Tech Event Touts Innovation

Speakers on initial day of NACS conference speak of IT leadership

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

J. Walker Smith

DALLAS -- With innovation as a central theme at this year's NACS technology conference, Michael Davis, vice president of member services for NACS, welcomed attendees and challenged them to be more than technology leaders, but also business leaders.

"We need to focus on innovation and creating innovation in our companies," said Davis, addressing an assembly of about 500 retailers and suppliers at The Tech Event in Dallas.

The initial conference speaker, J. Walker Smith, chairman of The Futures Co., then took the stage, speaking to consumer trends and the gaps where innovation could lead to profit.

He spoke on three topics:

  • Think small to win big. This idea spoke to small innovations that solved key trend issues and as a result, made significant differences.
  • "Head space" is the new convenience. Innovative retailers address the data clutter going on with many consumers and the ability to somehow free people up to think clearer or feel better about their lives.
  • Deliver better, not just more. Turning the thought of productivity around, he challenged listeners to not merely provide more product but to somehow deliver it in a better way, again, referring back to the simple, more experiential nature of what consumers appear to want today.

Describing an innovation development process, Smith said macro-trends are a starting-off point, with consumer needs then providing a direction for what an innovative solution might be. With a demographic that's deluged with information and burdened by the tension that it causes, he said providing experiential solutions to generate fun and promote person-to-person relationship building was key.

He cited examples where companies promoted their brand by developing websites where people could interact with each other. In one instance, a home-improvement center brought people together online to talk about how they solved their own do-it-yourself remodeling challenges. In another instance, a store provided a site where customers had cartoon avatars made, on which, they could try on different styles of sunglasses. In another case, large-screen TVs at stores turned customers into virtual avatars where they could have fun and "decompress."

"Things where people can take a photo and share with friends, things that people can share with others … You bring people closer together; you facilitate relationships."

Later in the afternoon, Bob Johnson, president of The Pinnacle Corp., Arlington, Texas, took the stage to bring talk about the Petroleum Alliance for Convenience Technology Standards (PCATS). He explained the need for their standards-making efforts to date, and said the industry benefits with more competition for solutions and broader choice.

Addressing the combination of what had been called the "NACStech" conference and the annual PCATS meeting--held for the past several years at different times--Hank Armor, chairman of NACS, said, "It was a lot to ask of the technology community to commit to two events."

The Tech Event is scheduled to run through Friday, May 10, with PCATS meetings to begin formally Wednesday.

For more on trending technologies within the c-store space, see the May 2013 issue of CSP magazine. Retailers interested in a new "Mobile 2 Go" blog from CSP's senior editor Angel Abcede can visit as he posts live from The Tech Event.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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