From Supermarkets to Super Meetings

When Dick Baker, founder of Appleton, Wis.-based Creative Group Inc., developed a marketing plan for a grocery client back in 1961, he never imagined that the concept would lead to his own business.

Baker was working at an advertising agency in Appleton when a client in the wholesale grocery industry came in looking for help. The company had just invested in a new warehouse and needed to get customers to start buying a greater diversity of product, and more of it.

Baker developed a program in which supermarket owners accumulated points for purchasing product, which could be cashed in for an all-expenses-paid trip to the Independent Grocers Association convention taking place in Chicago that year. The reward included a trip from Wisconsin in luxury motor coaches, guided tours of the city, and other events for attendees and their spouses. Expenses such as meals and hotel rooms were covered.

“This was big stuff back in 1961,” says Ron Officer, chairman and CEO of Creative Group Inc. “It was the first wholesale grocery industry incentive program at that time.”

Before long, word spread at the convention, and other wholesalers' clients began asking about the group that was getting wined and dined around Chicago. When the IGA convention wrapped, Baker's phone began ringing off the hook with inquiries from other grocers looking to develop similar incentive programs. Before long, Baker branched out on his own, starting Creative Group Inc. in 1970 with a slew of clients in the wholesale food industry.

Soon he began pursuing other industries, such as pharmaceutical — which today accounts for approximately 50 percent of the company's business — insurance, and high-tech. But it was through its meeting services that Creative Group really began to grow.

“We may have been the first incentive travel company to stumble into the meeting-planning part of this business,” says Officer. “We started calling on Fortune 500 companies and asking if we could help them to manage and plan their meetings because most companies already had incentive travel companies they were satisfied with,” he says. “That was how we got a foothold into some of the clients we still have on our roster.” Customers such as Certco, Mutual of Omaha, and Baxter Healthcare have all been with Creative Group for more than 30 years.