The Shelby Report’s Editor-in-Chief Lorrie Griffith sat down with National Grocers Association (NGA) President and CEO Peter Larkin at the NGA Show in Las Vegas in earlier this month, which turned out to be the show’s seventh consecutive year of record-breaking attendance—more than 3,400—including a record level of retailer and wholesaler participants. The Expo floor at The Mirage also was a sellout, featuring 325-plus exhibitors.
And something that’s not really measurable but still important is the “buzz” around a show. There’s no shortage of that for NGA.
“A lot of people will tell you that this show has an energy level and a buzz that they don’t necessarily see in other shows,” Larkin said. “I think I am experiencing more of that this year than we ever have. It’s been sort of a constant build over the last few years, but there is very, very high energy here…in workshop rooms, every general session, the Best Bagger competition…People are not just registering; they’re participating. They’re here, they’re engaging, they’re on the show floor.
“To be responsible for conducting an event like this and have that kind of feedback is very rewarding,” he added.
In the interview on the final full day of the show Larkin also was asked what the top three topics on retailer attendees’ minds were at this year’s gathering of independents.
No. 1: The Digital World
Digital/online—where do I go with that? That’s a question independents are asking, according to Larkin.
“And it’s not just the online ordering, click-and-collect or delivery, but it’s also what are the best apps? Should I be phasing out of print ads and going into more social media/all digital?” Larkin said.
They are interested in “understanding digital and what they have to do to be relevant to their consumer,” he added. “I don’t think they believe they will compete with Amazon, but I think what they are looking to do is say, ‘Look, I have loyal shoppers; I need to keep my loyal shoppers, and some of them are going to want a digital option to shop my store.’”
There were “Connected Commerce” educational tracks all three days of the show to help retailers in this area.
“I am a firm believer in that the most valuable educational sessions are those where you have retailers and wholesalers in the front of the room talking to the retailers and wholesalers in the audience,” Larkin said. “Because they want to hear what their peers are actually doing, experiencing; what’s working and what isn’t.”
No. 2: The Center Store
“Another popular topic is how do I better position my center store?” Larkin said, which also is linked to the rise of Amazon.
But, he said, independents are “not giving up on center store; they’re saying I’ve got to figure out a better way to do it, take a different look at it. So they want to hear from their peers about things that others have tried to try and preserve that and keep it profitable and not just expect to do the same amount of business they did before if they don’t do anything.”
Two “In the Aisles” sessions at the show were focused on center store.
No. 3: Recruiting Talent
“I also believe that recruiting and retaining talent is a big issue and one that is similar to the digital discussion in that the world is changing and how they attract talent is different than it used to be,” Larkin said. “They are anxious to learn, again, from their peers about how someone might be doing it more successfully than they are.”
Five sessions during the show came under the “People Development” umbrella (more coverage on talent development in future Shelby Report print editions and online).
The education component of the NGA Show is what determines whether people attend, Larkin added. This year, there were more than 40 workshops.
“A lot of our retail members make their decision as to whether they’re going to attend based on the educational lineup, so we pay a lot of attention and listen to them about what they want,” he said. “I think that shows.”
Finally, the opening keynote session at the show featured former Speaker of the House John Boehner, who worked under the Obama administration. That session sparked a question about how NGA members are feeling about the new resident of the White House, Donald Trump.
“I would say they are hopeful,” Larkin said. “The supermarket industry, though many people may not realize it, is highly regulated. It’s regulated from a labor standpoint, a food safety standpoint, a labeling/communication with customers standpoint; there are all kind of regulations that impact the industry. I think they are hopeful that some of the regulatory burden may, not be eliminated, but be eased.
“In addition to being hopeful, I think they also have a wait-and-see attitude. The president was elected because, I think, in large part because people were tired of the status quo and they wanted major change. But they don’t yet have a clear picture of how that’s going to play out. As a result, I think they are very cautiously optimistic.”