eXchanging Ideas

Winning Customers in an Age of Choice” is more than a tagline for the Retail Systems Alert Group (RSAG). The Newton Upper Falls, Mass.-based research and media company took this trend to heart when it created its newest conference, The ERI eXchange, the Conference & Expo for the Extended Retail Industry.

The new show, which incorporates the premise of RSAG’s 17-year-old Retail Systems Convention & Exposition, will debut at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, June 4-7. Here, an estimated 5,000 delegates will attend more than 50 educational sessions and visit approximately 150 exhibitors that will encourage them to learn how to successfully stand out and compete in the extended retail industry, or, as RSAG puts it, “Win Customers in the Age of Choice.”

The show prepares to do this by moving away from a traditional trade-show format and morphing into a more intimate event “that is focused on thought-leadership and peer-to-peer networking opportunities,” Brian Kil-course, president of RSAG, told Chain Store Age. “It will be a dramatic change from past years.”

To create “a show of this magnitude,” Kilcourse noted, “we needed to focus on more than great speakers and content.”

That said, the convention will kick off with a day of pre-show events on June 4, including a half-day tour of Boston that will hit historic sites, including Fenway Park and retailing landmark Faneuil Hall; a golf tournament; and a “Retailer Excellence” tour that will introduce attendees to retailers that have successful in-store innovations and environments. The evening’s ERI Launch Party will officially open the event.

As the show begins on June 5, the ERI eXchange will delve into key business issues facing the ERI and how technology can help solve these issues. Unlike years past, however, content will not be targeted solely at the CIO and IT executive.

“We want our attendees to view retail in a wider context,” according to Kilcourse. “The ERI is not just about IT or the retail company. The ERI is also about manufacturers and consumers.”

Thus, RSAG has developed a conference program around four distinct tracks: Expansion, Collaboration and Trade; Making the Right IT Decision in an Age of Choice; The Perfect Customer Storm; and Industry Trends and Executive Decisions, a series of panel discussions.

“This will not be a trade show. Instead we call it a beefed-up executive conference,” Kilcourse said.

“We have preserved elements from our past, including a premium conference based on sessions,” he noted. “Rather than only feature case studies, we wanted our sessions to talk about imperative issues and trends and give ERI decision makers a practical way to prepare [for them].”

The Expo floor will also deliver a new ambience as intimate tabletop exhibits replace large, costly booths. Retailer-only advisory boards and roundtable luncheons will round out the event. “It is truly a different ball-game than in the past,” Kilcourse added.

After reviewing the agenda, Curtis Woods, director, IT support services, American Multi-Cinema Inc., (AMC Theatres) Kansas City, Mo., agreed. “The show seems to promote session tracks that are more in line with what retailers really need, and the agenda seems to be more focused than past shows,” he commented.

The new format also prompted RSAG to make over its annual Retail Systems Achievement Awards. Renamed the Extended Retail Industry Awards, RSAG is upping the ante of the event’s presence. Co-presented by Chain Store Age, Women’s Wear Daily and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the new black-tie optional event will be billed as a social event that honors the retail industry’s top innovators.

What to expect: As retailers and vendors make their way to Boston, all are anticipating what the show has in store for them. For example, AMC Theatres’ Woods has his eye on learning how to “optimize sales through the use of analytics. I am also interested in hearing about emerging solutions that are ‘just around the corner,’ and, of course, the ever-popular PCI compliance issues we all face.”

While the name and format may be different, Frank Riso, senior director, retail operations, retail industry solutions group for Holtsville, N.Y.-based Motorola, expects RSAG’s insight into the retail industry to persevere.

“RSAG has always been able to attract retailers to their workshops, and we see the continuation of that as a good thing for this event,” he said.

Clearly, some industry executives question the risk related to what many regard as a new show in an already-saturated trade-show marketplace. However, sources that spoke with Chain Store Age seem bullish on the ERI eXchange.

“The event has good additions,” said Neil Thall, CEO, Aldata Solution, Atlanta. “It promises to provide a comprehensive exhibition area and innovative topics.”

“It is all about doing it better than the other guys,” Woods said. “I don’t think the new format will hurt the show. A strong format will help the event survive among the many industry trade shows that retailers struggle to attend each year.”

For Motorola, the show’s success also depends on its participants. “Companies participating in the show have a responsibility,” Riso concluded. “They need to plan for a good show. This includes pre-arranging meetings with customers, sharing analysis and announcing new products.”