Sometimes the Show Must Go On Differently — Here’s How NACS Pivoted

April 27, 2020

Lori Stillman

Lori Stillman is vice president of research for National Association of Convenience Stores, where she oversees the association’s research portfolio — including the NACS State of the Industry suite of products and events, the Convenience Tracking Program and monthly data insights from the CSX industry database — among other programs.


There are so many things that flash through your brain when you realize that world events will overtake the event that you have planned for months if not years.

With our NACS State of the Industry Summit, scheduled to attract 600 registrants to Chicago in early April, our initial thought was, how can we pivot and still deliver value to our attendees?

Luckily, NACS had been through this drill before. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans six weeks before our NACS Show was to bring 22,000 attendees to the city. At that time, we asked three central questions:

  1. Can we move the show to another city?
  2. Can we ensure that it will be a world-class event and will look no different than any other highly polished event?
  3. Can we take things off our plates that will not be noticed so we can focus on questions 1 and 2?

Fast-forward 15 years — when the digital prowess of the world has transformed how we connect and communicate — it was clear that our best options was not to move our event to another city, but to take it online.

Nothing can replace the value of a face-to-face meeting, so we acknowledged that from the start in how we built out the program. But how can we closely replicate a traditional meeting and possibly add new benefits by going virtual? The short version is we created the NACS State of the Industry Summit Virtual Experience (SOIVE), recording 12 presentations on GoToMeetings that were edited a few days in advance before we launched the program live on April 14 with 1,700 registrants. We focused on two specific criteria to deliver value to our attendees:

1. Content

Simply recording the presentations that we had planned for our SOI Summit was not sufficient for this event, which traditionally focuses on sales, trends and ideas to grow the business based on the previous year’s data. That was certainly important, but everything had changed, and was evolving as we were planning content. We worked with every speaker to review and revise content through a new lens of how emergency declarations could affect traditional operations and create new opportunities. We pivoted to also add three presentations focused on COVID-19, from delivery and the last mile to communicating your business’ message.

It was important that we make the event look as professional as what we intended to present on stage. Each presentation was watermarked with our event logo and speaker identification information and had fade in/out music, and all presentations were edited after recording to ensure a consistent, quality look and feel.

2. Experience

The word “experience” in our SOIVE was very deliberate. We know the value of events is not just the content but the experience. How can you learn from each other and share ideas or solve problems? We also ensured that our speakers, in many cases retailers, weren’t simply presenting our data; it was vital that they were telling their stories. What does this mean to my business? That’s what we wanted them to share in their presentations. We created “Ask the Presenter” elements that allowed direct questions to presenters, which we continue to monitor as more “attendees” engage with the presentations.

Finally, we focused on how to make this event as easy to attend as possible. We restructured our offer from registering individuals to selling enterprise-wide subscriptions. There are revenue implications, but we also realize we are in very different times and couldn’t let perfect be the enemy of “pretty darn good.”


I can’t wait to attend and hold meetings in person again. But for what we faced — and continue to face — this worked, especially on such a tight turnaround. I was incredibly proud of everyone, from every department at NACS, who reinvented their jobs to make this happen, and couldn’t wait to celebrate with them the evening of our successful launch. That meant, of course, a virtual happy hour.

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