By Mark Wohltmann
What a busy month. After a hiatus of two years due to COVID-19, it is very clear that everyone is eager to get out again and that we can expect some superlatives at events this year.
We started the month of April with our NACS Convenience Leaders Exchange Germany/Austria/Switzerland, hosted by our NACS Relationship Partner DACH, Christian Warning. In a stunning venue (a church!), we had the largest turnout ever, and once again we could connect with our members and friends to network, learn and strategically advance our entire industry. The only way to advance is to share and talk!
The second week of April saw our annual NACS State of the Industry Summit happening in Chicago, with record numbers of attendees as well. From our great industry speakers, we learned about the resilience of the American convenience and fuel retailing industry and how COVID drove center-aisle sales and brought new consumer segments into our stores. The big question now is how to cater to these people to keep them as customers.
I also learned that the latest craze isn’t stocks… it’s socks, and everyone is handing out branded ones. A quick poll on LinkedIn with pictures of me wearing different socks revealed that there wasn’t a clear winner if more-design-y or more-hard-core retail or our beloved 60-year NACS anniversary socks are the best… So, it’s up to you what s(t)ocks to invest in.
I stayed in the U.S. afterwards to spend a week in our office in Alexandria, Virginia. Besides catching up with colleagues and learning that even our newest colleagues, whom we hired during the lockdown, do exist in full-body length and not just what Microsoft Teams shows on our screens, I toured the cities of Alexandria and Washington D.C. to see the latest developments in convenience retail.
Amazon Go was a great experience, even though I couldn’t figure out how to get my UK app on a UK phone working in a U.S. Amazon Go store. (Well… back home I told my wife, who said, “Just go to settings and change the country location.” That simple … well … next time). Wholefoods big box with Just Walk Out did work on my phone, and the experience was awesome. I scootered (don’t know if that is a word…) through D.C. on my store tour, also squeezing in some sightseeing.
A little tip: Don’t scooter with sunglasses, backpack and baseball cap near the Pentagon (headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense) and take pictures on your phone. Military police really, really don’t like it… which I know now after being stopped, questioned and passport-checked—all good though. And imagine their puzzled faces when my answer on “what are you doing here?” was: “I am on a store tour looking at convenience stores …”
Back in the UK
After flying back to the UK, I spent a day in Birmingham for the annual National Convenience Show and the ACS Summit. Biggest trends from the NCS:
- vaping, vaping flavors, better vaping, smoother vaping, cooler vaping
- retail technology, from POS to pump to back office
- niche drinks and snacks from an uncountable number of startups
On to Berlin, Germany, the next day, preparing our store tour for the upcoming NACS Convenience Summit Europe, 31 May – 2 June. Amazing stores, brand new concepts. A must see! Hope you’ll join us. (It’s not too late to register.)
On my way back home, I stopped for a night in Hamburg, Germany, to visit the Internorga, one of the world’s largest trade shows for foodservice. Latest trends:
- #Coffee: coffee machines, barista coffee, better coffee machines, craft coffee, even better coffee machines, single-source coffee, ultra-super-mega-futuristic coffee machines…
- #Indulgence: high-carb, sweet feel-good food
- #Better-for-you: Sustainable, free-from, organic, natural, vegan, plant-based
- Human-ish #Robots: serving robots, customer service robots, vacuum robots, delivery robots
- #Technology: salad and muesli vending machines, ultra-sound cooking, click & collect software, booking software solutions, everything digital
- #Foodtrucks… yum!
Ooops. That already took me into the first days of May… More about that next month.
See you all soon.
Mark Wohltmann is director, NACS Global. He can be reached at email@example.com.