The National Association of Chain Drug Stores made two giant leaps forward last month, further distancing itself from every other retail trade organization in the United States.
First, the association finally, and creatively, disengaged itself from the seemingly endless quandary surrounding the June scheduling of its annual Marketplace Conference.
For more than a decade it had been apparent that Marketplace followed too closely on the heels of the organization’s Annual Meeting, its signature event. The association’s board resolved the issue with the simple yet creatively bold decision to move Marketplace to August, where, beginning in 2013, it will be bundled with the NACDS Pharmacy and Technology Conference and the NACDS Supply Chain and Logistics Conference.
The result will be an event that dwarfs in scope, inclusion and business potential any exposition mass retailing has yet seen. As an added inducement for suppliers to participate in this event, initially named the NACDS Total Store Expo, the association has scheduled a board-of-directors meeting to coincide with the expo. Doing so will guarantee that the chain pharmacy community’s leading figures will be on hand for the trade show, a presence that will serve both to endorse the event and to compel suppliers to support it.
In all, a simple but remarkably prescient solution to a problem that, for the past decade, simply refused to be ignored.
The second NACDS coup was more predictable, if not more significant than the first. Last month the association staged the most productive Annual Meeting in its history. The four-day event unfolded smoothly and was flawlessly executed, due in no small part to the experience, dedication and intelligent planning of the most experienced staff yet assembled by a retail trade association.
At the core of its success was the fact that the meeting productively brought together many of the most important and committed senior managers in the retailer and supplier communities.
Indeed, it would be difficult to accurately describe, or overstate, the effectiveness of this meeting in bringing an industry together. No one element stood out above the others.
As always, the meeting was punctuated by the intimate business sessions between retailers and suppliers that occupied a major part of each day’s activities. What made this series of meetings especially productive was the fact that the retailers — who were present in record numbers — made themselves available to suppliers in ways not seen before. Clearly, they came to do business. Just as clearly, suppliers responded in kind.
As well, the meeting was noteworthy for its sense of passage and its overtones of change. Tom Ryan and Mary Sammons, two figures that have graced and enhanced the chain drug industry throughout this century, were presented with the Sheldon Fantle Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor this industry can bestow.
For Ryan, longtime head of CVS, it marked his last appearance at an NACDS Annual Meeting. For Sammons, though she may attend a future gathering, her appearance was certainly her last in the spotlight. Not in recent or even distant memory have two industry leaders of such stature and commitment said goodbye at the same time, and no industry leaders have yet left the stage as gracefully. In short, bestowing these awards would have been enough to guarantee that this Annual Meeting would be a memorable one.
But perhaps the real significance of the 2011 NACDS Annual Meeting lay in its ability, in difficult and stressful times, to bring an industry together while simultaneously bringing that industry to life in a way never before approached.
Whether the retailing segment NACDS represents and leads can be accurately called the chain drug store industry or the mass retailing community — it is probably both — the Annual Meeting captured the industry’s excitement, vitality and importance in ways never before seen.
In short, mass retailing in America has never been more robust. It has indeed emerged in the early years of the second decade of the 21st century as a heady brew whose core ingredients are innovation and success. And NACDS, as never before, is the straw that stirs the drink.
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