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While no two NACS Shows are created equal, there are some consistencies regarding what retailers say they can count on every year, namely up-to-the-minute educational events, great networking opportunities and walking away with at least one great idea for the following year.
Recently, Convenience Store News queried five retailer attendees for insight regarding their past NACS Show takeaways and what they hope to achieve at this year’s event. They are (seen below from left to right):
- Jim Hachtel, senior category manager of BP/ampm, La Palma, Calif.
- Jack Kofdarali, president of J&T Management Co. Inc., Corona, Calif.
- Steve Loehr, vice president of operations support at Kwik Trip Inc., La Crosse, Wis.
- Matt Paduano, vice president of category management for Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes Inc., Canastota, N.Y.
- Tom Robinson, president of Robinson Oil Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.
CSNews: What do you hope to accomplish for yourself/your company at this year’s NACS Show? Does this differ in any way from years past?
Hachtel: It’s not really any different from years past. We always go there with an eye on trying to get to see folks and things that are new that we maybe have not had the chance to see in our offices. Sometimes, there are smaller manufacturers or newer products that haven’t made it to our desks yet in our normal course of business.
We always try to spend time with our key manufacturers and talk about business and get an outlook for the coming year. Typically, the NACS Show is right in time with when we’re heavily category planning for the upcoming year, so we can view it with our key manufacturers, which is especially important around innovations. That’s a big deal to be able to plan what’s coming out, when, how to merchandise it and the best way to bring it to market for our customers.
There’s also a lot of value in attending [educational] sessions. There have been a lot of really good sessions over the years and I’ve even had the chance to speak at a couple, so I know firsthand. It’s always a good idea to sit in on some and hear about different aspects of the business, whether it be specific to snack categories or to the c-store business overall.
I also always try to find that nugget, that exciting item with great potential for the upcoming year. We never know what we will uncover and that’s part of the excitement.
Lastly, being able to see and talk to my counterparts from across the country — we talk about things we’re working on, what items are working for each of us — there’s a lot of value in that whole networking opportunity. It’s a great opportunity to connect with the industry and learn as much as we can about the categories that we’re in.
Kofdarali: This doesn’t differ from years past for me nor my team, actually. Our goal has always been the same. If we can walk out of the show with just one new idea and/or one new product to take back to our stores, then that makes the trip totally worth it. And that has always been the case for us. In fact, we usually go home with more than just one of each.
Loehr: Our team — we will be bringing about 25 people — will be looking out for all the networking opportunities, both with our supplier friends and folks in the industry. We are also looking forward to all the strong educational opportunities. We always like to look at new items, too, all the many new ideas, especially in the food area. We want to continue to grow that area and really look at a lot of growth areas in the store, with a concentration on energy conservation as well.
This is fairly similar to years past, but perhaps this year, maybe more than ever, we will be looking at how companies are dealing with the new health care reform, interchange fees and regulations in general, since they are becoming more cumbersome and paramount to our business. We will be looking for those related workshops and discussing these topics with our fellow retailers. There’s a stronger interest this year to get good feedback on pertinent regulatory issues.
While at the show, our team splits up and goes out to seminars and events and booths, then we meet again and share what we saw, giving everyone the opportunity to go back to something again if necessary. We try to cover the whole show collectively and then come back with as many good ideas as we can.
Paduano: We send a good number of people to the NACS Show each year, and this year is no exception. This is the one event that combines all of the aspects of running c-stores under one roof, which makes it a very efficient event for our staff. Each staff member has one or two objectives when they visit the show, in addition to the normal, everyday business.
Robinson: The NACS Show is so rich in opportunities that just going there, it’s hard to not find some treasures. More specifically, I think they fall into three categories. I know I’m going to find a number of good educational offerings that will give me some takeaways. I look forward to wandering the trade show floor, because that’s always an opportunity to see new things and maintain or strengthen the relationships that we have with all the great vendors there. And then lastly, I’m going to see other marketers, many of whom are old friends, many of whom are great marketers, and as I’m wandering around in this target-rich environment, it’s just a catalyst for conversation of what’s working, what’s not working and what we’ve done lately.
I don’t know if I’m going to get more out of the [sessions], or the show or seeing people this year, but I know I’m going to get at least something out of all three. Some may be a great treasure, some may just be helpful, but opportunity abounds.
CSNews: Please tell us about your best ideas gathered at past NACS Shows. What were they and how did you put them to use?
Hachtel: There are a lot of things I could name, mostly around trends developing in the snack categories so that we could get out in front. The better-for-you items we’ve been bringing in this year are based on things we saw at previous NACS Shows. This year, we’re expanding by bringing in apple chips and healthier snack bars and Special K chips and such. We’re not trying to change what our base focus is in terms of customers, but we want to recognize the trend that there is a lot more snacking going on in different need states and look at our assortment a little bit differently.
We’ve also seen an expansion in the breakfast category and we’re expanding our offering there a little bit as well. We are recreating that space to make it not only an offering of pastries for breakfast, but an offering of healthier items as well that would satisfy customers in a little different way.
Kofdarali: We love the classes conducted at the NACS Show. One of the best ones I’ve seen was taught by Linda McKenna about “How Best to Hire.” In fact, after being in one of her classes, we have since hired her and she’s conducted training at our company for our managers and the entire team on this very subject. We’ve seen our turnover drop from approximately 125 percent to about 75 percent. With about 25 stores, this translates into real dollars, huge dollars, in fact. So, I would advise everyone to check out the educational sessions at NACS. There are many of them on many different topics and you’re always learning something new there.
Loehr: We always divide our group up and conquer according to a person’s particular area of business interest, then we go back and compare notes — everyone gives their summary at our meeting after the NACS Show. Every year, there’s at least one good idea — one new food item, one new money-saving idea — that we come back with and implement.
Last year, our storage team came back with new ideas from fuel dispensary companies that we are still looking at. A couple of years ago, we saw the f’real [milkshake] brand and that’s become a real stable, solid item for us. There has also been new energy-saving and labor-saving equipment, gas-related and food-related, that we have looked at and are constantly looking at.
Paduano: This is a tough one since each year I usually come away with something new. Going way back, the NACS Show is where I found our current prepaid supplier that also handles our proprietary gift cards. Several years back, I found a tech company that was able to pull market basket and loss prevention data out of our POS [point-of-sale] at that time. This was something that the POS provider could not do, but a third party could. The NACS Show is also the place where today’s everyday products such as Red Bull, Monster [Energy] and 5-hour Energy were first introduced.
Robinson: My challenge last year was that I was chairman of NACS, which was good in some respects, but as far as really being able to get around the show completely, it was a challenge. That’s why the NACS Show is the event where we bring the most company people and it really runs the gamut from a chief financial officer to a store manager. We started bringing some store managers to get better ideas from them or as a reward.
Going back a number of years, I spent virtually the whole show understanding the loyalty program [market] better. We walked in with a lot of questions and we walked out with much better answers that really helped us in that area.