Kearney Leaderboard

Better organization would lift NACDS Marketplace

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The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, it has been said, makes friends in the spring and enemies in early summer, repairs relationships in late summer and then solidifies relationships during the winter.

Well, it’s early summer. The NACDS Marketplace Conference has just ended. And retailing’s premier trade association has once again put itself in the position of having to explain the small miscues that obscured many of the benefits the Marketplace has to offer.

Make no mistake: This is an important meeting, offering those who understand what it means, does and can do an unparalleled opportunity to do business. But it’s not productively organized. It is not a product of careful choreographing or scripting, which is what a meeting of this size requires.

As a result, newcomers to the Marketplace conference, most notably on the supplier side, are allowed to fend for themselves, searching — sometimes vainly — for prospective customers, while those customers are too often closeted off premises with suppliers with whom they regularly confer.

It’s the old story: People seek out the people that they know and with whom they are comfortable.

This year Marketplace attendees were asked to navigate the show without the benefit of a printed program guide, which was available in the past and provided such information as a list of companies and individuals attending the show and a daily guide to events.

True, this guide was available online and as an “app” (the most recent “innovation” to infect retail trade shows). However, attendees have long since become accustomed to a printed reference book. Why eliminate it?

Then there’s the age-old issue of bringing buyers and sellers together. This year, too many newcomers spent their days in the weary and largely unrewarding quest for retail customers.

Retailers, for their part, didn’t spend enough time on the convention floor — and too few of them invested any meaningful energy searching for new products or new suppliers.

If this disconnect was easily solved it would not be a problem. But it needs to be addressed now, before the meeting’s detractors convince the industry that the Marketplace conference has become superfluous in this age of mega-retailers and mega-suppliers — no longer worth the time, attention or cost that retailers and suppliers once invested in the event.

Perhaps retailer time on the convention floor needs to be mandated. Perhaps Meet the Market, the very successful retailer-supplier series that kicks off the meeting, needs to be

Certainly, the conference cannot come so quickly on the heels of the NACDS Annual Meeting, the association’s signature event.

Small, first-time suppliers don’t sign up for the Marketplace with exaggerated expectations. They would be content to get an appointment or two, perhaps a few encouraging words about their products or services, and maybe the hope of a future meeting at a retailer’s headquarters.

But such encouragements rarely happen. Too many suppliers spend too many hours sitting in their exhibit booths waiting vainly for retailers to come by — while passing the time getting to know other suppliers.

The association’s key staffers — Steve Anderson, Jim Whitman, Terry Arth, Larry Lotridge and Roy McGrath — may not fully appreciate how significant their presence is, and what their appearance on the convention floor represents. They need to be more visible more often.

NACDS’ biggest challenge, however, is insisting that the retailers be more visible, more accessible and more willing to meet with those suppliers with whom they do not at present do business.

As to how to accomplish this, that’s a difficult question. For openers, suppliers need to know which retail executives are even attending the show. Many of them do not.
Then, too, it might be a good idea to post those times when retailers are free and then fill in those times with supplier meetings. Perhaps retailers could be asked to take their lunch breaks at designated tables where suppliers could find them and request an ­appointment.

Make no mistake: The NACDS Marketplace Conference is a valuable and important event. It brings buyers and sellers together as no mass retail event does or even attempts to do. But too many attendees leave the meeting disillusioned, disappointed and discouraged, asking whether their needs would be more effectively served by one of the many
other options that are available to them.

Unless NACDS begins to both anticipate and address their concerns, these voices will come to drown out the less passionate majority who continue to accurately view the Marketplace for what it is: An unsurpassed opportunity, for both retailers and suppliers, to expand their business — or, at the least, to uncover some valuable new business prospects.

Emerson Industry Day 2023

NACDS 90th

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