CHICAGO — Unless there is a major setback in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 NACS Show will be open for business in October with few changes or restrictions compared to pre-COVID-19 exhibitions.
"Right now, the format and agenda for the 2021 NACS Show will be very similar to previous shows," Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the industry's trade association, told Convenience Store News. The show is scheduled to be held at Chicago's McCormick Place on Oct. 5-8.
Lenard assured CSNews that the association will continue to monitor everything show related, from transportation to hotels to the convention center's safety requirements. He pointed out that "everything went smoothly" for the recently held World of Concrete show, which was held at McCormick Place June 8-10. "That show is roughly the same-size expo as ours in both exhibitor space and attendance," said Lenard. "That's a really great sign."
One nod to the pandemic will be several COVID-19 related educational sessions on the show's agenda.
"There's at least one session with 'COVID' in the title, and several other sessions allude to trends, such as home delivery, supply chain efficiency, new last-mile experiences, etc., that developed around the pandemic," Lenard said.
Other sessions will focus on the industry's current No. 1 challenge: the labor shortage.
Another positive sign for the expo is that exhibitor space is 93 percent filled, and expectations are that show floor space will once again be sold out. Lenard expects more suppliers to sign up as travel restrictions at many companies expire in the third quarter of the year.
Buyer attendance is tracking ahead of the last time the NACS Show was held in Chicago, which was October 2017. Although domestic buyer registration is up, Lenard said the association expects international attendance to be significantly below previous years' numbers due to the restrictions on international travel from countries still being heavily impacted by the virus.
"I go to the show, no matter what," said Jared Scheeler, CEO of Dickinson, N.D.-based The Hub Convenience Stores Inc. "The factors that make me want to be there are that I personally want to be a leading retailer. I also want to be a trailblazer. I want to experiment. It is easy to lose that inspiration. The NACS Show provides me inspiration on where I want to go with my business."
For those who are unable to attend, Lenard said, "There will absolutely be some sort of post-show digital component," but he also stated that there are no plans for the event to be a hybrid live/online show.
Safety is the top priority. "We have all kinds of protocols in place — even in normal years," Lenard said. "We do 'what if' scenario planning every year to try to anticipate anything that might happen before it happens."
As for a policy regarding attendee vaccinations, "we want everyone to be vaccinated, but we won't be asking attendees to provide proof of vaccination," he said. The facial masking policy is still evolving. NACS is closely monitoring health agency recommendations, but "the trend is pointing away from requiring masks," Lenard noted. Product sampling on the show floor will be slightly different as no self-serve sampling will be allowed.
NACS President and CEO Henry Armour anticipates a successful show.
"Our industry is built upon connections — whether with loyal customers, dedicated coworkers, or suppliers who help us better our businesses," said Armour. "And the NACS Show delivers those connections to new products and ideas that can help you see the future. I can't wait to see you in Chicago."