The Convenient Truth

This month, Rebel produced the Street King booth at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show. NACS brings buyers from the nation’s 100,000+ convenience stores and gas stations to see the latest and greatest products that are cheap, small, and easy to consume.

What a crazy show! I’m no stranger to trade shows: I’ve attended and exhibited at MAGIC close to a dozen times, walked the never-ending halls at CES, been overstimulated at E3, ogled the custom cars at SEMA, and sat through more auto show press days than I care to remember. All things considered, I’d never seen anything quite like NACS.

The first thing I noticed was all the cigarettes. Given that I spend most of my time on the Westside of LA (Wessiide!) in airplanes or other major metropolitan areas, it seemed to me that America had basically given up smoking. Judging from the ridiculous number of tobacco brands on exhibit, I was wrong. Apparently, I’m also very late on a technology called electronic cigarettes, which eliminate the need for lighters. Several of the booths offered attendees the opportunity to light-up inside the hall, so lets hope they give off less second-hand smoke effects too!

Unlike most trade shows, which you have to leave in order to get a bite to eat, NACS provides the world’s largest buffet. All you can eat, as long as you only want to eat chips, cookies, energy bars, slushies, pre-packaged pies, muffins, and the like. Fortunately, the good people at Gallo and Miller Coors, provided open bars in their booths to help us wash down all of the junk food. By 1PM, the Miller booth was completely packed with delegates enjoying free beers and watching football. I wonder how much work they got done that afternoon...

All of this fascinates me, especially since I’ve pretty much ruled out convenience from my life. In fact, I think the only thing I would actually use from a convenience store (except for gas) is water. Don't let me fool you though. Judging from the vibrancy of the show and  numerous trade publications on display, the convenience store sector is hot! It makes sense: We are increasingly dependent on our cars, and our speedy lifestyles are well served by mini-mart clerks who can give us something unhealthy to snack on while we sit in traffic and gulp down a supplement to keep us awake for the ride.

On the other hand, the activation at NACS is definitely not keeping pace with industry growth. Most of the booths featured little more than basic displays. Heavy hitters like Coca-Cola and Procter and Gamble had nice looking booths, but nothing interactive for the viewers. A few booths offered the chance to meet celebrities or Mascots. Detour had a champion bodybuilder (not sure why anyone wanted to meet him), and one booth had a UFC fighter. Miller provided photo opps with the delivery guy from its commercials, and Trident gum had the lady in the trench coat.

Of course, we brought 50 Cent (co-founder and spokesperson for Street King) to take pictures with possibly the biggest crowd of the weekend. We may have had the only bona fide celebrity, unless you count Snookie, who made an appearance at the Ebi-Brown booth for no apparent reason.

Other standouts included the Monster booth, where girls in bikinis went sliding into a swimming pool. Trashy? Maybe, but it was an impressive production nonetheless. Matador had a mechanical bull. I didn’t ride. Red Bull showcased “the brand behind the can" with a media-driven experience that featured its bar-raising lifestyle content.

Besides that, it seems like most of the would-be convenience store powerhouses need to step their game up.