Kobe Bryant has a sales meeting.
Across the table is a middle-aged man in a blue suit who works at a large convenience store chain. He’s seated in the corner of a makeshift conference room in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Outside are hundreds of suppliers of beef jerky, cigarette lighters, hot dogs, motor oil, potato chips, vape pens, beer and everything else you might expect to find at the annual trade show for the National Association of Convenience Stores. Mom-and-pop vendors display nicotine toothpicks and pickle popsicles down the hall from where Coca-Cola, Conagra, MillerCoors and other mega-corporations have booths as big as houses, with stadium-style video boards and servers passing out free samples. Monster Energy has a dance floor. Hostess has someone in a Twinkie costume.
Bryant, in a quarter-zip gray fleece and dark jeans, is there to represent Bodyarmor, a sports-drink startup looking to grab shelf space inside the nation’s gas stations and corner stores. A few minutes earlier, he was standing in front of the Bodyarmor booth with Mike Repole, the company’s co-founder and chairman. Only bottlers and buyers who work with Bodyarmor were allowed behind the ropes to shake hands and pose for pictures. A crowd of gawkers gathered on the other side.