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Brick-and-mortar retail shines at SPECS 2024

Retail executives  and suppliers involved in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of stores, restaurants and non-traditional concepts gathered together at Chain Store Age’s 60th annual SPECS Show.

The event, held March 10-12 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, attracted leading retail companies that, combined, operate a total of more than 174,000 stores. All sectors of the industry were represented, from discounters, specialty stores and supermarkets to convenience stores, home-improvement centers and more. Restaurants and  non-traditional specialty concepts, including financial and health care, were also in attendance.

“Sixty years of serving the retail industry is an amazing accomplishment for our program,” said Gary Esposito, SPECS chairman and VP of Chain Store Age, in opening remarks at the show. “Throughout the years, SPECS has remained committed to providing the the critical solutions and services that retailers need to compete in the ever-changing retail landscape. Our success is directly related to all of you who have helped make SPECS the premier event for physical retail.”

The show included approximately 30 targeted educational sessions. The sessions, created by retailers for retailers, focused on the latest trends and technologies transforming the design, construction and maintenance of physical stores and restaurants, with insights from retailers and industry experts alike.

The Solution Center exhibit floor was home to a diverse array of suppliers offering innovative solutions and services to provide a better store experience for their customers and also more efficient operations. 

With everything on site and included in the program, SPECS also provided plenty of business partnering, collaboration and networking opportunities. Attendees came together in sessions, at meal functions and on the exhibit floor. Retailers and industry suppliers also met one-on-one during the Face-2-Face Information Exchange. 

This year’s opening keynote was given by Gene Simmons, co-founder of the iconic rock band KISS. Simmons shared his unique journey as a rock legend and innovative entrepreneur — and his work expanding KISS’ business empire.  Simmons is also the co-founder of Rock and Brews restaurants, which has more than 15 locations.

Confounding the image that many people have of rock starts, Simmons told attendees that he has always abstained from drugs and alcohol out of respect for his mother, a Holocaust survivor who raised him on her own after they immigrated to New York City from Israel. He was a young boy at the time.

Simmons, a college graduate, also noted that before his musical career took off, he worked a variety of jobs in the city. A proficient typist, Simmons worked as a court stenographer and also an elementary school teacher,

 “You always need a fall-back plan,” Simmons told the audience.

The SPECS day-two keynoter was given by financial journalist Ron Insana, senior analyst and commentator at CNBC. Insana delivered a positive message about the U.S. economy, noting that household wealth is at an all-time high. 

“There is a cushion supporting consumer spending that the headlines don’t often suggest,” he said. “Quite frankly, we are doing fine.”

Breakout Retailers 

The show also included the presentation of CSA’s 2024 Breakout Retailer Awards, with the winning lineup made up of American Freight, Chicken N Pickle, Lids and Yesway.  (For more on the honored companies, click here.) The annual awards were sponsored by architecture and design engineering firm Stantec.

Accepting the award on behalf of their companies were  Peter Corsa, CEO of  the home segment of FRG Inc., parent company of American Freight; Joe Palermo, VP of operations, Chicken’n Pickle; Adam Herstig, VP marketing, Lids; and Tom Trkla, chairman and CEO, Yesway.

SPECS will return to the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center next year. SPECS 2025 is scheduled for March 9-11.

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