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The time to return to work is now

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To loosely quote a memorable Martin Luther King passage: “We face some difficult days ahead.”

Perhaps no words more accurately capture the current situation facing the nation’s mass retailers. The notification, hardly surprising given the current state of the industry, that the National Association of Chain Drug Stores has been forced to cancel its annual Total Store Expo puts an end bracket on the summer’s NACDS calendar. In so doing, it also effectively brackets the mass retailing April to August conference season, which this year began with the cancellation of the Annual Meeting, leaving a void that will be difficult, but not impossible to fill.

Indeed, it is safe to say that no event has more appropriately highlighted the role the chain drug association plays in this industry than the twin announcements that these two signature events — perhaps the most meaningful in all of mass retailing — would not take place this year.

NACDS is hardly at fault here. Faced with obstacles no association could reasonably be asked to surmount, concluding with the announcement that the state of California would not effectively reopen for the business of convention-going until September, the association took the only action open to it. The toll on the organization and the industry it serves, though staggering, was perforce only a secondary consideration. In short, NACDS acted in the only logical way it could, choosing the lesser evil among a minefield of serious hazards.

However, that’s now ancient history — and it falls to the mass retailing industry to lick its wounds, pick up the pieces, cease the unreasonable though understandable activity of blaming NACDS for its perfectly logical decision, and get on with its business.

That means several things, both for retailers and the suppliers who have come to rely on Total Store Expo to provide the merchandise and merchandising to carry the industry forward for the next 12 months. First, the absence of this critical merchandising event should in no way call a halt to the interaction between retailers and suppliers. America is slowly returning to normal. That means that, as the summer progresses, it will become easier, more efficient and more productive for retailers and their supplier partners to meet.

That’s not as simple as it sounds. Suppliers, for their part, are accustomed to travel, though that travel has been sharply curtailed in recent months. For retailers, who have been forced to hunker down during the pandemic that has swept the country this year, reopening their eyes, their ears, their checkbooks and the visionary approach to business that has served them so well for so long will be more difficult. It has become deceptively easy for the mass retail community to slow down, to treat the coronavirus as a reason to put business second, to worry first about family, neighborhood, community.

It is now paramount to reverse that thinking, to once again put business first — at least in the near term. It’s time to recall what mass retailing has traditionally meant to America. Simply put, it is what Americans do, where Americans go, what Americans look forward to. Naysayers to the contrary, Americans fully expect, and certainly hope, that retailing in America will once more, and quickly, become what retailing in America has always been: the engine that drives the economy — and the country.

So the time to return to work is now. Now is the perfect time to support the chain drug store association that has always supported the mass retail community. Now is the time for the mass retail community to work with and support the supplier community, to return the confidence that suppliers have traditionally expressed in doing business with their retail partners.

In short, and in summary, now is the time to return to work, to once again open the doors not only to customers, but to business as usual. It is what American retailers have always done. And it has always worked.


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