NACDS Total Store Expo 2022 Promises to Bring Together Pharmacy, Retail Stakeholders

The Total Store Expo is taking place in Boston from August 27 through 29, 2022.

In an interview with Pharmacy Times, Jim Whitman, senior vice president of member programs and services at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) discussed the upcoming Total Store Expo meeting and what attendees can look forward to. The Total Store Expo is taking place in Boston from August 27 through 29, 2022.

Q: Can you give a bit of background about the NACDS Total Store Expo and what it is?

Jim Whitman: Yes, hi. Total Store Expo actually, the very first one was held in 2013. And it was a combination or merger of both the NACDS Marketplace Conference, which was a consumer-packaged goods (CPG) front-end conference that was traditionally held in June, and then the NACDS pharmacy conference—so, no need to explain that—which was held in August. In looking at the industry and really looking at our members, retailers, and suppliers, it became very evident that, obviously, life is changing. Their companies were changing and how they went to business was changing. And it made sense to bring both the CPG side of the front end and the pharmacy together, because that's really how the company is restructured.

So, we call it the Total Store Expo, which again, covers everything from when you walk in the front door, if you will, to the pharmacy counter and possibly the back, and then on the left to the right or the east to west of the store. So, it made a lot of sense, it was more productive. Also, if you take a look at the industry, you know, pharmacy was integrating itself into the front end and the front end was integrating itself into the pharmacy. So again, we found out it was better for the productivity of all the attendees to bring both sides together, because many times, they've never really walked an exhibit floor together. So, we were able to merge, if you will, reduce the silos and bring everyone together in one format, called the Total Store Expo.

Q: The theme is “Tomorrow Happens Here.” Can you talk about looking to the future of pharmacy and why that is important?

Jim Whitman: Well, I think when you talk about the future of pharmacy, it's hard to predict the future. So, a couple things. One, obviously, just the pandemic, this is the first time since 2019 that the industry is getting together. And they're going to be talking both about today, but certainly tomorrow and beyond. And so tomorrow happens here. Obviously, all the companies again—and I'm referring to the entire concept of Total Store Expo, so that's everyone, all retailers and suppliers. Now they're looking at evolution, they're looking at what's happening tomorrow, they're looking at trends, they're looking at how their company's going to respond to the needs of their business partners. And it makes sense to all come together to be able to have those conversations. And you can also have it in a context of, again, a broad group of people who were there from the marketing, the merchandising, the sales, the E-commerce, the category people, everyone who's involved in the district. So, they all have an input on it and we're all going to have to make it successful.

I think it's also important, again, being the first time that everyone's been together since really August of 2019. We've all been through the Zooms and the Teams and the other kinds of calls that can be productive. But it certainly doesn't beat being in there, sitting face-to-face, having a conversation about what's going to be happening, how we can make a difference short term, how we can make a different medium term, how we can make a difference long term. And again, it's going to focus a conversation because where is your company going? Where are you headed? How are we going to be a partner? What do we need to do? Is where we're going is compatible with your goals and objectives? So, lots that can be done. And the theme is just, you know, one indication. It’s not all that's been done at Total Store Expo, but certainly one piece, an important piece, is what's going to be done.

Q: Are there specific events that you’re looking forward to this year?

Jim Whitman: Well, again, I speak from an attendee standpoint, and as the name implies, at Total Store Expo we'll take advantage of everything that's going to go on. So, it starts on Friday, the 26th of August, for new companies or first-time companies, there's going to be a Maximize Your Engagement with NACDS [meeting] which is important to go to if you've never been there and you're looking at opportunities. It's going to be members and retailers and suppliers who are going to share their insights with companies. Again, some people are new, so are they doing a new role or is it a first-time company, so they may not have been to TSE. So, it's a great opportunity to start finding out what are all the ways to leverage and, you know, if you've never been anywhere, if you moved into a new neighborhood, you don't really know everything. Here you're talking to people, the neighbors, if you will, who've been there and they're going to be able to share.

And then we start on Saturday with Meet the Market, a hugely important program. We've done it and it's something that we really started. We make 10-minute appointments for retailers and suppliers or exhibitors who participate. It’s a hugely successful program as it runs all day Saturday. There's also concurrent sessions going on—education, breakout sessions, insight sessions that are happening. And throughout Saturday it's a broad approach to the eclectic information. So, you may not like one, but you like the other ones. People can go as team or you may go in one direction, someone else, your team goes in another direction.

So, not only are there multiple opportunities that are happening Sunday with the business program, that we start with Larry Summers, who's going to be speaking about inflation, the economy, it's certainly a big topic. Notwithstanding the good news today that inflation came down a little bit. But I think in terms of, again, taking a look at not only where we are, Mr. Summers will be talking about where we're going to go and where his expectations are. And I think it's education that impacts your company, but also your personal self, which is another advantage of TSE, one of the good benefits of it. And then the floor activities that are happening, you know, we have lunch on the floor, so no one has to leave. So, you can take your nourishment, if you will, during the day. And it's a time that retailers and suppliers will be meeting with other suppliers to meet with suppliers and retailers, to meet with retailers, you're going to meet with each other. So it's a hugely productive use of one's time. And the receptions and social events that are going on, again, the insights sessions that are happening on Monday, the floor activities, and then we end with the Boston extravaganza, which has, you know, very major entertainment with Bryan Adams’ show. There’s a little bit for anybody, whatever you want to do. Certainly, we're going to keep you busy from Friday afternoon all the way through Monday night. I should say, also, on Saturday there’s the NACDs Institute, which is going to be looking at health and wellness in some of the activities with the White House nutritional committee meetings that were held. So again, no matter what your interest is, it's a great opportunity to learn and expand your horizons.

So, in addition to everything that was above, I think one of the one of the specific points I like to mention to everyone who's going to be coming to Total Store Expo is on Sunday morning. You know, we didn't mention, Larry Summers will be speaking to the business program but also Steve Anderson, the NACDS president and CEO, will be talking about the vision of where NACDS is going to be, as well as Brian Nightengale, the NACDS chair, will also be talking about it. This will be his first meeting since he's been appointed chair since the annual meeting. So, we'll get a status report where he is. But I think there's going to be some information about some of the activities at NACDS. As everyone may know, this is going to be our 90th anniversary coming up. So, you'll hear more about that. And we'll also be talking about some of the initiatives that we prepare for the 90 years and beyond. I think NACDS is vibrant, it has a clear mission of where we're going, and more about that will be coming during the business program. So, I encourage everyone to attend Sunday morning at 9:30 along with Larry Summers, it will be well worth your time to be there.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic and pharmacists’ growing roles changed the focus or energy at the NACDS Total Store Expo?

Jim Whitman: You know, TSE, again, it serves many masters. We're trying to do a lot. Everyone has their own agenda, coming in there. Some are to meet with people, some are to learn, some are to meet with people and learn, and everything in between. So, we're looking at where the industry is. TSE hasn't, can't stand still, no company, retailer, or supplier or exhibitor, your publication hasn't stood still. So, it's important to take a look at innovation, it's important to take a look at health and wellness. Those titles have become even more important since the pandemic in terms of pharmacy services and provision of vaccines and immunizations across the board here, tied into front end. And the kinds of products, the supply chain, questions that are going on out there, diagnostic testing that is being done in our stores right now, going into rural and urban communities that have a shortage of health care professionals. So, there's tremendous amount of activity that can be done in a networking opportunity. TSE is going to be face to face, and it's just going to be a lot more productive. I think too, as we found, everything moves much faster than it ever used to. I mean, when we used to think the planning, maybe we take 8 months or 8 months to look, the pandemic shows us we have 6 weeks to do it. We don't have 18 weeks to do it anymore. So, I think that's really important that it’s done in a partnership, networking, communal activity, which is one of the great benefits of being there.

Q: What is the most important part of the NACDS Total Store Expo for you?

Jim Whitman: Again, looking at it as an attendee, personally, from my standpoint, I give everything since we're planning it. So, we think we're giving enough variety and enough content and enough intellectual stimulation to all the attendees to find and meet their objectives. Again, we know that people come. If we're going to have 4000 people there, there’s going to be 4000 agendas coming there, if you will. So, our goal, our objective, was to make sure whatever your agenda is, there is content, there is programming, there's opportunities for you to meet and fulfill that. It just makes sense. We spend a lot of time, you know, we approach it not as NACDS, we approach it as if we were to come in as an attendee. What would we want? If we were coming as a CEO, you come in as a first timer, or category manager, what is it that we want? What do we want to accomplish? And so that's the approach to it. So, what we're trying to do is give everyone as much variety as much opportunity to maximize their engagement as possible. So, in that context, we're not going to pick any one favorite, we think all of them have redeeming value to the attendees. We hope they take advantage of it.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

Well, you know, again, I think Total Store Expo is really, when you think about it, it follows what NACDS does. There are 3 conferences, starting in January with our regional chain conference, in April with our annual meeting, and then followed by the Total Store Expo. So, it's basically 3 opportunities during the year, especially here in August. Now as people are starting to look at budgets or implement their plans, or whether there are a fiscal year or calendar year, opportunities to make adjustments. But it's a place where the industry is going to come together. You know, it's interesting, if you have that over 2-and-a-half days where the industry can all be there so you can really take advantage of what needs to be done. It makes sense. Everyone's talking about maximizing the need to have a habit or an ROI. Well, this is where the ROI is really unlimited. The only thing that restricts it is what you, the attendee, don't want to do. So, there's tremendous opportunity to do it and as we said, we're looking not only for today, but for tomorrow. And I think it's important that you take a look at today and tomorrow because this industry is so, so vital. And so, the opportunity is so unlimited in the future that this is a new habit. You have to plan for it and this is what Total Store Expo is all about.