By Roy Strasburger
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Many years ago, I took my six-year-old nephew to one of the many tourist shops on the Cornish coast in England. The day had been consumed with playing on the beach and walking the many trails along the coast. My wife and I had spent the day using positive reinforcement with the kids, telling them that if they did as they were told and didn’t drown, we would all go out for ice cream that evening.
We turned the corner and could see the lights of the shopfront window shining in the gathering gloom of the evening. The six-year-old burst through the front door and into the store and came to a halt three steps inside. In front of him was a vast array of candies, ice creams and toys. After hours of playing hard in the sun and constantly being told that paradise awaited at the end of the day—he had arrived. And his eyes popped out of his head at the wonderment of it all.
I’ve often had this six-year-old feeling when I walked into the exhibition hall at the annual NACS Show. This year the NACS Show is being held in Chicago October 5-8 at the McCormick Place convention center. It is the largest convenience store and gas station exhibition in the United States and one of the largest trade shows, overall. This year it is going to be in person after being a virtual show in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Everything that one could want for their store is available to look at, test, eat or take home (for a few U.S. dollars). The latest products, gadgets and technology are presented for your consideration and evaluation. To make the most of the NACS Show, I recommend you follow these steps:
- Register. If you have not registered or booked a hotel room for the Show, do it now.
- Attend sessions. Look at the education sessions that are offered. The topics range from store operations to foodservice to human resources to fuels. Think about the areas where you’re looking for advice, and pick the education sessions that you think will be most helpful to you. Before you attend, think of questions that you want answered, and write them down in advance.
- Network. Although the presentations themselves are very helpful, the great value of the sessions is meeting with, and talking to, other retailers and suppliers that have the same issues and questions as you. It is a chance to meet with your peers to learn how they are handling the situations and the problems that you are experiencing. The ability to network during the education sessions and the various receptions is, I think, one of the greatest values of the NACS Show.
- Bring others. If you can afford to have people out of the store or out of the company for a few days, having multiple people attend so that you can split up and cover different areas is very helpful. Of course, you need to evaluate the cost of registration, lodging, travel and meals in making your calculations. My guess is that if you do it properly, the return on investment will be there.
- Plan. Look at the official NACS Show On-Site Guide published by NACS. This will tell you who is exhibiting at the show and where they are located on the trade show floor. This is important for planning your route through the hundreds of booths. It is helpful to split your visits into areas of expertise so that you can talk to several of the same type of vendors on the same visit.
- Divide and conquer. If you have other people join you at the show, have them split up and visit different areas in different sections. What we have done in the past is assign each member of our group a different set of questions or tasks, and then meet in the evening to compare notes. During the debrief, we look at the best ideas gathered to see if we need to follow up while we are at the show. We also note if anyone saw something very special that everyone else needs to see.
- Follow up. Be sure to take lots of business cards to leave them with people you meet and want to stay in contact with. I try to carry a pen with me to write the specific items that I’m interested in or the specific question that I have on the back of my card to remind them about our conversation. When you visit a booth and show interest, the exhibitor will scan your badge with your registration information on it so they can contact you. A “pro tip” is to also collect the name of the person at the booth so you can contact them if you don’t hear from them within a week or two of the Show.
- Make friends. As I mentioned earlier, one of the great things about the NACS Show is the opportunity for networking and meeting your peers. If you meet someone who you like and has a business similar to yours, be sure to stay in touch with them after the Show. The more people that you can contact to ask questions, solicit advice or bounce ideas off, the more you help your business.
The NACS Show is a huge benefit for independent retailers. You get to hear about what is happening in the industry and the best new ideas being introduced. Both can help you serve your customers better, increase your sales and stay ahead of your competition. Can you afford not to attend the Show?
This column appears in the fall 2021 issue of Fuels Market News Magazine. Pick up your copy in the publication bins at the NACS Show.
Roy Strasburger is the CEO of StrasGlobal. For 35 years StrasGlobal has been the choice of global oil brands, distressed assets managers, real-estate lenders and private investors seeking a complete, turnkey retail management solution.