Face-to-face networking, Show floor encounters, smiles and elbow bumps. Seeing, smelling, sampling and discovering new products—all of the best things about the NACS Show were amplified in Chicago when the convenience and fuel retailing industry reunited after a long COVID-19-forced hiatus.
As essential businesses, convenience retailers and supplier companies never shut down as the waves of the pandemic swept across the globe during the past 18+ months. While c-stores and gas stations braved myriad challenges to keep their doors open, the health risks and logistics of travel kept many of us apart.
“This year—perhaps more than ever—our industry needed the NACS Show,” said 2021-22 NACS Chairman Jared Scheeler, CEO of Dickinson, North Dakota-based The Hub Convenience Stores Inc. “Convenience retailers and their supplier partners were able to meet face-to-face at the Show and reinvigorate the relationships and drive that keep our industry innovating and delivering excitement to our brands, our customers and our communities,” he said.
NACS 2020-21 Chairman Kevin Smartt, president and CEO of Austin-Texas-based TXB Stores, said, “733 days! That’s how long it’s been since we were last in person at the 2019 NACS Show. A lot has changed over the past two years, but one thing hasn’t: our resilience. No matter what was thrown our way we adapted, we pivoted, and we said, ‘We got this.’”
From smiling faces—behind masks—to social media posts, Show-goers shared their enthusiasm about being back together and the relationships that are a central part of our industry.
That sentiment was echoed again and again across the four days of the Show and on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This was our most socially connected Show ever (search for #WeGotThis, #NACSShow and #NACSShow2021 on these platforms). To spark conversation across McCormick Place—and beyond—the NACS Media team fanned out to ask Show-goers some simple but key questions. Here’s what they said.
What’s one idea you’ve heard or seen at the NACS Show that can help change your business?
Dave O’Brien, Reed Inc., dba R Place Food Stores, Ely, Nevada
“I came to the NACS Show for ideas. We’ve got foodservice that’s struggling. We’ve got stores that are struggling. We’re dealing with all of those issues that everybody is dealing with, and we figured this is the place to come to get those ideas, get those answers, get that communication, see the ideas.”
Dan Gavora, Market Basket Inc., Fairbanks, Alaska
“This is the premiere event to come to learn about what’s new and developing in the world of the convenience store business. This is my first NACS Show. We’re looking forward to it.”
Daillard Paris, Sheetz, Altoona, Pennsylvania
“The main reason I came to the NACS Show is to experience the IDEA conference (held the day before the Show opened). We are doing a lot of work around diversity, equity and inclusion. I also came to see the exhibits and meet counterparts that I engage with in my day-to-day business. There’s nothing like the face-to-face meetings and being able to break bread and have lunch with people and have that connection. It feels amazing. The turnout is surprising.”
Tiffany Sims, Pak-A-Sak, Amarillo, Texas
“We’re here to just look at the new products, figure out if there’s some things that will fit for us. Do a little bit of networking. And just be back. It’s a nice feeling to be able to actually see people face to face that you work with on a daily basis.”
Beth Barron, TXB Stores, Spicewood, Texas
“We come every year as a company to find new products to try, go to the education classes and find new ways of doing things. I just came out of the advanced category management training class, so I’m now certified as a convenience category manager. I learned lots of great things in there, so it’s really just finding new ways to do business in an ever-changing environment.”
Hannah Steiner, Glazer’s Beer & Beverage, Jumbo Beverages, Dallas, Texas
“We’re checking out new products from our existing suppliers with over 20 of them here, but we’re always looking to add new brands, and this is a great place to see it. There’s a lot of innovation happening right now in the beverage space, especially around energy. I joined the company in the middle of the pandemic, and I haven’t met a lot of our suppliers. Finally I’m going to get to see them after a year and a half of working together.”
Samantha Knoll, Glazer’s Beer & Beverage, North Little Rock, Arkansas
“We’re here looking for new suppliers that we can have distributed in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and get chain distribution. It’s exciting—it’s like a big reunion.”
Brian Nichols, Maverik Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah
“I’m really looking to see what’s out there—innovation, new technologies, fixtures. I do the cold vault, so really just anything that’s new and exciting, innovative, something I haven’t already seen before. It feels great to get out of the house and get out of the office.”
Carlos Eduardo De La Concha, Corporativo De Energia Servic Enerser, Tijuana, Mexico
“We’re going into a new market, so we’re looking for the new technology, the new products that are out there because we’re looking to build stores that are much different than what you’re probably used to seeing in convenience stores. We’ve seen at least five different vendors in five different areas that catch our eye, and I’m sure we’re going to be doing business with them.”
Stacy Carraway, Phillips 66 Company, Houston, Texas
“I want to learn about the customers, consumer behavior, emerging energy trends and just what the market looks like going forward.”
Kevin Dinnen, Rainbo Oil Company dba Kwik Stop, Dubuque, Iowa
“I’ve learned a lot from the general sessions about getting back to the basics after COVID and focusing on your core business, your people and remembering who you are.”
Imran (Ron) Ali, Ibros LLC, Sugar Land, Texas
“The technology has given me some ideas. The self-checkout system is something I’m thinking about implementing in my store.”
Joshua Scott, F. McConnell and Sons Inc., New Haven, Indiana
“I’m new to the industry. I’m excited to be at a show as an attendee finding new lines, new brands, product knowledge and everything on that side of things. Some of the panel discussions this morning in ed sessions were really good for me to get the knowledge, get the introduction, get the lingo down, so I’ve been really trying to soak everything up, and the ed sessions were really beneficial. There was the optimizing product [session], which was really great. I really liked the data-driven approach taken there. And then the new supplier panel discussion was good, talking about brands entering the space and what some of the major retail players were looking for in terms of new partners.”
Keyur Bhatt, Graham Enterprise Inc., Vernon Hills, Illinois
“How to hire in a tough labor market. I got some nice takeaways about how to find new talent and also how to retain your workforce.”
Megan Williams, Hat Six Travel Center, Casper, Wyoming
“There were two education sessions that I went to. The first is about having an app and how to really dig into digital marketing and how to grow your app sales and how to expand on what you’re offering at your location, whether it’s one location or multiple. The other session was from the Gas Station Gourmet. It was lots of fun. I would say that [Al Hebert] had some great ideas around community and how to kind of build your business from doing community events—not only charitable events but actually having events at your location.”
Dawn Denney, Shell Oil Products U.S., Elkhorn, Nebraska
“Learning about new technology, especially as it relates to the energy transition—transitioning to electric vehicles and to hydrogen.”