Nonfoods Talk: Power in numbers

The decision to merge three shows into one could be a boost for the retail industry. But it is going to take a lot of effort to make sure it works.

By Seth Mendelson

Is NACDS’ new strategy going to work? Much more importantly, is it good for nonfoods?

The Alexandria, Va.-based trade association’s announcement this spring that it was combining three trade events, including the NACDS Marketplace Conference, into one big show starting in 2013 surprised very few nonfoods industry observers. Declining, or at least stagnating, retail attendance at the annual event, which flip flops between the East and West coasts (most recently Boston and San Diego), plus a general lack of enthusiasm from suppliers and retailers, made it an easy decision to combine Marketplace with two other events, the NACDS Pharmacy & Technology Conference and the NACDS Supply Chain & Logistics. The combined conference will be called NACDS Total Store Expo and the first one will be held Aug. 10-13, 2013 in what promises to be an oppressively hot Las Vegas.

Of course, NACDS officials are emphasizing the convenience of the merged event. Larry Merlo, the president and CEO of CVS Caremark and the NACDS chairman of the board, commented in a prepared statement that the decision will “deliver even more power and value to the NACDS membership.” Other NACDS execs said that combining the conferences will allow retailers to save on travel costs and create synergies between these three separate areas.

That is fine and dandy, but all I really care about is maintaining a forum for nonfoods buyers and manufacturers to meet and discuss new products and promotions in the general merchandise and health and beauty care arenas. While the event has lost some of its luster in recent years, Marketplace, for better or worse, has been among the best locations for the GM/HBC industry for decades. The conference has always managed to attract top manufacturers and has done a relatively decent job getting key retail nonfood decision-makers to attend the event.

As a side note, the rumor mill has it that GMDC, which puts on the other strong nonfoods conferences, is switching its HBC/Wellness event to the spring and its general merchandise show to the fall, possibly as early as next year.

So weather aside, will this new format draw more nonfoods buyers and exhibitors to the aisles of Total Store Expo? Some retailers I spoke with said that the combined event will definitely make it easier to justify sending their buyers. Three shows in one location (read: one airfare and lower hotel costs) can certainly make it easier for merchants to justify the costs. On the other hand, many of the mid- and larger-size chains have different people handling the various categories and that may mean no savings at all for retailers.

Nonfoods suppliers are also justifiably concerned that they will be overwhelmed by the pharmaceutical and logistics companies. Everyone seems worried that the whole thing will, in the end, be just one big mess.

The pressure is on NACDS to make sure that this does not happen. The association is well known for its ability to run a smooth show. It now has two years to make sure that the Total Store Expo is not a total bust. That means developing a strategy that keeps each of the three components separate, yet on equal footing, while still finding a way to share any potential synergies. And, it means offering individual retailers and suppliers enough information about the segments with which they are most concerned.

Finally, the organization needs to remember that Marketplace made its mark by serving as a venue to bring retailers and suppliers together in a convenient location for three days of fast-paced meetings. It is imperative that the association work to encourage as many retailers as possible to attend Total Store Expo. If the right retailers show up, the manufacturers will be there too. The result will be a good show for everyone. 

Seth Mendelson can be reached at  646-274-3507, or

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