Surprisingly, fewer viable choices are immediately apparent, though the obvious ones — the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Food Marketing Institute — still stand out. On the face of it, the broad selection of recent years has diminished, in part because retailers have become more selective, in larger part because the options are not as apparent or attractive as they once were.
To consider the obvious choices first, NACDS, an organization that encompasses a larger retail community than drug stores, offers two events worth considering: Its Annual Meeting of senior executives, scheduled for Scottsdale, Ariz., in late April, and the Total Store Expo merchandising and marketing show, set for San Diego in August.
Beyond those two events, several viable choices present themselves, beginning with the NACDS Regional Chain Conference, set for early February in Palm Beach, Fla.
FMI also offers an intriguing set of events, though that organization’s ongoing emphasis on grocery retailers makes attendance by general merchandise retailers a more problematic decision. Still, that association draws a crowd impressive in both numbers and level of participation, making attendance at one or more FMI meetings a viable option, especially for major retailers, regardless of merchandise emphasis.
NACDS and FMI aside, several organizations must be examined for the relevance of the meetings they conduct. The Chain Drug Marketing Association remains a must-visit destination for its Annual Trade Expo, one with special relevance for smaller, regional retailers, which is set for Las Vegas in February.
And ECRM is noteworthy both for its unique programming and for the opportunities it offers to do business in a meaningful and immediate way. Moreover, this organization tailors its meetings to specific merchandise categories, something other associations have gotten away from in recent years.
Outside the United States, several meetings present themselves as viable options. One which comes quickly to mind — and which U.S. companies have largely ignored — is the World Retail Congress, an organization that attracts retailers across all disciplines. Its annual meeting is set for Dubai in April, and it is particularly anxious for more U.S. participation.
Other options present themselves, but geography often interferes, even when the attendees or the subjects make the meeting appealing. Thus, conferences or trade shows in Asia might well be off limits for all but the largest U.S. retailers, despite the fact that exposure to events on foreign soil has never been more valuable.
Against this backdrop of conferences and meetings, it should be noted that European retailing concepts and ideas are catching on more quickly in this country than has ever been the case. Conversely, American retailing concepts have not caught the attention of non-U.S. retailers with the frequency they once did. Indeed, U.S. retailing has not, in recent years, caught on off these shores as rapidly as it did 10 or 20 years ago. Americans are increasingly going it alone these days, which probably means that participating in international events is more important today than it has been.
But ideas and inspiration remain today where they have traditionally been: in the places where one least expects to find them. That being the case, any show that appears, initially, to offer some unique ideas is probably a show worth investigating — at least once. And 2017 is perhaps a good time to expand horizons, especially when it comes to new out-of-office experiences.