Why this executive makes visiting NRA Show a priority each year.

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Patrick Sugrue has been CEO of the limited-service salad concept Saladworks for two years, but he has been attending the annual NRA Show in Chicago for 25. “Some people may ask why I need to go again this year if I was at the Show last year,” Sugrue says. “But I look forward to it every year. In all the time I’ve been in this industry, I’ve never seen the pace of change as high as it is now.”

For example, Sugrue says that just two or three years ago, Saladworks used only traditional advertising. Now, the brand’s strategy revolves around digital media. Going to NRA Show every year helps Sugrue and his brand keep up with these changes. “The Show serves as an efficient way for me to see our largest suppliers, to benchmark with other CEOs in the industry, and to look for solutions for issues we’re dealing with.” His team always attends the Show’s education main stage and breakout sessions relating to their biggest issues, and meets vendors to see what they have available.

New technology found at the Show has helped the brand keep up with customer demands and improve operations, such as cloud-based POS, automated cooking equipment that ensures a perfect cook every time, automated food safety products that ensure temperatures are properly monitored, and tools that compile data. “Today, the ability to access facts about the business is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” he says. “NRA Show helps us find partners and products that allow us to convert disparate pieces of data from disparate sensors and databases and put it into working models to serve guests more effectively, more safely, and to make us more profitable.”

The Saladworks leadership team also views NRA Show as an opportunity to help executives develop. “We’re in growth mode, and we want to make sure our people are growing as fast as our business needs are,” he says. “NRA Show is a very concentrated learning opportunity.”

Before the Show starts, Sugrue’s team sits down to discuss the individual development plans of senior leadership. “We want to talk about what NRA Show can contribute to personal development, as well as accomplish business objectives,” he says. “We also make our senior leaders available to speak on panels to showcase their skills while sharing insights with others.”

Each year, the team devises a strategy to split up and more efficiently hit all the sessions and booths they need to see. Sugrue advises that other brands going to the Show should do the same and then hold daily meet ups to share what everyone has learned. “I would also make a list of targeted appointments and reach out in advance to people you really want to talk to,” he says. “It’s so easy to find 15 minutes for coffee and build your knowledge around something so you jump in with both feet.”

No matter how well a trip is planned, Sugrue says, that it’s the chance meetings that always end up being the most valuable. “As much as you set up meetings in advance, it will be the person you’re on the bus going back to the hotel with or the person sitting next to you at a breakout session that will be the diamond you’ll really value. It’s a combination of the serendipity that occurs when you have that many people in one place and the hard work of preplanning that will serve you well.”

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