Engagement, an overriding theme of the NACS Show, was clearly the dominant theme of NACS Chairman Jay Ricker’s Opening General Session address on Oct. 6 at the NACS Show.
Ricker encapsulated his past year as chairman with three stories about engagement: with the media, with customers and with elected officials.
The first story related to the media and this year’s BP oil spill. “Like many of you, I’m branded, and have been a long-time supporter of my brands. Mainly, my brand is BP. And that was a challenge this year for anyone selling that brand,” said Ricker. And while his stores initially lost sales because of consumer outrage over the spill, sales loses were not as great as feared for his Indiana-based stores.
“In the past decade, we have been much more engaged with the media. NACS has led this effort,” said Ricker. “I truly believe that we have changed the national conversation about our industry.”
Ricker said that it’s the industry’s job to communicate our industry’s voice, “before someone else does.” Because retailers have done that, there have been far fewer negative stories and many more positive stories about the industry over the past decade, he noted.
“Our experience this summer clearly showed that the more work you do upfront, the more you can control your destiny,” said Ricker.
Despite all of the engagement with the media, noted Ricker as he transitioned to his second story, he did lose sales at several stores, five in particular. Ricker felt that to change consumer perceptions, he needed to engage with customers at these five store. So the Ricker Facebook site broadcast a simple message: come meet the owner of the company, who will be dressed as a clown and giving out coupons for free stuff.
The response was overwhelming. While customers flocked to the stores to have their pictures taken and get coupons, the real payoff was a new level of engagement.
“We created a connection that went far beyond just that day. I came home that night absolutely invigorated. It confirmed everything I love about the industry,” said Ricker. “One-on-one engagement in our communities.”
Ricker’s third story was about engaging with political leaders, specifically visiting his congressman’s cramped Capitol Hill office. The meeting, which Ricker thought might only be a cursory meeting, went a full hour. “That meeting was flat-out incredible,” said Ricker. “For 45 minutes he asked me questions about my business, and his staff furiously scribbled notes.”
Then, Ricker recalled, the congressman paused and asked him what he wanted to discuss. “For the next 15 minutes I talked about everything I could think of. I talked about E-15 and how that could require us to buy expensive new tanks, pumps and nozzles. I talked about the huge cost of PCI compliance. I talked about menu labeling. And of course I talked about swipe fees.”
That meeting jump-started a relationship with Ricker’s congressman that he couldn’t have imagined.
“I can’t promise you that all Hill meetings go this well, but I do know this. If you don’t try, you can’t succeed. Congress doesn’t know your issues; you do. I truly believe that if you want to be successful today, you need to be involved in politics. And if you don’t get involved, bad things will happen,” stressed Ricker.
Ricker concluded by sharing that he is overwhelmed by how well regarded NACS is when he has traveled representing the association.
“I hear the same thing over and over. NACS gets things done.
But, stressed, Ricker, NACS isn’t some faceless entity. It is everyone who is engaged with NACS, said Ricker, calling out several retailers in the audience. NACS is, most of all, you,” said Ricker.
The NACS Show, which runs through Friday at the Georgia World Congress Center, is ranked as one of the 50 largest annual tradeshows in the U.S.