RetailNOW 2023 Analysis: Growth-Oriented VARs, Niche ISVs Form New Nucleus of Retail IT Channel

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

As you would expect, the RSPA’s 75th Anniversary celebration at RetailNOW 2023, held July 30-Aug. 1 at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, featured plenty of black-and-white photos and tales of yesteryear. But even during an event steeped in nostalgia from start to finish, it was evident the 1,500+ attendees were focused on the future of our industry.

History was referenced often as the key to VARs and ISVs embracing what’s ahead: We’ve adapted from mechanical cash registers to ECRs (electronic cash registers) to POS systems to robots and tablets and payments, oh my. Our ability to adapt, our ability to be resilient – that’s our path to the future.

Of course the retail IT channel has changed dramatically over 75 years, but have you ever thought how different our industry looks compared to just 75 months ago? (That would be May 2017. No need to pull out a calendar and count backwards.) Back then, RetailNOW was essentially a meeting of POS resellers, payment providers, and hardware vendors plus a handful of software companies.

The makeup of this year’s show included those businesses but much more:

  • Hundreds of ISV companies: Last year’s RetailNOW attracted a record 300+ ISVs/software executives, and this year’s show surpassed that.
  • Nearly half of the 166 exhibitors were ISVs: That achievement isn’t a one-year wonder. Nearly half of last year’s exhibitors were software focused, too.
  • 10 new ISVs were featured in Niche & Startup ISV Alley: These new ISVs were so well received, one of them told us, “We are overwhelmed with the response to our offering and the POS companies we already have verbal agreements to work with. I believe you changed our future in the most dramatic way getting us involved to come to this show. Beyond my wildest expectations this could happen this fast as it appears to be unfolding.”
  • Hundreds of high-initiative VAR companies: Nearly 450 VAR executives attended RetailNOW 2022, and this year’s show eclipsed that total. No resellers trekked to Orlando just to reunite with their buddies; VARs were actively seeking new partners and best practices to accelerate their success.
  • VARs and ISVs are the new center of the RSPA universe: The emergence of Direct Independent Software Developers (DISDs), who are essentially VARs that bring their own intellectual property to deals, has made this dual nucleus a reality. Today’s retail IT channel revolves around growth-oriented VARs and niche ISVs.
  • New faces galore: We reported on the RetailNOW main stage that over the RSPA’s past two fiscal years (May 2021-April 2023), the association has added 247 new member companies. And in the first quarter of this fiscal year (May-July 2023), we added another 71 new member companies, an association record for a three-month period. That’s over 300 new organizations engaged in our community.
  • NextGen Rising Stars take center stage: The first edition of the RSPA NextGen 40 Under 40 Rising Stars was unveiled during RetailNOW’s 75th Anniversary celebration the evening of July 31. When that group was joined on stage by several RSPA Hall of Fame inductees, Past Chairs, Life Members, and H.O. Whistler Award winners, it was symbolic of our industry’s continued metamorphosis and blending of generations.

All this talk about change and the future, and we haven’t mentioned technologies yet! The Keynote Conversation featuring channel analyst Jay McBain and retail analyst Michael LeBlanc pointed to opportunities in AI, machine vision, AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality), voice, chatbots, ChatGPT, 5G, and IoT (Internet of Things). The RSPA State of the Industry report mentioned analytics, online ordering, cloud services, network management, managed services, digital wallets, and more.

Note that none of those technologies are tangible – you can’t drop any of them on your foot like you could a cash register. And you can’t lose your digital wallet between the couch cushions.

These trends and technologies are daunting for those who only want to be a “POS guy.” But RetailNOW revealed a gigantic opportunity for high-initiative VARs and ISVs who are resilient, flexible, and driven to continue the RSPA’s 75-year legacy of adaptation.

Visit the RSPA Solution Center – a web platform designed to connect VARs and ISVs to providers of innovative solutions

More Notes & Observations from RetailNOW 2023

  • It’s not often in the B2B world we get to use the phrase “surprise smash hit” but the 10-minute RSPA 75th Anniversary commemorative video was indeed a surprise smash hit. Follow this link to watch it now.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Who knew cash registers and Hollywood were a perfect fit?
  • I loved the breakout session hosted by Rick Feuling of RITE Enterprises/Cloud Retailer: “Five Cheat Codes on How to Lead: From One VAR/ISV CEO to Another.” Feuling shared screen grabs of actual messages between him and his teammates. Professional speakers might have fancier slide decks and designer shoes, but there’s no substitute for the leader of a retail IT solution provider giving a room full of colleagues a dose of reality.
  • Feuling shared a testy email sent by one of his colleagues to a group and then shared details of their follow-on discussion. Though he described it as “Management by Stupid Questions,” Feuling’s conversation was textbook execution of a candid culture: “Can you help me understand why you sent this?”, “Were the people who read the email better off or worse off after having read it?”, and “What do you think the people on this email thread think of our relationship?”
  • Another great breakout was “Adaptability, Pace & Partnerships: Today’s Competitive Advantages” led by Katherine White of ScanSource and featuring panelists Austin Chavez of ReSource Point of Sale, Justin Zeigler of Datacap, Nic Senerius of Elo, and Heather Philpott of ScanSource. Chavez focused on adaptability when he said, “Our company started out refurbishing hardware, and we don’t even do that anymore. And, 10 years from now, we probably won’t be doing what we do now. I don’t see any option other than adapting.”
  • “Key Challenges VARs and ISVs Face Today” featured John Giles of ISV Round2 POS, Ekta Iyer of ISO/VAR Alliance Bancard, Brad Lucas of VAR/ISV Lucas Systems, and moderator Josh Stanphill of Epson. I really liked this quote from Lucas: “Our core values are service, urgency, and relationships. That’s why we keep all our service in house and why we customize our approach and our offering. That’s allowed us to grow with our customers.”
  • And I guilty-pleasure adored this comment from Giles: “We’re entrepreneurs because we make lousy employees and we don’t like other people telling us what to do.”
  • I didn’t attempt to capture any quotes from the session “Maximizing Profitability and Compliance: Best Practices for VARs in Cash Discounting and Surcharging” led by RSPA General Counsel Jill Miller and featuring panelists Thomas Greenman of Skurla’s POS Solutions and Jon Etxeberri of Edge Merchant Processing. Cash discounting and surcharging require so much context, grabbing a sentence or two would do this highly interactive session a disservice. You’ll find a ton of value if you listen to the RSPA Trusted Advisor Podcast interview with Miller on this very subject.
  • One of the highlights of the RetailNOW General Session was the formal announcement of the Dave & Norma McCarthy Family Scholarship. The McCarthys, longtime supporters of the association through their family company DUMAC Business Systems, made a record $100,000 donation to the RSPA Scholarship Program to fund a $10,000 annual scholarship. The winner of the first McCarthy Scholarship was Josie Howell of ECR Systems in Dallas.
  • At RetailNOW 2022, a small group of volunteers raised a record of nearly $8,000 in donations to benefit the RSPA Scholarship Fund. This year 20 members stepped up to volunteer and they shattered last year’s record by generating over $20,000 in donations. Amazing!
  • RSPA announced the dates and locations for its next two events. The RSPA Inspire leadership conference is set for Jan. 28-31, 2024, at the Puerto Rico Grand Rio Mar. RetailNOW 2024 returns to Las Vegas for the first time since 2017, July 28-30 at the Paris Hotel.
  • Our community is mourning the loss of Ann Maynard, one of the most beloved members in the 75-year history of the RSPA and the first woman inducted into the RSPA Retail Technology Industry Hall of Fame. She passed away Aug. 2, the morning after RetailNOW. Ann was the very definition of kindness. Before I left this year’s show, I wanted to make sure I said goodbye to Ann. When I stopped by the RSPA booth – that’s where Ann was stationed helping raise funds for the Scholarship Program – I found her autographing one of her handmade butterfly magnets for a temporary worker RSPA had hired to help with registration. That worker was one of dozens (maybe hundreds) of RetailNOW attendees who made sure to find Ann at the show, give her a hug, and hold her hand. Poet Maya Angelou wrote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Ann Maynard made us all feel loved. You can read my full tribute to Ann here.

Don’t forget to visit the RSPA Solution Center – a web platform designed to connect VARs and ISVs to providers of innovative solutions

Jim Roddy is the President and CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by The CannaTech Group, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact