The National Association of Chain Drug Stores has decided to make this year’s edition of Total Store Expo a virtual event. While the news comes as a disappointment for retailers, CPG suppliers and others in the industry eager to return to face-to-face interaction with business partners, the move makes perfect sense in light of continued uncertainties about COVID-19.
Instead of holding TSE at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, from August 21 to August 23, the meeting will be conducted online from August 23 to August 25. NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson says the new version of the event will adhere to the original goal of giving participants the “perfect venue” in which to “assess the trajectory of the nation, the industry, retailer-supplier partnerships, and other issues directly related to your business and your customers.” For the past 14 months that business has been focused on combating COVID-19, work that Anderson promises will be honored and recognized during TSE.
Retail pharmacies understand as well as anyone what’s at stake in the pandemic and the Herculean efforts needed to bring it under control. The national drive to immunize Americans took off when the Biden administration cleared the way for pharmacies to provide shots. Thus far, chain pharmacies are responsible for administering some tens of millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and that number keeps rising every day.
True as always to its pro-patient, pro-pharmacy — and one might now add pro-public health — agenda, NACDS has sacrificed the opportunity to conduct an in-person event to ensure the safety of everyone involved in TSE, along with the broader community. That, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent guidance indicating that, in most settings, fully vaccinated individuals aren’t required to wear masks or practice social distancing; in addition, mask mandates in many states and municipalities across the country have been relaxed.
To say that the association did the right thing in taking this year’s TSE online doesn’t mean the event in its traditional form won’t be missed. Since its inception in 2013, TSE has provided a forum for representatives of a broad cross-section of the health care, front-end and technology sectors to come together and take stock of the forces reshaping chain pharmacy. Ample opportunities for personal interaction at TSE come in a variety of forms — Meet the Market and Meet the Retailer sessions, the exhibit hall, plenary business and small-group Insight sessions, as well as an array of social events.
The task NACDS now faces is how to develop online equivalents for as many of those elements as possible. The association is fortunate to have a member services team, led by senior vice president Jim Whitman, known for staging compelling events that run like clockwork. It can be counted on to put together a strong online program, one that will deliver real value to the full spectrum of TSE attendees.
In April, for the first time, NACDS successfully staged one of its signature events virtually. Conducted over the course of three days, the Annual Meeting featured the usual mix of insights from the group’s leaders (Anderson, outgoing chairman Rick Keyes of Meijer Inc. and his successor Colleen Lindholz of Kroger Co.); presentations by noted speakers (former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, historian Jon Meacham and Morgan Stanley executive Carla Harris); and valedictory remarks by Larry Merlo, the recently retired CEO of CVS Health who received the Sheldon W. Fantle Lifetime Achievement Award.
If the past is prologue, this year’s Total Store Expo will be equally rewarding. NACDS is sure to do its part to make the event a success. Now it’s up to people throughout the industry to step up and embrace the opportunity to take in the panoramic perspective that only TSE provides, and thereby gain a better understanding of how chain pharmacy is evolving to meet the changing needs of patients and front-end consumers. In so doing, executives will demonstrate their support for NACDS and the industry of which they are a part, while at the same time availing themselves of information, ideas and connections that will enable them to run their businesses more effectively as we enter the post-pandemic future.