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Attendance at this year's NACS Show, held last month in Las Vegas, was up 6 percent from last year's show in Chicago. More impressive, buyer attendance was up 16 percent to 8,584 -- the second-largest ever for a NACS Show.
As notable as the robust attendance, though, was the charged atmosphere on the show floor. Sam Douglas, Convenience Store News' administrative assistant, who among his many duties at the CSNews/Nielsen booth was handing out the much-coveted CSNews Sampler Sack, noted: "Everyone had this excited look. It was as if they were saying, 'The economy is beginning to shift in the right direction, and we're positioning ourselves to become part of it.'"
Everyone at our booth noticed the excitement. We handed out 1,000 Sampler Sacks to retailers in just the first day of the show.
Here are some other highlights seen, heard and experienced by me and the editorial team. (For a full view of everything that went on at the industry's biggest trade show, go to www.csnewsattheshow.com.)
CSNews' executive editor and retail tech columnist Tammy Mastroberte noted the buzz in technology was all about business intelligence. "Many retailers are now incorporating forecasting for inventory and seeking pay-as-you-go deals where the vendor hosts the data for those less-advanced retailers," she said.
The most innovative product in the view of senior editor Linda Lisanti was Chefstack, which bills itself as the world's first commercial pan-less, automatic pancake machine. "The unit is the same size as a microwave oven, and can be set up as a self-service station in c-stores," said Lisanti. "Two Teflon-coated cooking belts can turn out up to 200 pancakes per hour in three sizes. Very cool."
There were many perceptive insights throughout the educational sessions, but one of the best came from Quick Chek President and CEO Dean Durling. When asked his advice for new c-store operators, Durling's response was "restless dissatisfaction. A good retailer or supplier always thinks there's a better answer, a better way."
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton even contributed to the general upbeat atmosphere in his closing speech. Referring to that bane of retailers' existence -- rising credit card interchange fees -- he drew a big laugh from the audience when he said, "When they gave me the background on this, I couldn't believe it. You just can't make this stuff up." He went on to say that the system is just wrong and retailers need to keep fighting for fairness in how credit card exchange fees are calculated.
International participation was particularly robust. NACS reported a record number of Brazilian delegates attended the show, including more than 350 franchise owners of Companhia Brazileira de Petroleo Ipiranga, the largest c-store chain in the country (see cover story). Also, CSNews hosted a dinner for 28 franchise owners of Mime, an up-and-coming c-store operator based in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.
The show didn't lack for fun either. For me and associate news editor Mehgan Belanger, one of the highlights had to be riding as a passenger in a NASCAR race car, going 165 miles per hour around the 1.5-mile banked track at Las Vegas Speedway, as part of Mars Snackfoods' NACS 500 event. Jimmy Buffett's concert, sponsored by several suppliers including Anheuser-Busch, Hershey's, Kraft Foods, S&D Coffee and Swedish Match, was predictably a blast.
And of course, it was great meeting both old and new friends at this most-people-oriented-of-all industry gatherings. Kudos to the NACS staff and CEO Hank Armour's leadership of this vital industry association.