Hollander, David Rachman, Terry Deiderick, Claude Martin, Morris Mayer, Bob Solomon, Jerry Greenberg, Myron Gable, Demetra Mehas, Roger Dickinson, David Berman, Dale Lewison, Karen Gillespie, Patrick Kelly, and Sarah Wise.

Although the officers of ACRA fought hard to reinstate the student sessions and participation in the NRMA (NRF) they were never successful. As the years passed, even the participation of ACRA members in both the program and as attendees diminished.

Why did we have this difficult relationship with NRMA in the late 1970s, 80s and even today, given our rich heritage and symbiotic missions? The blame, if any, can be equally shared by both organizations. Over these years, both organizations have gone through a number of changes in terms of membership, priorities, level of activity, financial strength, and personal relationships of the leaders of both groups. In the late 70s and early 80s, retail students often attended most of the open sessions, frequently overloading the facilities and making it difficult for all the "paid members" to get a seat. They also were active in making contacts in the vendor convention halls, a place where many retail business transactions were occurring. This generated a number of complaints from these vendors to the officers of the NRMA. At the same time, budgets and space were becoming increasingly tight, eventually resulting in an expansion to the Sheraton and the convention center.

A second difficulty was the role ACRA played in its shared sessions with the NRMA attendees. For a couple of key years, the perceived quality of the ACRA speaker sessions was not up to NRMA standards and attendance was light. At the same time, personnel changes in both NRMA and ACRA broke the continuity of our communications, requiring significant efforts on both parties' parts. This pattern of strong-weak-strong ACRA/NRF relationships has continued in a cyclical manner for approximately 20 years. Today this relationship is reasonably strong due to the efforts of many persons, quality presentations, small numbers of ACRA faculty attending the NRF January meetings, and the compromise of ACRA/NRF for ACRA members to help pay their way to the conference, although at a very attractive rate.

The Late 1950s and 1960s

During this period of time, ACRA grew slowly from the founding eight schools and members in 1949 to approximately seventeen schools by 1964. These included representatives from the following institutions:

Bradley University Skidmore College
The City College of NY University of Dayton
Drake University University of Houston
Drexel Institute of Technology Univ. of Mississippi
New York University School of Retailing University of Omaha
Richmond Professional Institute Univ. of Pittsburgh
Rochester Institute of Technology Western Mich. Univ.
Russell Sage College Youngstown Univ.
Simmons College

As is indicated by the list above, membership had grown from eight to approximately 20, mostly represented by faculty from programs dedicated to the areas of retailing and marketing. Membership from the beginning included a mix of men and women representing four year colleges and universities from the east coast or Midwest, with only a few exceptions.

Growth in the 1970s

The values, attitudes and beliefs of every organization are a reflection of the membership. These early years represented a select group of faculty teaching retailing and marketing, a core membership of about fifty, and the initiation of the Annual Spring Conference. While many of the names that are about to follow will mean little to newer members, they will stimulate fond memories of good times over the years to many of us. They were the leaders and decision-makers in the academic community, the lifeblood of ACRA. While some have since passed away, their presence lives on in the form of their contributions to ACRA, their students, their research, and the profession of retailing. According to the author's records, the following are or would be members of the ACRA 30+ year club, 25+ year club, or 20+ year club. Many are still active members and contributors to our future. Others represent the shoulders upon which we stand!

30+ Year Club

Robert Bell William Ash Benjamin Butcher
Leroy Buckner Saul Diamond Margaret Muather
Kathryn McGeary Woody Baldwin Walter Salmon
Stan Hollander Joe Hecht William Owens
David Rachman Terry Deiderick Paul Pfeiffer
Wenzil K. Dolva Jennie Graham Behrens Ulrich
Donald Beckley John W. Wingate Bishop Brown
Bishop Brown Reaves Cox Charles Edwards
Samual Smith

[My apologies to those omitted; records between 1960-68 are incomplete]

25+ Year Club

Bill Bolen Claude Martin Keith Larson
Morris Mayer Bob Solomon Jerry Greenberg
Mike Gable Roger Dickinson David Burman
Demetra Mehas Wilma Green

20+ Year Club

Paul Thistlethwaite Dale Lewison Karen Gillespie
Jack Gifford Sarah Wise Pat Kelly
Ray Marquardt Ted Kuehne Robert Robicheaux
Robert Swerdlow Michael Little Mike Pearson
Beth Mariotz Charles Ingene Dawn Pysarchik
Lynda Gamans (Poloian) Martin Topol Julian Yudelson
 

The above members each provided many years of service to ACRA as founders, officers, committee chairs, and leaders in formulating and revising constitutions, solving issues of the day (discussed later), and initiating the Spring Conference Concept.

Speaking of the Spring Conferences, the earliest identified Spring Conference was held in St Louis, Missouri in 1976. The format of that conference and almost all that have followed, was to combine learning from practitioners in the retail field, research papers, and later in the eighties, teaching innovations. The general practice has been to select a different city each year with an effort to alternate between the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast. As early as 1982 international retailing was integrated into this rotation with a visit to Toronto, Canada, coordinated by Stan Hollander. While the movement back and forth across the USA was our intent, we have not been completely successful in incorporating the West Coast into this mosaic. As we are dependent upon volunteers to organize these conferences, and the majority of our members have been from east of the Mississippi, travel to the west has been underrepresented. Because of this, we have lost many members from the West Coast, therefore generating a self-fulfilling prophecy. This may be a problem ACRA needs to

face more directly in the future by targeting professors of retailing from California, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, etc. in the coming years.

ACRA has, over the years, also had the pleasure of having combined sessions with a number of other organizations, such as the Academy of Marketing Science, Marketing Retail Society, International Council of Shopping Centers, and EAERCD in Belgium in 1997. These have been, and continue to be, some of our most rewarding learning experiences.

1976 St. Louis 1990 Miami/RMS(NYC)
1977 Cincinnati 1991 Los Angeles
1978 Miami 1992 Dallas
1979 Chicago 1993 Detroit
1980 Boston 1994 Atlanta
1981 Dallas 1995 Los Vegas
1982 Toronto 1996 New Orleans
1983 Philadelphia 1997 St. Louis/AMS
1984 Washington 1997 Belgium
1985 San Francisco 1998 Washington
1986 Atlanta 1999 Tucson
1987 Minneapolis 2000 Toronto
1988 Columbus 2001 Columbus/AMS
1989 Boston

Issues Through the Years

While ACRA had continued to grow in size and diversity of disciplines over the past fifty years, this has not been without a number of significant issues that have shaped who we are today. Some of these major issues include:

Relationship with the AMA and their Retail Interest Group
Role of students in ACRA
Establishment of a ACRA Retail Student Club
Strategic alliances with industry associations
Location of the ACRA Retail Hall of Fame
Association with the NRF
Balance of membership from different disciplines
Officers and "the Old Boys Club"
Name and Constitutional Changes
Domestic/International orientation
ACRA, Technology and the Internet
Strategic Planning Initiatives in the 1990s

While each of these is a story within itself, probably the most important in the last twenty years has been the balance of membership between disciplines and the involvement of younger members in the running of ACRA.

The 1980s and 1990s saw a major influx of members from outside the "traditional" business (i.e. marketing) disciplines. This resulted in the withdrawal of a number of our active 30 and 25 year "club" members, while simultaneously seeing a doubling and tripling of our membership. It has also resulted in an increased involvement of both old and newer members as officers and committee chairs in ACRA. Newer, progressive forward thinking members are finally having an impact on the future of ACRA.

ACRA's Future History

The past is always a prologue to the future. ACRA has seen at least three strategic phases: expanded and improved industry and association relationships, an infusion of new blood and huge growth in membership (accompanied by the loss of some key movers of prior years), and the internationalization of its thinking. It is my belief that these past challenges will influence our future history.

Changes in our name, constitution, association relationships, educational trips, and location of national Spring/Summer conferences will potentially change ACRA to an international and global association of academic retail (value chain) professionals.

Our second challenge is also heavily imbedded in our past, and is critical to our future survival; that is the improved active participation of a broad range of domestic and international members in the leadership and daily life of our association. While our membership has expanded 1000 fold since the 1960s, our activities draw the interest and active participation of only 20-25% of our members. This is a crucial problem needing a solution.

Our third, and perhaps final in more ways than one, historical challenge is the incorporation of technology and change into our institutions, courses, careers, profession and association. Our association, in many ways, still operates as it did 10, 20 or 30 years ago, with our only innovation an ACRA web page (underutilized) and the use of PowerPoint in our conference presentations. The very nature of what we teach, how we teach, our academic and educational profession, our research interests and methods, and the very viability of our academic institutions are all changing without many of us. ACRA must rethink everything we do and the value we add to the lives of our members, and in turn our students and the profession of retail. Our history of new thinking primarily includes new ways to do old things. We are stuck within the box of prior experience. If we are to have a history in the next millennium it is time to take out a blank networked computer screen and rethink what we are, who we are, the viability of what we teach and how we teach it, and the value that can be added by ACRA.

While it was stated in the beginning of this section that the past is a prologue to the future, we as an association have a strategic window of 1-3 years where that prologue provides little guidance. Maybe the past really is the past and the future is what we collectively create in the next couple of years. It may be that if the value equation offered by ACRA does not continue to change, our collective future will not exist as a meaningful relationship of academic professionals. However, with the creativity of our leadership, innovative thinking, expansion into the international arena, and our potential to use technology to our collective advantage, ACRA can continue to be a leader in our discipline.

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