Leading the Way:
Shoppers Drug Mart National Conference
Earlier this year, Shoppers Drug Mart demonstrated the value of in-person business events by bringing 1,600 Associates and Front Store Managers to its national conference in Toronto. KAREN BOSSIN, Director, Conferences and Events (pictured, right), spoke with LAURA PALLOTTA, Chair, Meetings Mean Business Canada, about the importance of face-to-face meetings.
Shoppers Drug Mart/PharmaPix National Conference
February 25–27, 2022
Metro Toronto Convention Centre
1,600 Associates and Front Store Managers from across Canada
Laura Pallotta: Why are face-to-face business events like this important to your organization? And why the need to hold this meeting now?
Karen Bossin: Although we made our virtual meetings as exciting as possible by using different apps, different event platforms and augmented reality—and I think everyone really enjoyed the virtual experiences—there just isn’t anything that can replace the in-person experience and that sense of community and connection. It had been two years since we had brought our Associates and Front Store Managers together and they told our senior leadership team that they really wanted this… they needed the opportunity to connect with their peers.
Laura: What did you do to make your attendees feel comfortable coming to this meeting and during the meeting?
Karen: We kept safety top of mind throughout: We assigned a Chief COVID Officer, who communicated all of our safety protection measures to all the stores in advance; we had a Q&A document that we sent out with any questions or concerns that may have been on [attendees’] minds; attendees showed proof of vaccination before receiving their name badges; an online health check survey was required daily; N95 masks were provided; delegates had access to an antigen testing room for daily testing, as well as access to a nurse and the Chief COVID Officer; attendees stayed in their assigned seats for all sessions, meals and coffee breaks; activity stations and surfaces were sanitized after every use; hand sanitizer was available throughout the venue; there was no dancing, receptions or open buffets; and Slido was used for Q&A to avoid having to ask questions at a microphone. For breakout sessions, the presenters moved from room to room instead of the delegates.
Laura: What lessons did you learn from this event? And what will you carry forward?
Karen: Well, I learned that it takes an awesome team to put on a conference of this magnitude in a short period of time and in the best possible way. Various departments and companies came together with only one month to plan the event, and we made it happen successfully and safely. I also learned that my President, Jeff Leger, believes strongly in the value of bringing people together in person. Funny enough, the conference theme was “Leading the Way,” and I think Jeff did just that when he made the decision to go with a live conference during this time period. We were the first company in Canada to have a group this size get together since the omicron variant hit us. So, during our superhero event, I presented Jeff with a pillow that had his face on the Superman body. It was in recognition of his brave decision to go forward.
Laura: What were your measures of success for this business event?
Karen: Our first measure of success was to keep everyone healthy. We managed to make that happen. We also had a backup plan should any of our speakers or entertainers test positive for COVID.
Our second measure of success was to ensure that our strategy and our programs for the year were communicated in an impactful way, and we feel that was achieved. I could just feel by the energy in the room and the comments that I heard onsite that it’s going to be scored as a really, really great conference.
My biggest measure of success was to ensure that the delegates did go back to their stores energized and motivated. And I think, from our LCL Chairman, Galen Weston’s opening address to giving away 10 bucket-list items to the audience, to our closing session with seven-year-old Coach Cal [i.e., Lakefield, Ont.’s Callan Perksis], I think it was a truly memorable conference.
Laura: What did you like most about the conference?
Karen: My favourite part of the conference was the smiling eyes of our attendees… when they were coming down the escalator for the opening function, just to see their faces as they were greeted by … about 250 of our store support colleagues that were on either side of the red carpet. They were applauded and they were cheered. And we held up signs that said things like, “Thanks for being there for us. Thanks for keeping us safe. Thank you for my shots.” So it was really rewarding.
Laura: That’s awesome. Kudos to you and your team for making this happen. We are so energized by the resumption of business events and this has been a really great example to learn from.