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Retail Trends

Big Names, Issues at BIG Show

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Retail’s Big Show last month was the biggest annual convention NRF has ever seen — in more ways than one. Attendance set an all-time record with 25,500 participants from 85 countries. There were more vendors than ever — 400 companies occupying the equivalent of five football fields. And we took over a whole new section of New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to accommodate the crowd.

The biggest draw was our keynote speaker, former President Bill Clinton. This was the first time NRF has had a current or former president of the United States at any of our events, which shows how retail is being recognized for its importance to the nation’s economy. Presidents — even former presidents — have their choice of speaking invitations and accept only those they believe will provide an important forum.

The theme of President Clinton’s speech was “Embracing Our Common Humanity,” and he addressed issues of globalization ranging from the economy to social implications. Details are covered elsewhere in this month’s issue of STORES, but in a key point he said globalization has led to a world where “borders look more like nets than walls,” and everyone is “interdependent to a degree we have never been before.”

President Clinton also addressed retail-specific issues, saying he was “morose” over the closing of the Borders bookstore chain in the face of online competition, and noting that his first job was at a grocery store. “I could have been one of you,” he told the overflow crowd.

Having President Clinton as our keynote speaker fit well with the show’s new emphasis on public policy and advocacy. In past years, the convention focused almost exclusively on the operations side of retail. But this year we highlighted how economic policy affects our industry and promoted our Retail Means Jobs campaign, rallying attendees in support of our Jobs, Innovation and Consumer Value Agenda.

Among other new features, convention participants were able to go to Retail Means Jobs kiosks and pledge support for the industry and this campaign. We also launched a “This is Retail” video contest to show how retail careers drive economic growth.

With hundreds of reporters on hand, we recounted our public policy victories from the past year — implementing free trade agreements, reducing swipe fees and the introduction of sales tax fairness legislation. And we set our priorities for the coming year on corporate tax reform, quicker visas for foreigners who want to shop in U.S. stores and passage of the sales tax bill.

In this election year, we will take our campaign on the road to business leaders and lawmakers across the nation, as well as to Capitol Hill and the White House. Our goal is to ensure that every candidate for office knows these three words: “Retail Means Jobs.” We intend to bring new meaning to the phrase “retail politics,” and I hope you will help us.