Down to business at NACDS Annual Meeting

Q&A with Jim Whitman, NACDS SVP member programs and services

Scores of today’s leading retail executives from food, drug and mass, and their supply partners, are set to convene at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Annual Meeting. This year’s NACDS Annual Meeting, which will run from April 30 to May 3, will be held in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the Phoenician resort nestled in the Sonoran Desert in the shadows of Camelback Mountain. As the industry gears up for NACDS Annual Meeting, Drug Store News talked with Jim Whitman, SVP member programs and services, to discuss why it is a “must attend” event.  

DSN: What makes NACDS Annual Meeting such a critical industry event, and why should industry members attend?

Jim Whitman: If you look at the attendance in terms of types of people attending on the retailer side and on the supplier side, it becomes evident why this Annual Meeting is so important. ... For example, as of [early April] we had [roughly 40 chairman of the boards, 83 CEOs, 25 COOs, 189 presidents, 75 EVPs, 150 SVPs, 380 VPs and up to 47 pharmacy deans] among the registrants. ... That is indication that this is a very important part of the annual process [and] the annual work plan of all these attendees.

DSN: NACDS recently relaunched its advertising campaign and aggressively is promoting its pro-pharmacy message. What will industry members see/hear at NACDS Annual Meeting as it relates to this effort?

Whitman: The industry campaign is a two-part campaign. When it was launched in March, it was geared toward [the decision-makers and policymakers] in Washington, D.C., and that corresponded with our government affairs RxImpact Day. You will see those themes carried out throughout the remarks of Larry Merlo, NACDS chairman; Steve Anderson, NACDS president and CEO; and Bob Loeffler, incoming chairman. So it is very important, and you will definitely see a continuation of the message.

DSN: What do you expect will be some hot-button issues that industry members will be talking about at NACDS Annual Meeting?

Whitman: One of the real advantages of the Annual Meeting — and one of the strengths — is that everyone’s agenda is tailored between the retailer and the associate member. That allows specific issues and opportunities to be discussed between the two parties. The Annual Meeting is not a meeting with one theme; it is a meeting with multiple themes, which allows multiple opportunities and multiple discussions at the very strategic level between key decision-makers who have the power to implement and move forward.

DSN: Earlier this year, NACDS launched its mobile website. How will this site, and previously launched apps, benefit those attending NACDS Annual Meeting?

Whitman: You will see a mobile application for the Annual Meeting. ... You [also] will see technology even just going onto the NACDS site at NACDS.org. So what we’re doing is providing various opportunities using technology that will allow attendees to access critical information not only leading up to the Annual Meeting, but also during the Annual Meeting and after the Annual Meeting.

This runs the gamut from participating companies to attendees to sponsors to floor plans to meeting room locations, etc. Any good organization knows that there is no one way that everyone accesses [information], so we’re going to provide multiple access [points]. ...

You will see various postings using the various forms of communications, both written and electronic, to communicate with attendees. The communication is very important, not only to those who are registered, but there are [others not necessarily attending] who are very critical within people’s companies who [also have] access to much of this information.  

DSN: How can retailers best prepare for NACDS Annual?

Whitman: They are taking a look at their specific issues and their specific agendas that they would like to talk with each other about, and that is being communicated — and has been communicated — prior to them getting there. ... You now have going into the conferences a much more productive environment, [where participants] have agreed [on] what needs to be discussed and get right down to critical business.

I think that is the value of the Annual Meeting, where you have the key decision-makers there. ... People want to have value and productivity, and by doing this, the productivity or ROI is increased dramatically. The Annual Meeting is a meeting [in which] success, in many cases, is related to the time and effort you put in prior to getting there.

DSN: How can suppliers best prepare for NACDS Annual?

Whitman: They [also] are bringing their key executives, and the same thought process is being done by the manufacturers. They are going to be presenting to the retailers strategic plans for the next 18 to 36 months. It is not one plan fits all. They are tailoring it to various retailers they are meeting with, and everyone has specific needs and specific requirements. ... They are better prepared so they know the retailer inside and out, and know who the attendees are and what their interests will be. ... We highly recommend that advance preparation is 50% of the critical development you need to do, and the other 50% comes on site.

DSN: What is the importance of the Meet the Retailer program?

Whitman: There are first-time smaller and mid-size companies that may not necessarily know all of the retailers, so this gives them an opportunity to put a face to the companies. The companies that are participating are somewhat of a microcosm of the industry — we have Walmart, Rite Aid, H-E-B, Walgreens, CVS and the Chain Drug Consortium. [They are] all pieces on the retailer side [of] what makes up NACDS in terms of traditional drug, mass and food/drug.

By participating in Meet the Retailer, especially if you are a new associate member or a small to mid-size company, you may not know everyone who is here on the program. It is an opportunity for [retailers] to present to you what their goals and objectives are for the conference, how best to approach them not only at the conference but also throughout the year doing business, what they are seeking and a Q&A.

What an unbelievable opportunity and venue to allow for some questions in a smaller setting with these retailers. It would be very difficult to do that at their corporate headquarters.

DSN: What will be new at this year's NACDS Annual?

Whitman: Every year is new, and I say that because every year there’s new people attending and every year the industry is different. The industry is dynamic and the Annual Meeting is a reflection of that. ... It truly reflects the dynamics of the industry; the dynamics of the participating companies, both the retailers and suppliers; the dynamics of the products; the dynamics of the consumer; [and] the dynamics of the marketplace. Our approach at NACDS is that, in reality, each year is new.

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