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    2011 NACS Show in Full Swing

    CHICAGO -- The 2011 NACS Show blew into the Windy City this weekend and continues through tomorrow at McCormick Place. More than 22,000 attendees are expected to attend this year's event, which features more than 60 educational workshops and 1,300 expo exhibitors.

    NACS Chairman Jeff Miller of Norfolk, Va.-based Miller Oil welcomed attendees to the show,  which coincides with the trade association celebrating its 50th anniversary. Miller reflected on his year as chairman and the trends he witnessed during his months of travel.  But first, he pointed out that the recent swipe fee reform was the "biggest legislative victory in [our industry's] history."

    Summarizing a news report about the industry's upset victory over big banks and Wall Street, he said, "We came together. And we kicked ass."

    Miller cited globalization and technology as the most important trends for retailers. "We see that convenience retailing is very similar around the world. We all sell convenience and immediate consumption," he said. "There are very few unique regional or country-specific issues. Instead, at any moment in time, retailers experience a different phase in the life cycle of each issue."

    He also commented on the rapid multiculturalism that is impacting "what we sell, how we sell it, and who and how we hire." More than 1,800 of the expected 22,000 NACS Show attendees come from one of more than 50 different countries outside the United States, he added, saying New American growth is a great opportunity for the industry, particularly among the large single-store-owner portion of the industry, which represents more than 60 percent of the industry's 146,000 stores.

    The other big trend opportunity is the personalization of technology, which he predicted will have an even greater impact on all c-store retailers in the future.

    NACS President and CEO Hank Armour began his presentation by hailing the more than 30 past NACS presidents and founders who were in attendance. His talk focused on fuel, foodservice and grassroots advocacy. Armour pledged that NACS is dedicated to ensuring that convenience stores remain America's fueling stations and said the association has formed a committee to explore future fuels that will be used and sold in the country.

    "We are not going to wait for mandates to redefine our business," Armour said. "We think it should be the other way around. We're going to do everything in our power to ensure that convenience retailers remain the most important player fueling America."

    Opportunities for Learning

    Education is a big focus at this year's NACS Show. In total, the event is offering 11 different tracks of educational sessions, broken up according to attendees' job functions. The tracks are: Executive Leadership, Foodservice, Fuel, Global Perspectives, Human Capital, Independent Operators, Marketing and Category Management, Operations, Supplier, Technology and Operator Training.

    In the Marketing and Operations track, private label was the focus of one workshop. While the c-store industry still lags behind other channels, private label has been trending upward for several years.

    "If you think about what's going on right now, it's probably more in than out," said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing Group Inc. and one of the presenters at "The Ins and Outs of Private Label" session. "It has been a long-term trek that began about 15 years ago."

     

    There are several factors behind the growth, he explained. These include higher-quality products, retail consolidation, investment, community pressure, improved packaging, higher price gaps and retailer emphasis. Lastly, Wisner said, is the economy. "Quite frankly, over the long-term trend line, [the economy] is the most insignificant thing," he added.

    Private label is important to the retail industry because every retailer's main goal is improving return on investment, and there are three ways to do that: raise prices, bring costs down or improve the mix. "The best way to improve the mix is with a strong private label program," Wisner advised.

    In the Human Capital track, employee health and wellness programs took center stage in a seminar. With health insurance premiums and the cost of healthcare itself soaring, promoting healthy lifestyle changes to employees could seem like it's not worth it to some company leaders. But in the "Taking Charge of Your Organization's Health" workshop, presenters shared stories about how health and wellness programs can lead to lower healthcare costs, lower worker's comp costs, improved productivity, and higher employee engagement and morale -- just for starters.

    "Our story is about driving down our cost and creating a healthier workforce," said Nancy Rumpf of Quick Chek, named one of the "Best Places to Work in New Jersey" in 2010 and again this year.

    The company introduced a Fit for Life program, which offers team members significant discounts on fresh and healthy food at work. The retailer also mailed the Mayo Clinic's newsletter to their homes, providing them with healthy recipes and healthy living ideas. Quick Chek also introduced a third medical plan that utilizes a high deductible with a health savings account and covers preventive services at 100 percent.

    Becky Smith of Wallis Cos. followed up with another organization's journey to better health. Smith serves as the director of human resources for Wallis, a family-owned group of five companies headquartered in Cuba, Mo., and is a certified senior professional of human resources.

    "Wellness is something I'm very passionate about," said Smith. While companies can't control the cost of health insurance, "the one thing that we can bring to the table is healthier employees."

    People who are healthier are quicker at getting things done, said Smith. Employee well-being will lead to employee passion and engagement, which leads to customer engagement, ultimately resulting in increased profits for the company.

    According to Smith, the best thing the company did was begin health screenings, which got people concerned as they learned their numbers and started watching them. An online incentive book made it easier for them to participate.

    Businesses who want to start a health and wellness program should work hard to ensure leadership and supervisor support, Smith said, and listen to the employees themselves, asking what will work for them. Companies also should provide incentives, get employee spouses and families involved, take advantage of team camaraderie and competition, and "absolutely use success stories."

    For much more on the 2011 NACS Show, go to www.csnewsbeyondtheshow.com. And check back often as new content is being added constantly to keep you abreast of all the latest show happenings.

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