NRF 2019If you are going to NRF 2019 trolling technology booths in search of an affordable solution that actually does what it claims to improve retail business can be a challenge. I have lost count of how many times I have spent early January in NYC at the Javits Center at NRF’s annual conference  If you are already registered, here is my best advice on how to use your time wisely and efficiently.

    12 Steps to Success at NRF:

    1. Build a schedule. Go into the event with a schedule.  I break it into half hour increments.  First, I populate it with the 3-4 presentations I want to see, then I start setting vendor appointments.
    2. Divide and Conquer.  If you are travelling with a team of people, make sure to have a planning session beforehand to divide up assignments, vendors, presentations and agree on joint and individual messages and meetings.  Make sure everyone has one another’s cell phone and hotel details.
    3. Speaking of presentations, be choosy.  Rarely are these sessions full of insight and direction.  Attend the sessions for only a few reasons: you want to connect with the presenter (make sure to build in time to loiter after the session and have a 1 minute pitch ready to go) or you have an important question you want to pose.  Rarely will you get any insight into how a competitor is doing anything interesting and if it is a vendor-supported presentation, expect to get something that basically sounds like a sales pitch.
    4. Troll the perimeter for real innovation.  While the big guys have their plush mega-stations, branded water bottles and matching team polo shirts,  most of their solutions will be iterative versions of the same thing they had last year.  If you want to find the innovators, troll the small booths along the perimeter of the show where up-and-coming innovators will be showcasing their young solutions.  Smart retailers know that these are the solutions the big guys will be acquiring in the years ahead.  Team with them now and you can influence and gain true competitive advantages in the future.  There is risk in working with these young start-ups, but a wise choice can mean true technology advantages for intelligent retailers.
    5. Bring plenty of business cards. When you get into a conversation that is unexpected and time runs short, hand them a business card and ask them to give you the details in an email. As a result, you both save valuable time on the conference floor.
    6. Take Pictures. When you see something interesting, take a few pictures to remind you to follow up on the flight home. Use QR codes whenever available to get fast access to online detail pages.
    7. Stay in the hotels with bus service.  This will save you money and time.  There is not a convenient subway stop near Javits and taxis will cost you more that they are worth.  To avoid long lines for the buses, arrive at the hall early and leave early.  Try to make your way off the floor by 3:30.
    8. Eat somewhere else.  There are no good food options at Javits.  Food is bad – and frankly, there is no reason to eat bad food in New York.  Eat breakfast offsite, bring a piece of fruit or bar to munch and get out into the city for all of your meals.
    9. Party with the Big Guys.  Do not be shy about asking the big players to get you tickets to their after hours parties.  JDA, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM all have some kind of social event.  Get a ticket and have a ball.
    10. Know what you are looking for.  It is easy to get distracted.Bored booth guys are happy to while away your time showing you a markdown optimization tool for an hour when you really need to find a CRM solution.  Write down the specific solutions you need and only take appointments with viable providers for those solutions.
    11. Focus time on relationships that need work.  We all have favorite vendors, but spending time with them at the conference is actually a waste of your time.  Spend time with vendors that have issues and agree to have decision makers at the table.  You can always connect to strong suppliers outside of the conference.
    12. Wear comfortable shoes.  No matter what.