10 Takeaways From the NACS Show

It’s a four-day marathon that brings the industry together.

10 Takeaways From the NACS Show

November 2023   minute read

By: Jeff Lenard

The NACS Show is a not a sprint, it’s a marathon. That means you need to have a plan, pace yourself, wear comfortable shoes and hydrate.

There is a lot to report from the 2023 Show in Atlanta—the learnings from the education and general sessions, new connections made with attendees and all the cool new products. And there’s plenty of all that in the following pages. But first, here are some big themes and developments.

1. Convenience in One Place

Let’s start with the airport. For the first time ever, NACS Show attendees could pick up their registration at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Yes, the airport, not the place that most people associate with a positive experience, was just that during the NACS Show. Attendees were able to walk up to one of a few kiosks and print their badges and get all the basics they needed to hit the ground running. It’s a test-and-learn experience for NACS to see if it enhanced convenience for you, just like you all (okay, “y’all” since we were in Atlanta) do for your customers.

2. Determining the Agenda for 2024 and Beyond

Hitting the ground running was the constant state of action at the NACS Show. For many attendees, the event started well before the posted dates of the conference. The NACS Show is also a business meeting, and there were plenty of board and committee meetings related to NACS and the other event co-sponsors, the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI), Energy Marketers of America (EMA) and Conexxus. These meetings will also define many of the strategic issues these groups will attack in 2024 and beyond. Let’s go back to that marathon theme: Those first two to three days were jam-packed and the main events hadn’t even begun. We were just getting warmed up.

3. Unique Opportunities to Learn—and Massive Crowds

We’ve all been there as speakers: You accept a request to speak at an event and you find that attendance is sparse, with maybe a dozen people. But even speaking before a small group can be rewarding when it’s the right group and you make new connections. The NACS Show education sessions, meanwhile, had staggering attendance counts. On average, each of the 50 education sessions had about 250 attendees. You know what most conferences call a session with 250 attendees? The general session.

Education sessions took place over a three-day period, but that doesn’t begin to describe the learnings available to attendees. Cumulatively, these sessions totaled 3,975 minutes, and let’s remember that there are only 1,440 minutes in a day, so if you found enough energy drinks and coffee—and plenty of companies that provided both were on the expo floor—you could technically go to non-stop sessions for three straight days. (And read that long sentence in one breath.) Of course, that’s not the way to experience the NACS Show. Smart retail teams instead planned in advance to split up and hit as many different concurrent sessions as they could. It is still possible to get the information. Go to convenience.org and click on “Solutions,” then “Online Store” to purchase the session recordings.

4. Foodservice Is Our Future—Because It’s Our Present

The most-attended education session was about foodservice. “Solutions to Optimize Your Foodservice Space” drew nearly 400 attendees and was one of several popular food-focused sessions. In addition, the adjacent NACS Food Safety Forum focused on how food safety culture can contribute to your company’s vision and mission.

It was obvious that there was a hunger for information on foodservice, and it was even more obvious that attendees were just plain hungry—and the 990 minutes of expo time provided plenty of opportunities to taste, test and quell those hunger pangs. If you didn’t know what types of food you could sell—or the equipment needed to make and merchandise it—you do now. The latest NACS State of the Industry data shows that foodservice accounts for 36% of in-store profits. Based on the interest in foodservice at the NACS Show, there’s no question that number will increase.

5. EVs Are Also Our Future

As a NACS Show general session speaker noted last year, “We can all agree that EVs are the future. The only thing that we can’t agree on is when that future is.” For fuels retailers—actually let’s call them energy retailers—who see that future coming closer, there were plenty of opportunities to learn. In addition to discussions in education sessions, there were at least 30 exhibitors offering products or services related to electric vehicles and staff from the Transportation Energy Institute (formerly known as the Fuels Institute) were everywhere, helping retailers navigate the evolving energy market.

6. The Road Less (or More) Traveled

The general sessions were packed, averaging nearly 3,000 attendees each of four days. NACS 2022-23 Chairman Don Rhoads set the tone by talking about the job of hitting the road to find adventures and celebrate frontline employees who “are the heartbeat of the industry.” A guy whose last name is Rhoads spending a lot of time on roads … makes sense!

Don then had a conversation with three acclaimed road warriors—Al Hebert (the Gas Station Gourmet), Stafford Shurden from Gas Station Tailgate Review and Stephanie Stuckey of Stuckey’s—who told attendees how to create experiences that will get their stores found when people are road tripping. The three of them had never met each other but became fast friends, which is something you frequently see at the NACS Show—and they even took a road trip together around Atlanta the day after their presentation. And they found a gem: Che Butter Jonez. Look for a profile in an upcoming issue of NACS Magazine. Want to share your ideas about road trips with them—or with us? Shoot us a note at roadtrip@convenience.org.

The NACS Show Turns 30 … in Name, Anyway

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the NACS Show. NACS has had an annual meeting every year since its founding in 1961, but initially they had different theme names. And, let’s be honest, some of them weren’t all that compelling. For one, NACS really liked announcing the obvious when new decades approached: In 1969, the theme was “Countdown to the ’70s,” in 1979 it was “Preparing for the ’80s” and in 1989 it was “The ’90s Are Coming.” Thankfully, we were off and running with the NACS Show theme by 1999, or there would have been quite a struggle to determine if we announce the new decade—or the new millennium.

Some NACS annual meeting names were real head scratchers. 1971’s “Fountain of Ideas” doesn’t really reference something our industry is known for—besides the ideas part, of course. 1992’s theme was “Q.U.E.S.T.,” which sounds more like the name of a TV show in which a kid robot goes back in time to solve crimes. And thank goodness the copyright lawyers were asleep at the switch when we had our 1988 meeting, “NACS’ Wheel of Fortune.”

7. Your Community Was There

Community was a huge focus at the NACS Show. The industry conducts 160 million transactions a day, meaning that approximately half of the country is buying something at a c-store every day. But that only begins to describe our importance in communities.

“C-store doesn’t just stand for convenience store, it also stands for community store,” said NACS President and CEO Henry Armour. And community was certainly a focus. TruAge, the innovative, universally accepted—and 100% free—age-verification system developed by NACS to prevent underage access to age-restricted products, was a focal point of discussions. The TruAge booth signed up new retailers who are bringing the program online. And you still can join: Go to mytruage.org.

Exhibitors also focused on their commitment to communities, with unique products and campaigns celebrating and supporting critical community heroes like teachers, healthcare workers and members of the military.

Speaking of military heroes, Rocky Sickmann, one of the 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days in Iran starting in 1979 and a true American hero—and current Anheuser-Busch and Folds of Honor representative—presented a check for $100,000 recognizing Anheuser-Busch’s support of the 24/7 Day celebration of everyday heroes. (Join us in celebrating 24/7 Day this coming July 24; learn more at conveniencecares.org.)

After the NACS Show, exhibitors also supported the Atlanta community by donating extra product to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

8. GOATs Were Everywhere

No, not goats that eat grass and do yoga with hipsters, but GOATs, the Greatest of All Time, who were everywhere in the expo. The GOAT wide receiver Jerry Rice was in in one booth, so naturally, the GOAT tight end Rob Gronkowski (let’s give Travis Kelce a few more years before we go there) was in another booth. The crowd was pumped for closing NACS Show speaker John Cena, a 16-time WWE champion. But if you think that Hulk Hogan (with 12 championship belts) was the best, you’re not alone. He drew big crowds on the expo floor.

Let’s go back to John Cena, though. He spoke at the NACS Show on Friday morning, and later in the day was on live TV delivering a smackdown in the ring, joined by his partner LA Knight, who was also at the NACS Show. They both were in a Fastlane (hey, that sounds like a term our industry would use) bout the day after that. They won, and LA Knight is now being called a future GOAT. Which is appropriate, since the NACS Show is about finding the future.

Wade Boggs, Dominique Wilkins and plenty of other WWE and MMA fighters were among the many big-time stars on the expo floor.

And, if you think you are the GOAT, you had a chance to prove it at the kick-off party, which was held next door in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Super Bowl, SEC football championships and even Taylor Swift concerts. Attendees could get on the field and test out their skills passing and kicking. Did that kick get shanked and only go about 10 yards? Well, the picture that you post online, taken from the right angle, can show a different story.

9. Sharing the Experience

The NACS Ideas 2 Go videos focused on the customer experience, and that was exemplified by the 40,000-square-foot store Wally’s, which must be seen to be believed.

The same is true of the NACS Show. It was cool to hear from those attending their first NACS Show after years of hearing how awesome it was from their parents—or to watch seasoned team members shepherd new ones attending their first Show. One retailer told me that he instinctively knew how to navigate the NACS Show, but bringing a first-timer required him to plan more in advance, and that the advance planning made the event even more valuable. As for the first-timer? “Tired,” he said, but he also had a giant smile on his face.

We also saw that on NACS staff. “I can’t wait for you to experience the NACS Show,” we said in preconference meetings. Seeing is believing, and they are pumped to prepare for next year’s NACS Show, October 7-10 in Las Vegas. Bring along a new team member and experience the wonder of the NACS Show through their eyes. You’ll both learn something new.

10. It’s Not the End of the Year, But the Start

We repeatedly heard that the great ideas and contacts fit perfectly into retailer’s strategic planning sessions that typically take place between the end of the NACS Show and Thanksgiving. Then, retailers are ready to attack 2024 with a game plan. Speaking of 2024, we have a lot to offer before next years’ NACS show. The first half of the year is the busiest in terms of NACS events. Buckle up. We’re going to do some winning together well beyond the NACS Show.

Let’s finish with the theme presented at the start: The NACS Show is a marathon, not a sprint. To confirm that, I checked out my fitness tracker, and it showed that over the course of the NACS Show I covered 27.1 miles, a little more than the 26.2 miles in a marathon. But this was a lot more fun.

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More than 1,200 exhibitors brought their products and solutions to the expo.

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In total, more than 24,000 people made it to the 2023 NACS Show in Atlanta.

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Jeff Lenard

Jeff Lenard

Jeff Lenard is NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives. He can be reached at [email protected].

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