The successful return of the NACS Show, held last month in Chicago, signaled a rebirth for the convenience store industry. After last year’s show hiatus and almost two years of an extremely challenging business environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the convenience store industry was able to meet in person to network, learn together, and reforge the critical partnerships and relationships that have fueled this remarkable channel.
It was great to see the faces of so many friends and business associates, even if they were behind masks. I thought that attendance was much better than most expected considering the sparse number of international attendees due to travel restrictions.
I know many exhibitors reduced the number of people they sent to the show, which reduced overall traffic in the aisles, but among the retailers I spoke with, almost all of them sent a contingent of their top executives. There was no shortage of key decision-makers.
Retailers and exhibitors were very optimistic about improving business conditions. Perhaps it was the euphoria of finally meeting in person again. Or, more likely, it was the real improvement retailers are seeing in their sales as consumers across the nation are getting out again, going back to work, taking their kids to school, etc.
My Fitbit tells me I walked nearly 20,000 steps each day, but I don’t think I saw more than half of the expo floor. Of what I did see, I was impressed. Rather than taking a break from innovation due to the weakened COVID business conditions, manufacturers were showing lots of new items, new flavors, and new technology. There was an expansion of better-for-you food and beverage offerings. I saw new energy drinks and new hard seltzers. New flavors like Strawberry-Apricot and Dragon Fruit.
Some companies concentrated on fewer but more impactful innovations, keeping the focus on their anchor brands or using consumer insights to drive more customers into the convenience store.
Of course, the buzz at the show was all about continued supply-chain challenges and out-of-stocks. The labor shortage and the rising costs of everything were also forefront on retailers’ minds.
Convenience Store News conducted three events during the show: our annual Technology Leadership Roundtable & Dinner, the Top Women in Convenience Awards Gala, and a meeting of our new Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board. All were well-attended and big successes.
The overall vibe at the show may have been a little subdued, but everyone I’ve spoken with said that it was a busy and productive week — and just what the industry needed.