2020 Conference Recap: Our Biggest Show Yet!

We are pleased to say, the 2020 Category Management and Shopper Insights Conference was our biggest and most successful Conference to date. This year’s show had our largest group of attendees ever, and the widest variety of retailers, manufacturers, solution providers and tech companies we’ve ever had. Before we go any further, we want to give a big THANK YOU to everyone who attended this year’s show. None of this would be possible without you.

The vibe of this year’s show what definitively future-focused, with more virtual reality, augmented reality and advanced analytics than we’ve ever seen.

The show kicked off Monday morning with training sessions. Both rooms were absolutely packed to the rafters. In one room, former Disney Head of Creativity and Innovation, Duncan Wardle, let an interactive workshop. As I entered the room to begin snapping photos of the workshop, I was blown away by how loud it was, as everyone was talking at once. It turned out he had engaged the group in a discussion about their favorite childhood toy. I saw several other interactive activities like this, including one particularly hilarious exercise where Duncan had each person attempt to draw their neighboring attendee for one minute without looking down.

Over in the other session, CMKG’s Sue Nicholls also had a packed house for her three sessions talking about data visualization, trends analysis and how to use your training credits in 2020. After the session, Sue set up camp in the main hallway next to the Connections Café, offering consultations throughout the show on training plans for attending companies.

The Technology Expo hall opened for business at 10:30 on Monday, and we saw heavy traffic at our booth for professional headshots and LinkedIn profile tips. Attendees migrated in from their training sessions, grabbing a bite to eat and meandering about to the various solution provider booths in the Technology Expo. Our own Phil McGrath hosted a lunch for first-time an solo attendees, giving people a once-over of the show and some networking tips to maximize their Conference experience.

Just after 1PM, we all migrated over to the General Session room for the opening keynotes. Our Emcee, Kevin Coupe, of MorningNewsBeat.com, gave us a warm welcome and offered a short state-of-the-industry keynote that would set the course for the afternoon.

After that, Michael McGuire took the stage. Michael is the founder of Local Theory, one of the companies in Walmart’s start-up incubator, Store No. 8. He gave an outstanding talk on “Intrapreneurship” with great takeaways on how we can drive innovation within our own teams.

The next keynote was a fascinating look into the future, starting with a keynote from 3:45’s Mark Edwards, and then a 3-way discussion with Edwards, Nielsen’s Sue Temple and Anheuser-Busch’s Amanda Tilly. Edwards, a VR pioneer, showcased new ways they are bringing virtual reality and augmented reality solutions to the world of retail. The 3-way discussion centered around a specific case-study for Anheuser-Busch where 3:45 and Nielsen teamed together to bring cutting-edge next-gen solutions to solve a complex real-world problem.

The general session wrapped with the Advantage Industry Awards. In the large supplier categories, Tyson Foods was recognized for Category Development and P&G was awarded for Shopper Insights, and representative from both companies came up to accept awards. You can read the full press release here.

After the General Sessions, attendees headed off to the breakout sessions. These sessions were absolutely packed this year! The record-breaking number of attendees this year was very apparent, as many of the sessions were “standing room only”, with some even spilling out into the hallway outside!

After a short networking break, we started the Tech Talk rotations, and the Tech Expo was absolutely hopping with energy as that record number of attendees buzzed about, networked and explored the different demos throughout the hall.

The day wrapped with two receptions: the all-attendee networking reception and the inaugural Women’s Alliance reception, hosted by SIMA’s Leslie Warshaw. The Women’s Alliance reception had an overwhelming response, with every seat at every table filled as they raised a glass of champagne and discussed the progress and the road ahead for women in retail.

Day two started with the customary networking breakfast, as attendees filtered in and wandered about in the Tech Expo. The hype was strong for day two, with a great lineup of keynotes ahead.

First on the docket was author Flora DeLaney, with her keynote, “How to Build an Enduring Career While Winning in Retail.”  Flora lit up the crowd with her combination of humor and wisdom, using her own story as a cautionary tale of success, failure and the climb back up.

With the crowd energized, Pepsico’s John Phillips hit the stage next, for his keynote on “The Future of Retail.” John’s keynote was one of my favorite talks of the show, as he hit on many favorite topics from the CMA/SIMA blog: autonomous delivery vehicles, 5G, pickup-only stores, Kroger’s interesting partnerships with Walgreens and Ocado, and more. It was interesting to hear his take on these cutting-edge developments that are shaping the future of retail.

The morning wrapped with two sets of Emerging Technology sessions in the breakout rooms, exploring case studies on specific solutions. Then it was back to the Tech Expo for lunch and networking.

Tuesday afternoon was full of killer content, as well. We kicked off with back-to-back breakout sessions, which were jam-packed with attendees. Brian Hoffstedder’s session (The Clorox Company), “Using Human Context to Create Influence” was perhaps the most packed breakout of the show, with breakout room 6 overflowing out into the tech expo. Thankfully, breakout room 6 was a pop-up room we created specifically for the show, so the room had an open top and transparent plexiglass walls. Even with the packed and overflowing room, people didn’t seem to have any trouble seeing or hearing the content.

The afternoon finished up back in the General Session room with keynotes from Casey’s General Store and Duncan Wardle. Art Sebastian and Tom Brennan of Casey’s took the stage first, giving some interesting background on the growth and unique positioning of the rapidly growing small-town store.

Duncan Wardle took the stage to close out the afternoon, giving a rousing, interactive keynote on sparking creativity from your teams. One part that stood out in particular was his discussion of “Yes, and…” a technique from on-stage improvisation that can be used to take your business ideas into new and uncharted territory. It was an interesting discussion on cultivating fertile ground for new ideas to grow.

After the session, we all headed back to the Technology Expo for food, drinks and prize drawings, including a trip to the Caribbean.

Tuesday night then capped off with our Late-Night Party at Union Station, where CMA & SIMA hosted a casino night with open bar and a DJ. Attendees received a bag with $2,000 in “funny money” for chips, then tried their luck at poker, blackjack, roulette and more.

Wednesday morning kicked off with breakfast, networking and group photos in the Technology Expo before heading off to keynotes and Super Sessions.

The first keynote came from Tom Burkemper of Walgreens, who discussed how changes in technology are impacting both retailers and suppliers. Tom also stuck around after his keynote to take part in the Student Symposium Super Session, where students from multiple universities collaborated to solve challenges for Hershey’s and Frito-Lay in Walgreens and them presented their case studies to the audience.

Over in the other session, a panel of pros from Scotts MiracleGro and Boston Beer Company discussed how they’re handling the changing landscape of shopper insights in a discussion moderated by SIMA’s Leslie Warshaw.

That was followed by a second group discussion with Albertsons’ and Advantage Solutions, geared toward vendor partners, while Anheuser-Busch’s Marty Siewart took the stage for a Supper Session on using shopper insights to better execute in eCommerce over in the General Session room.

After another round of Emerging Technology sessions, attendees gathered back in the General Session room for a pair of keynotes to close out the show. First up was Chris Adams, from the Retail Business Services arm of Ahold-Delhaize. Chris discussed something that is always a hot topic: developing your people. His talk specifically focused on doing so in a rapidly shifting omnichannel environment, where roles and challenges are constantly changing.

The final keynote of the show came from Kevin Hartman, Director of Analytics for the Consumer, Government and Entertainment sectors at Google. Kevin talked about the changing needs of marketers as new privacy laws have come into play, and the ripple effect on measurement and tactics in this new reality of online marketing.

Mike McMahon, President of the Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals (the parent organization to CMA & SIMA) closed out the show with a thank you to everyone in attendance and an invitation to join us once again for the CMA+SIMA Conference in 2021, March 1-3 in sunny San Diego, CA!

What a show! We are so happy with all the positive feedback we have received so far, and thanks again to everyone for coming to the show. In the coming weeks, we have many exciting things in store. We’re working hard to get the photos ready, and we’re hoping to have a gallery ready for you in the next week! If you had headshots taken, those should be arriving in your inbox in mid-March.

Also, be sure to check your inbox for the post-Conference survey! Your feedback is very important to us, and if you can take 3 or 4 minutes to fill that out, it will make next year even better. This year was a blast, and we can’t wait to see you again in 2021.

What was your favorite part of the Conference? What speakers or sessions stood out to you? We’d love to hear what you have to say. Sound off on social media now and join the conversation.