LAS VEGAS -- They say "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." But NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, hopes retailers and suppliers will take at least one thing home following its 51st annual trade show Oct. 7-10 at the Las Vegas Convention Center: knowledge.
"The tagline we've worked with informally for the past few years and much more formally this year is, 'One idea will change your business,'" said Jeff Lenard, spokesperson for NACS. "It doesn't matter if it's in one of the dozens of educational workshops, in the hallways talking to other people, at various networking events or on the trade show floor, you will find an idea that will change your business."
Speaking of networking events, the NACS Show will bring back its popular welcome reception on the night of Oct. 7. This year, the event will take place at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, previously known as the Las Vegas Hilton.
Once the opening night festivities conclude, the show will kick into high gear with its opening general session. Peter Sheahan, founder and CEO of ChangeLabs, a global consultancy that works with organizations and individuals to deliver insights into the changing needs of customers and staff, will deliver the opening keynote address Oct. 8 from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Lenard admitted many attendees may not know Sheahan, but he noted that the same was true with Bert Jacobs, founder of the "Life is good" brand who earned accolades in post-show surveys following his opening general session speech last year.
"The idea is to get someone who really connects and motivates attendees," he said. "That often is somebody who they've never heard of."
As for the trade show itself, attendees can expect to see a few changes this year. One of the biggest is that NACS Chairman Tom Robinson and NACS President and CEO Hank Armour will not both speak on the first day of the show during the general session. Instead, NACS will spread out the speeches. Robinson will speak on Oct. 8, Armour will deliver his speech on Oct. 9 and Dave Carpenter, NACS' incoming chairman, will address the group on Oct. 10.
Another change is "Ideas 2 Go," the general session on Oct. 9, will be expanded to feature 12 leading retailers offering a video tour of their operations. Last year, seven retailers were featured. Hence, the session called a "Tale of Two Retailers," which formerly preceded Ideas 2 Go, will be eliminated, noted Lenard. Ideas 2 Go will take place from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Approximately 1,300 exhibitors had booths at last year's NACS Show. Lenard said a similar number are expected to show their wares this year. "Other trade shows have pared back [their events] recently," he said. "During the economic downturn, flat is the new up. So, if we hold our exhibitor numbers from last year, we will be pleased."
NACS also expects retailer attendance to be robust due to several reasons, including Las Vegas' plush nightlife. "Interestingly, NACS was the first retail organization to hold a convention in Las Vegas in 1966," Lenard pointed out. "So, as we have joked, they owe us."
The show hours of 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9, and then 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 will be unchanged from 2011's Chicago NACS Show.
For those retailers who are eager to check out the latest products and can't wait until the trade show floor opens, the NACS Show is bringing back its popular Cool New Products Preview Room. This exhibit will open for retailers only bright and early on Oct. 7 at 7:30 a.m. and remain open until 6 p.m. It will also be open for retailers only from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 8, before opening to all show attendees.
Concluding this year's show from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Oct. 10 will be a lively and timely pre-election closing general session featuring a debate between former presidential candidates Republican Rick Santorum and Democrat Howard Dean. Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy, a frequent political and legal analyst on MSNBC and other television networks, will serve as moderator.
Santorum, a former senator, and Dean, former governor of Vermont, join a who's-who list of venerable closing session speakers, including former U.S. President George W. Bush in 2010 and veteran journalist Tom Brokaw in 2011.
"When we choose a closing speaker, we often search for someone who can provide a view from a world stage," Lenard said. "But we also look for people who can speak to what members really want to know about. In particular, that's how they can they be effective in grassroots."
Dean significantly changed the dynamics for how the Democrats operate, vote and stay on message, he added, and "Rick Santorum won the Iowa [Republican] primary. He did it by visiting every one of the state's 99 counties."
This won't be the first time the NACS Show has hosted a political debate during its closing general session. In 2004, former Republican U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Democratic political consultant and commentator James Carville went toe to toe.
“We thought the 2004 event was a great template to bring back this year," said NACS' spokesperson. "Both Santorum and Dean are sure to have very strong opinions with great ideas. It will be more than just a talk between the two. It will be a really engaged conversation.”