Top Tips from an NRF Newcomer

This year I had the opportunity to attend the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, the industry’s flagship event, for the very first time. Imagine 35,000 people wandering in a maze of rooms with 300+ speakers, 500+ vendor booths, and a robust innovation lab: with such a large presence it was difficult not to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are ways to get around it:

  • Do your homework – read-up on each session (and not just the titles!) and have a list of the sessions you’re planning to attend. Be sure to also block out time to walk the floor and visit any booths that interest you. If you have a buddy you’re attending with, coordinate so you can cover any conflicting sessions and share notes later.
  • Plan ahead for networking – I found that my calendar quickly filled up, as did others’ so I would recommend reaching out to your contacts, friends, colleagues well in advance to schedule time to network. Very rarely are all these top leaders in the industry all in one place, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Be open to meeting new people – Many people walked into sessions, listened, and left which felt like a waste of an opportunity to meet others with similar interests and challenges. I found it valuable to stay after, ask questions and leverage the opportunity to network and build relationships.

After the initial overwhelm of the size of the event, I was next astounded by the wealth of information around me. There are very few other opportunities to be co-located with such innovative minds in retail. My approach was to jump all-in and take advantage of the change to absorb new information, and keep an open mind to topics that might be relevant to our clients. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorite sessions below, each linked to a video of the session:

  • Fireside Chat with Sir Richard Branson – I found this session incredibly inspiring. Richard made a compelling argument for how people (both customers and employees) can truly fall in love with a brand and lifestyle, which can transform that brand into a community. Richard has managed to create a Virgin network with a common culture and drive that is unparalleled with brands like Virgin Unite nonprofit foundation and The Elders community to drive positive change in the world. He mentioned how he will strive to provide growth opportunities for employees not only within their company but across the Virgin network to help retain talent. Not to mention the plug for being bold, taking risks, and being okay with failure -
  • Recycling Rebranded – This session focused on the increasing demand for sustainable products. The individuals in this session had some of the most advanced and pure sustainable operations. They talked about how they have started with small changes, for example a personal promise to minimize waste or making the decision that they would source all materials from other fashion companies’ waste materials like Daniel has done, in order to make sustainable products more mainstream. They also made the connection that they are starting to see similar demand for sustainable fashion as they have seen in the food industry with organic, sustainable foods, which will surely affect the way retailers source and operate -
  • Tailoring the 21st Century Customer Experience – This session was a great showcase of how important personalization and customization are to customers. While we spoke about Shoes of Prey and Indochino specifically, I appreciated the nod to a variety of approaches that can still get at the customers desire ways to create something unique and special to support their own personal brand -
  • Under Armour – This session hosted a very interesting discussion of how engaging customers through apps like “Map My Run” and “My Fitness Pal” can enable disruptive performance through a single view of the consumer. This data and analytics capability can lead to informed decision-making to drive customer experience, improved marketing (e.g., Our customers who like running in NYC are most highly concentrated at the reservoir in Central Park between the hours of 6-7pm on Tuesdays can we run a guerilla campaign there?), product development (e.g., “We’re seeing more people posting barre classes and rugby workouts – do we have products aimed at those segments?”), store placement, and many other key retailing decisions.
  • Retail at the Speed of Disruption – I enjoyed this session because it drove me to think differently about stores, customers, exchanges, and products -

As my first NRF experience, I got an overwhelming sense of the need for retailers to be more dynamic, drive a consistent experience across both traditional stores and the digital marketplace, and increase prevalence of virtual reality, appropriately leveraging and driving insights from (not just collecting) data, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and automation. Retailers, more than ever, are being pushed to transform not only their technology but their workforce to respond to these demands.

If you interesting in learning more about the broad trends at NRF, check out North Highland’s learnings in our “NRF in an Hour” recap deck here.