By  on January 9, 2009

At next week's National Retail Federation convention, known as the BIG Show, the big question will be how to survive 2009.

And the NRF hopes to provide some answers to thousands of retailers, suppliers and consultants from around the world who are expected to attend the annual convention and expo, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, Sunday through Wednesday.

“We’ve got a ton of chief executives talking this year, which is astonishing given the economic environment and how badly everybody is doing,” said NRF president and chief executive Tracy Mullin.

In years past, the convention has been criticized for having its sessions dominated by consultants and analysts, and lacking retailer participation. But Mullin noted that this year, Burt Tansky, Roger Farah and Kip Kindall will be on a panel on “inspired leadership” and the importance of communicating with staff and customers. Tansky and Kindall are ceo’s of Neiman Marcus Inc. and The Container Store Inc., respectively. Farah is president of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.

The NRF will also have an economic session with Myron “Mike” Ullman 3rd, chairman and ceo of J.C. Penney Co. Inc., and Peter Solomon. Lee Scott, the outgoing ceo of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., will give a keynote address focused on sustainability, which will be followed by a Q&A with Mullin.

There will also be sessions with the ceo’s of Home Depot in Canada and Asia, and, and Michael S. Jeffries, ceo of Abercrombie & Fitch Co., will receive the NRF’s prestigious Gold Medal Award, recognizing “creative genius and inspirational leadership.” Nick Badminton, ceo of Pick ’n Pay Stores Ltd., South Africa, will accept the award for the International Retailer of the Year.

With any luck, the ceo’s will serve up some pragmatic solutions for the near-term challenges. However, the convention also has an eye for the future, putting the spotlight on “greentailing” with sessions on sustainability and by showcasing the latest green technologies. A concept store will highlight products like digital name tags and coupon redemption technology, energy-saving fabrics and floor coverings, eco-friendly virtual graphics and even digital receipts. There will also be sessions on greentailing in tough times.

In addition, the NRF has set up a studio exhibiting the latest trends in store design and innovations that help overcome economic challenges, and its first blog. “The BIG Show Blog takes this community into the blogosphere, keeping people plugged in and connected before, during and after the show,” Mullin said. The blog, sponsored by Microsoft, will feature real-time coverage of the event through previews of sessions and events, a section for feedback and discussion, tips on restaurants and attractions in New York City, and streaming video of select sessions.

Overall, Mullin characterized the 2009 convention as “really a departure in the traditional NRF take. We tend to be very technology-oriented. The expo has been kind of hard-edged. This year, it’s a very rounded environment. It appeals to all your senses,” though without showing merchandise because there are so many fashion trade shows staged through the year.

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