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The question for everyone is: What’s next?

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Summer’s nearly over. The holiday selling season is a few small steps away. The back-to-school selling season is over. Halloween is here. Thanksgiving is a moment away. What happened? Where has 2015 gone? What has it meant for mass retailing?

More urgently, Total Store Expo, the mammoth merchandising exhibition assembled by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, is history. Talk of the 2016 event, scheduled for Boston next August, has even now replaced debates about the just-completed event. What went on? What went right? What went wrong?

What’s already known is that Total Store Expo has emerged, very quickly, as a permanent part of the NACDS merchandising/marketing/event calendar. Just yesterday it was a work in progress, a new direction, a radical departure from events that had preceded it. Today it ranks as one of the most significant NACDS events, a must-attend merchandising extravaganza that places second to the NACDS Annual Meeting as an event that should not be missed.

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Questions remain however. Questions asked against a backdrop of the speed at which the mass retailing business is changing. This year, which still has three months to run, has seen more shifts – in strategy, personnel, direction – than any year in the history of the business.

New faces have emerged, new directions charted, new visions examined, new prototypes unveiled. Strategies that have withstood the tests of time and change have suddenly been revised or discarded completely, as new faces with new ideas have convinced themselves they no longer work.

Walmart’s price-first approach, long the anchor of a strategy that has transformed a sleepy Southern company into the world’s most-successful retailer, has been replaced, only to be revived as the new program failed to deliver promised customers. Target, one of the nation’s premier retailing companies, has dramatically changed direction and is now reversing itself again. Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Kroger, Safeway, and a bunch of regional grocery operators – all have abandoned traditional strategies in favor of new programs and strategies. Many have realized, almost too late, that these new directions haven’t been working. So it’s back to the old – or partway back.

Against this dramatic shift, is any trade organization capable of capturing the moment, measuring the industry, charting gains and losses, evaluating the retail moment, assessing the state of the retailing ­community?

The intent here is not to evaluate Total Store Expo. It is what it was designed to be. It is a snapshot, capturing a moment in retailing time. To avoid this show is to take a step back, to place a person or a company at a disadvantage, to assess the state of things without enough information or experience. The question now is this one: What’s next?

More specifically, can any one event, either currently in the mix or planned, accurately chronicle the mass retailing industry as it stands today or predict where it will be in five years, five months – or five minutes.

If any trade organization can mount such an event, NACDS is that organization. It leaves its rivals behind in mounting and executing a merchandising event, especially one as big and bold as the Total Store Expo. That said, it must also be added that this is the time for the chain drug store association to begin looking beyond its just-completed merchandising show to ask itself what comes next and, having done so, to begin planning and organizing an event that will accompany mass retailing into the next generation, the next iteration, the next model.

If NACDS can’t begin tackling this assignment now, it will go unaddressed – simply because no other retail organization has the organization, the people and the merchandising and marketing skills to pull off this assignment.


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