Larry Merlo, president and chief executive officer of CVS Caremark Corp. and current chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, made a dramatic announcement at this year’s NACDS Annual Meeting regarding the association’s meetings and conferences agenda.


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NACDS to meld three shows in Total Store Expo

May 1st, 2011
Plans call for NACDS to combine its Marketplace Conference, Pharmacy & Technology Conference, and Supply Chain & Logistics Conference into a single, under-one-roof event.
by David Pinto

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Larry Merlo, president and chief executive officer of CVS Caremark Corp. and current chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, made a dramatic announcement at this year’s NACDS Annual Meeting regarding the association’s meetings and conferences agenda.

At the business session on Sunday morning, May 1, Merlo unveiled a stunning and well-considered restructuring of the NACDS meetings calendar.

Beginning in 2013, the new structure will combine the NACDS Marketplace Conference and the NACDS Pharmacy and Technology Conference — two events that are currently held separately — in a jointly staged, under-one-roof expo to run from August 10 through August 13 in Las Vegas.

The Marketplace Conference is currently a freestanding late June event, while the Pharmacy Conference has traditionally been held at the end of August. These two meetings will retain their separate identities through the next calendar year, before being combined in 2013.

As well, the NACDS Supply Chain and Logistics Conference, until now a separate event, will be bundled under the joint Marketplace and Pharmacy Conference umbrella in 2013. The new August event is tentatively titled the “Total Store Expo.”

This simplified and streamlined conference agenda accomplishes several objectives. For one, it reduces by two the number of separate events NACDS convenes each year. While the Regional Chain Conference and Annual Meeting remain separate signature events, the Marketplace, Pharmacy and Technology, and Supply Chain and Logistics conferences will be combined under the Total Store Expo banner.

For a second, NACDS has scheduled an additional board of directors meeting around the Total Store Expo, in the belief that the board’s presence will further simonize the event and thus attract a larger number of retailers and suppliers.

To further encourage attendance, the directors have each pledged the participation of their key merchants for the duration of the four-day meeting, currently scheduled to begin on August 10 with the Meet the Market and Meet the Retailer events, which have in recent years become integral to the success of NACDS conferences, and end with an awards dinner on August 13. As at current Marketplace and Pharmacy events, the retailers will be allowed on the exhibit floor to preview the merchandise before it formally opens at noon on Sunday. Finally, the business and educational programs that have been part of both events will remain an integral part of the new format.

Perhaps most significant, the newly scheduled event will be open to all mass retailers, regardless of their current NACDS affiliation or membership. Said NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson last week in positioning the restructuring: “Anyone involved in retail can come.”

Asked to elaborate on what that means in terms of NACDS membership, NACDS senior vice president of member programs and services Jim Whitman explained that “a new membership category is possible, but that’s something we’re still exploring.”

As currently envisioned, the initial Total Store Expo will be followed by a similar event the following August in Boston, and a third show in August of 2015 in Denver.

Both Merlo and Anderson made clear that the restructuring comes in the aftermath of an extended period of examination and reevaluation that began four years ago at the NACDS Annual Meeting in Phoenix, during which the board addressed several issues its members believe might have combined to inhibit the current structure. As Anderson put it: “We determined that the value equation wasn’t there for our membership.”

Foremost among the issues that were explored was the close proximity of the Annual Meeting and the Marketplace Conference, two of the association’s signature events, which are currently scheduled less than two months apart.

“The spacing was a critical issue,” said Merlo, “one we believe we have successfully addressed.” He added that the new format opens up many opportunities for retailers and suppliers that formerly didn’t exist.

“Everyone is aligned with this restructuring,” Merlo concluded, adding that it will “increase the opportunity for meaningful retailer-supplier interaction.”

Anderson shares that view of the new conference structure. “This will be larger and more meaningful than a buying show,” he said last week. “It will involve the total store and total merchandise mix — health, wellness, pharmacy and immediate-care clinics as well as food and general merchandise. Then, too, as we envision it, the expo will be presented as shows within a show that target specific product groupings and health care issues.”

Merlo categorized the new format as “the best solution to the challenges we faced in altering the current structure. It really satisfied the needs of everyone.”

Whitman describes 2012 as a transitional year for the NACDS conference agenda, one in which the Marketplace and Pharmacy conferences will retain their current format and agenda.

Anderson and Merlo believe that the new structure effectively answers the questions that have surrounded the NACDS meetings agenda for some time.

“Although our primary mission is defined as influencing pharmacy legislative and regulatory issues — a mission that has brought our industry billions of dollars in savings — the meetings and conferences are critically important to the association, both as a revenue model and as an opportunity to bring buyers and sellers together,” said Merlo. “In addressing this restructuring, particularly as it relates to the Marketplace Conference, an event that has been our biggest source of challenges and discussion, we had to confront the daunting assignment of making our meetings agenda more relevant to both retailers and suppliers. We believe this new structure is the answer.”

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