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At Total Store Expo, the moment to gain an edge is now

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The third annual Total Store Expo, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ exhibit event that has replaced the association’s Marketplace Conference as mass retailing’s signature merchandising event, is about to kick off in Denver. Advance notices promise a program every bit as varied, engaging and productive as the initial Total Store Expo, which unfolded in 2013 in Las Vegas.

Still, questions abound. Is the show too big, too crowded, too sprawling? Is the agenda too crammed with events to provide even the dedicated meeting-goer with enough time and energy to absorb the many educational and marketing attractions? How much is too much?

cdr-filler-opinion-750Clearly, the conference is a big event. Individual exhibits will number in the thousands. The business program is imaginative and varied, perhaps to the point of distracting even those intrepid retailers determined to sample every session. Evenings are crowded with opportunities that combine social occasions with business-building events. Name brand personalities are amply in attendance, each attached to a particular company, brand or point of view.

In its way, however, the NACDS Total Store Expo is no more daunting than the Marketplace Conference which it replaced, or the NACDS Annual Meeting that remains the centerpiece of that association’s meetings agenda. The trick, if there is one, is to arrive early, stay late, and make a point of meeting with those individuals and companies that are key to your business. As well, while the business program is crowded to overflowing, some sessions are more relevant than others, and a few can clearly be classified as critical, depending of course on individual priorities.

Retailers are approaching Total Store Expo in a variety of ways. Some have scheduled business appointments one atop another, with little time to regroup or take a breath. Others have avoided appointments entirely, preferring to absorb the event serendipitously, searching the exhibit floor and business agenda for those events and products that most appropriately relate to individual needs and opportunities.

Either way, the first hurdle to overcome is mastering the exhibit hall. Exhibits here are organized by discipline and product category. Broadly speaking, the assortment breaks down into pharmacy and front-end categories. From there, exhibits are organized more acutely. Even here, however, some suppliers have clearly put more time and effort than others in an effort to showcase the new, the different, the innovative, the indispensable. Clearly, the retailer’s assignment is to uncover the new, the different, the innovative, the indispensable — as those adjectives relate to individual needs and opportunities. One retailer’s opportunity is another’s waste of time or money.

Similarly, the business agenda contains some elements that are clearly more valuable for some attendees than for others. Thus, determining the value of each session — in advance — is critical to absorbing the value of the conference. Attractive as a particular business subject might sound, its value should be determined by its relevance to a particular business discipline, not the romance of the topic at hand.

As every seasoned retailer knows, preplanning is essential to gaining the most value from the meeting. While the initial temptation is to travel the show together, more value can be obtained by working alone or in pairs. However, it’s also true that some events or exhibits require the attendance of several people to gain the proper perspective or value. In the end, a minority of appointments will yield the majority of benefits. The retailer’s assignment is determining which.

Through it all, the ability to communicate is critical. Total Store Expo promises to be a sprawling event. The tendency, for some, will be to give it short shrift, to start late and leave early, to accept minimum performance as adequate, to choose a cup of coffee with a friend instead of one more business meeting. These tendencies must be rejected. There’s always time for coffee. But Total Store Expo is a fleeting moment, one that will, at meeting’s end, be gone forever. The moment to gain the advantage it offers is now, while it plays out in Denver, not back at home after it’s over.

In short, this is a unique opportunity to gain knowledge, wisdom and a competitive advantage. It won’t come again — at least until next year.


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