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NRF’s Shay delivers state-of-retail message


National Retail Federation president and CEO Matt Shay shared a message of inspiration and transformation to mark the beginning of the trade group’s annual Big Show, which again drew a record number of attendees to New York.

The fact that 35,000 people are in attendance at the show this year is a testament to several factors. For starters, the pace of consumer-driven change in the retail industry is just amazing and the show is dominated by all manner of technology companies whose portfolio of solutions are enabling the transformation. Secondarily, retailers are struggling to upgrade, replace and modernize the systems required just to catch up to where customers already are, never mind where they will be in a few year’s time. No one has it quite figured it out yet so amid tremendous uncertainty retailers turn out in droves searching for answers from the world’s largest technology companies who are intent on inventing the future. Roughly 580 exhibitors, many occupying massive “booths” staffed by hundreds of people, were at times throughout the first day of the show filled shoulder-to-shoulder with attendees.

The huge turnout and heightened relevance of the Big Show is the result of a strategic plan Shay said the NRF board put in action five years ago to transform the organization and the event.

“We’ve invested in attendee experiences, added a third day of exhibits and gained exclusive control of the entire convention center. Like the rest of NRF, (the show) would be unrecognizable to an attendee from just a few years ago,” Shay said.

In comments akin to a state-of-the-organization and state-of-the-industry message, Shay elaborate on how one of the biggest aspects of the transformation centered on a return to an advocacy agenda that has made NRF one of the industry’s loudest voices, and Shay isn’t shy about touting the group’s accomplishments.

“Did you know that in the past five years, the Big Show and – and more than 100 other NRF events – brought together more than a quarter of a million people. Or, that the NRF Foundation has awarded more than 800 scholarships – worth more than $4.3 million – to support the next generation of retail stars,” Shay said. “That we published more than 60 research reports documenting the indispensable role of retailers to the economy, job creation, and innovation. Or helped place 150,000 news articles mentioning NRF in publications here at home and around the world. That we conducted more than 5,000 meetings with members of Congress on critical issues like sales tax fairness, data security and labor regulations. Had 60 million visits to – 60 million –25,000 social media posts and more than one million views of our YouTube videos. Or that we’ve literally taken the retail show on the road, with our Retail Across America campaign here at home, and on international trips around the world, creating new partnerships, strengthening relationships and promoting retail.”

Those accomplishments are the result of a plan that was designed to transform NRF, its mission and even its branding. Putting advocacy first meant building a more muscular government relations operation to lead our policy efforts and it meant creating a robust, best-in-class communications department to tell our story and promote the retail industry and building a new research department to analyze policy issues and validate the critical role of retail in our economy, according to Shay.

He touted some of the retails industry’s wins on capitol hills and talked about challenges to come. For example, last summer NRF played a significant role in winning approval to pursue a trade deal that will open new markets around the globe for the retail industry and he described how NRF fought intensely to protect retailers from harmful provisions in the Affordable Care Act. He said NRF helped get the latest transportation bill over the finish line and described how just before Christmas NRF won the extension of dozens of tax laws that are critical for retailers.

“One of the biggest achievements was winning a permanent extension of depreciation provisions which will make it easier, and more affordable, for retailers to remodel and invest in their stores,” Shay said. “We’ve learned that the policy challenges we face won’t be getting any easier, regardless of who sits in the White House, or controls Congress. So we’ll continue expanding our influence in Washington and pushing to advance retail’s top priorities.”

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