The Total Store Expo, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ annual front-end and pharmacy event, is once again upon us.
Now in its fifth iteration, it has already been successful in replacing the Marketplace Conference, an NACDS meeting that had outlived its original purpose and had no legitimate second act to call upon. But now some questions begin to arise about the future of the NACDS Total Store Expo. Put another way, where does this meeting go from here?
If interest and attendance can be employed as accurate barometers of a function’s success, TSE has been, initially, a big success. But the time has clearly come to elevate this event, moving it beyond the realm of trade show or merchandising exhibit to something more permanent — and more meaningful.
If that were an easy assignment, TSE would have even now moved beyond the classification of merchandising event and assumed the more arresting label of marketing event. Certainly the tools for this movement are many: its embrace of both pharmacy and front-end activities, its broad definition of product categories, its ability to draw attendees from across the retail and supplier communities.
Additionally, the chain drug store association has framed this event as more than just another conference, choosing compelling locations, insisting on adequate meeting space, aggressively encouraging attendees, offering a range of events within the primary venue, and filling the days and nights with dramatic events designed to appeal to both retailers and suppliers.
Along the way, the meeting’s architects have added highlights and sidelights designed to increase participation and energy among attendees, persuading them to spend more time interacting with each other and obtaining a clearer understanding of what each is after.
That, then, is the setting for the upcoming TSE, San Diego. By all initial indications, it is enough of an inducement to bring in attendees in record numbers, and approaching the stated objective of attracting both quantity and quality in terms of attendance. But the question persists: What’s next?
It is not the intent here to offer any advice or suggestions for sharpening the conference. The organizers and attendees possess more than enough intelligence and insights to move the event along without any outside interference or assistance. Rather, the intent is to suggest that no function can rest on maintaining the momentum that got it started without adding intricacies designed to sustain that momentum and sharpen the function for those who are already on board — and, yes, attract those bystanders who have thus far succeeded in remaining on the sidelines.
Perhaps what’s needed is a more permanent face to the event, one that mirrors the NACDS Annual Meeting. Perhaps future TSE meetings would utilize a permanent committee to plan each meeting, suggesting changes and additions along the way. Perhaps the meeting might more aggressively court retailers who have not yet participated, regardless of the number of pharmacies they represent.
As stated, opportunities abound to advance the meeting’s agenda and so move it beyond a merchandising event and reposition it so merchandise and merchandising become the anchors rather than the meeting’s primary function.
For now, however, TSE 2017 is upon us. As it stands today, it is the most important merchandising event on the mass retail meetings calendar. Going forward, it can, should — and probably will — be much more than it is today.