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Focusing on the Community and the Secrets of Disruption

Keynote speaker Chip Conley of Airbnb said learning to ‘ride the waves’ can help predict future innovation.
October 18, 2017

​CHICAGO – NACS Show attendees flooded the Arie Crown Theater Wednesday morning for the second General Session of the week. Chairman Rahim Budhwani kicked things off, introducing keynote speaker Chip Conley, who would not be speaking on employee engagement, Budhwani said, but rather on disruption. The hospitality expert likened the interruptive shift of business with the sport of surfing. Much like you can’t control the waves in the ocean, you cannot stop disruption from happening. Instead, you can learn how to navigate the waves and create positive outcomes.

“Someone who understands disruption can look at multiple waves and know which one to choose,” he said.

Conley pointed to several times in history that industries refused to accept marketplace disruption, such as the invention of the ATM, the advancement of buying books online and the creation of Uber. He also shared his own experience of ignoring disruption when it came to the concept of home sharing by a little tech startup known as Airbnb. Conley is the strategic advisor for hospitality and leadership at the now multibillion-dollar company.

The premise of disruption, he said, is “people don’t want fill-in-the-blank.” People don’t want to interact with machines, buy products online or share their homes or their cars. However, you can predict what people do want by looking outside your industry and at historical trends.

For instance, one evolving trend that predicted disruption of the hospitality industry and subsequently led to Airbnb’s success was a shift from the predictability of cookie-cutter hotel chains and establishment-owned timeshares to boutique hotels—and eventually home swapping and sharing platforms—that provided customers with localized and personalized unique experiences.

Today, Airbnb has more than 4 million listings in 65,000 cities with more than 200 million guest arrivals. This compares to the 2.4 million rooms of the three largest hotel conglomerates combined (Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental.)

Conley translated his experiences into two big takeaways for the fuel and convenience industry. First, with the rise of car sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, people are driving less or not at all, which lowers their demand for fuel. This could be bad for c-stores if you don’t navigate the disruption by making changes. What you can do is leverage your local community to create unique experiences that draw customers there regardless of their fuel needs. Second, create a feedback loop, or open circle of communication, between your customers, employees and leadership. This helps you—as a retailer—truly understand your customers and also inspires your employees and gives them a sense of purpose.