You may think that the NRF Big Show kicks off when the expo floor opens and the main sessions begin, but I’m going to let you in on a secret. The first “must attend” event actually takes place the day before, at RetailROI’s SuperSaturday.

From my perspective, there’s no better way to kick off NRF. Before immersing myself in the craziness of the Big Show, I spend a day with leading retail executives, industry analysts and technology vendors in support of the Retail Orphan Initiative (RetailROI), whose sole purpose is helping orphans and vulnerable children in Honduras, Haiti, Congo, Kenya, Sudan, the US and elsewhere. Salesforce is proud to be a returning sponsor of this great event.

So why do so many leading retail executives consider SuperSaturday the unofficial start of NRF? It’s a great way for the entire retail ecosystem (retailers, vendors and manufacturers) to come together in support of a common purpose of bringing awareness to the needs of this constituency, to encourage companies to get involved by raising funds and supporting their employees’ involvement.

You don’t just attend SuperSaturday for great analyst insight, although there was plenty of it (more on that later). Throughout the day, we learned about the amazing charities and individual lives that have been helped by RetailROI. There were over 20 charities represented, including CongoVoice, which addresses the societal, economic and medical needs of the Congalese people. The organization’s co-founder shared stories of his trips to the Congo, and how just a glimmer of hope and opportunity can transform the lives of people living in these communities.

But without a doubt, the highlight of the day was the keynote presentation by Demetrius Napolitano, who shared his story of life growing up in foster care. The first 22 years of his life were spent bouncing from home to home — in total, he spent time with over 30 families, enduring hardships that no child should have to endure.

And yet, with the help of one dedicated social worker who wouldn’t give up on him, Demetrius began to turn his life around. He’s now attending NYU, and spent a summer interning with a RetailROI partner, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) in Washington D.C., where he met a mentor, Katie Napolitano. Katie and her husband have since adopted Demetrius, giving him the stability of a family that he was always looking for. After he graduates, he is planning to go into politics, where he hopes to affect positive change.

Demetrius’ powerful story of resilience silenced the room. If you’ve ever been with a large group of retail executives, you know that quieting them is not an easy thing to do!

This being an industry invent, SuperSaturday also featured presentations on the state of retail. The session with IHL analyst Jeff Roster was a highlight of the industry-focused presentations, as he provided some real talk on the state of the retail industry, providing hard proof debunking the popular media narrative of a “retail apocalypse.”

He shared  that through November of this year, retail sales were up 4.2% over 2016. He also shared data from IHL’s recent store systems study, where respondents reported sales are up 5.4% over 2016. Even more surprising, store counts and store remodels are expected to rise by 5.5% and 5.6% respectively in 2018.

And what, according to IHL, are retailers thinking about in terms of their strategic priorities? Top of mind: personalization. For 2018, 89% of retailers say that personalizing the customer experience is their top technology priority. They are also looking for better inventory insight (78%), upgrading CRM/loyalty programs (72%), and figuring out how to better empower store associates (59%).

Ultimately, SuperSaturday brings together retailers and technology providers to discuss the retail industry while also broadening our focus to more weighty issues. Greg Buzek, the co-founder of IHL and one of the founding members of RetailROI, said it best: “Don’t settle for success when significance is available.”

Leaving the event on Saturday evening, I felt inspired and energized. I was ready to take on the Big Show, knowing that a little awareness and action can go a long way in the world. I encourage you to check out RetailROI to learn more, and I hope to see you at SuperSaturday next year!