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25 Mays students attended the two-day Summit in Dallas.

High-ranking executives, academics, and top students, all from the retailing industry converged in Dallas for the annual Retailing Summit, hosted by the Center for Retailing Studies at Mays Business School.

“We were thrilled with the response,” said Cheryl Holland Bridges, director of the center. The event was completely sold out, with 360 senior retailing professionals in attendance, as well as 25 Mays students and several faculty and staff members.

Speakers included presidents and CEOs of national brands such as JCPenney, Payless ShoeSource, H-E-B, The Container Store, and Kohl’s. The presenters shared stories and strategies from their companies, focusing on the theme of the customer experience.

For those that missed this year’s Summit, or want to hear more from the presenters, a podcast is available through the iTunes store. The podcast was created prior to the Summit and contains interviews with presenters about their topics. To access this podcast, visit the site www.retailleadersforum.com.

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Matt Rubel, CEO and president, Payless ShoeSource: “At the end of the day, the best advertising is the store and the changing dynamics at the store.”
Kicking off the event in electric blue athletic shoes was Matt Rubel, CEO of Payless ShoeSource, who was the keynote speaker on Thursday evening. Rubel kept the audience engaged as he ran through the footwear provider’s recent history, including a two-year rebranding effort that has rejuvenated the business. Payless has recently added several new brands, including Airwalk and American Eagle, to better accomplish its mission to democratize fashion and design in footwear.

The program continued on Friday with a line up of industry experts and professionals. One of the more notable presentations was a tag-team lesson on customer “clues” from Leonard Berry, professor of marketing at Mays, and Lou Carbone, founder and CEO of experienceengineering. Both are authors and experts in the field of customer engagement.

With humorous and thought-provoking examples from ear-lobe massages to towel origami, this dynamic duo posed an important question: if your store were to disappear overnight, would your customers really miss you? Carbone encouraged the audience of retailers to “move from making and selling to sensing and responding” to customer needs.

“Great retailers always connect emotionally with the customer,” said Berry. This emotional tie-in became the unofficial theme for the event, as many of the speakers touched on the importance of creating a product or experience that customers feel good about and will talk about long after the purchase is made.

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Jeffrey Allison, executive vice president, JCPenney: “We have to really engage the customer at an emotional level….Across the thousands of customer touches…where ever we engage the customer, we want to inspire them every day through all the little things that matter to them.”
Participants were pleased with the information at the Summit. “I thought it was great,” said Howard Atlas, operating vice president of Walgreens drug stores. “I think we all get so busy we get tunnel vision about our own stores. When you get to sit down and really think about what we’re doing, we’re all looking at the same exact thing.”

The purpose of the Summit is to provide a forum for innovation in the retail industry, though for Mays students attending the event, there was a secondary motive: networking. According to Bridges, many students that attend the Summit come away from it with valuable connections that often turn into job offers.

“It’s a great opportunity for meeting people and learning more about retail,” said Kristin Albert ’09. Fellow student, April Spurling ’08, agreed that those introductions are important. “You get a chance to talk to CEO’s about how they run their business,” she said.

Plans are already underway for next year’s Summit, scheduled for October 2-3. It will be held once again at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas.