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Mid-Year Conference Is: TOPSS


The economy remains sluggish and shoppers are pulling back their discretionary dollars. Rather than throw in the towel and ride out the storm, retailers need to work harder to make sure their stores will excite shoppers, and more importantly, satisfy their needs.

“Sure, the economy is going to make things difficult, and retailers will need to do more with less,” according to Cathy Hotka, principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates, Washington, D.C. “But that just means that retailers need to find a way to be inventive.”

Rather than start from scratch, retailers can learn how to step up their store-level game at the fifth annual Technology & Operations Store Summit (TOPSS) this spring.

The event, sponsored by Chain Store Age and Retail Technology Quarterly, is back at the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa in Las Vegas, June 10-12. Shifting away from the formal settings of traditional conventions—a format that seems to have lost steam in the industry—TOPSS is designed to be a relaxed, “interactive meeting,” a format that successfully encourages intimate discussions among peers from all lines of the retail business.

By trading in its fall time slot, TOPSS is primed to become the industry’s sole mid-year conference. “We need a mid-year IT meeting. And this is it,” said Hotka, who co-developed the conference program.

“It was logical to move up the show, especially in this economic landscape,” she said. “We will provide tips and actionable benefits at each session. And every detail can be applied at your company and used to improve service throughout the rest of the year.”

As in years past, TOPSS is dedicated to store operations and improving the store experience. The only way to concentrate on the store, however, is to focus on every layer of retail that affects the store.

“Clearly, the business will evolve as long as there is input and participation from every piece of the business—from IT to loss prevention, and real estate to logistics. And these groups need to collectively dive deep into issues,” Hotka explained.

All retailers are welcome to join in. TOPSS is known to attract speakers and delegates from every part of the industry, “including executives from gigantic companies, as well as some companies that may not be as well-known,” Hotka said.

“While smaller companies often hear about successes of their larger counterparts, smaller companies often create innovation in ways bigger companies may not have thought of,” she added. “TOPSS provides a single place where a variety of retail disciplines and cross-segments can meet to talk about the store, and learn how technology and operations intersect.”

Over the last five years, the conference has achieved this by featuring world-class industry speakers, including John Thompson, senior VP and general manager, ; Gary King, CIO, Chico’s FAS, Inc., and Ken Brame, former CIO, AutoZone—and this year is no exception.

Brame is back for this year’s conference. His first task is to help retailers exploit vendor relationships in the kickoff breakout session, “Retailers: Bang for your Buck,” on Tuesday, June 10. The session was created to address the art of negotiating with technology vendors to get the best solution and service contracts possible.

“One reason retailers claim they have a hard time making strides at store level is because they complain they never have the right number of technology people on staff,” Hotka said. “Technology teams need to turn to their vendors for help and work with them to make solutions successful at store level, as well as across supporting lines of business.”

In other partnership news, chains will learn the value of making the CIO a key decision maker during “Partnering With the CIO: The Future of IT Sales Seen Through the Eyes of Key Decision Makers,” on Wednesday, June 11. Led by authors Michael Minelli and Mike Barlow, the discussion will focus on how the chain and store look through the eyes of the CIO. It will also highlight the current state of IT and leadership, and what potential changes will impact the retail store.

Retailers are interested in the impact that task management has on improving operations at store level. TOPSS dives into this issue during “Task Management,” also on Wednesday. A panel of retail executives will reveal how task-management software can really manage the store-level workload, improve task tracking and eliminate redundant activities, thus improving productivity.

“For us, a Web-based portal helps us deliver this real-time communication enterprisewide,” Tony Briggs, CIO, Payless ShoeSource, Topeka, Kan., and conference delegate, told Retail Technology Quarterly. “The portal allows folks at store level to view pictures of how to set a store or look at shoes, and so on. We are also piloting an online help desk and doing a lot with the portal to support workforce management as well.”

But sessions are only one piece of TOPSS’ education puzzle. To uphold the intimate, yet interactive setting, TOPSS presents plenty of networking opportunities. In addition to networking breakfasts on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, delegates can share tips and experiences during eight topic roundtable discussions at the Networking Lunch on Wednesday.

Here, retailers are urged to meet with peers and discuss the issues they face every day, as well as share solutions. Topics of discussion will include point of sale, biometrics, PCI and security, surges in customer demand, reverse supply chain, workforce management, inventory integrity, human resources and telecommunications.

For fun off of the Vegas strip, TOPSS is inviting attendees to the first annual Rock and Bowl event at Red Rocks’ posh bowling alley. Attendees are invited to bowl, mingle and catch up from the day’s sessions. Casual refreshments will be served.

“The TOPSS conference really gives attendees plenty of opportunities to learn how to make 2008 a winning year, despite the economy,” Hotka said.

“Anyone who says, ‘2008 will be a crummy year, and we should hunker down and not do anything new,’ is surely on the road to death,” Hotka said. “There are truly some exciting things being done to kick up the store experience, keep customers interested, and still take money out of process.”

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