The 2015 Retailing Summit celebrated its 30th year by focusing on innovation, the empowered customer and omnichannel retailing. The Center for Retailing Studies at Mays Business School hosted the Oct. 8-9 event at the Westin Galleria in Dallas.

Over two days, nearly 275 attendees explored how to make retail better through improved customer interactions, one-to-one marketing and store enhancements. Executives from JCPenney, Bluemercury, Mission Athletecare, The Futures Company, UPS, Pinot’s Palette, MasterCard Advisors and NatureBox headlined the conference, which also included two panels on technology innovation and retaining top talent.

THE SKY IS THE LIMIT: PERFORMANCE IN ACTION

Former U.S. Navy Blue Angel pilot John Foley kicked off the Retailing Summit conference with the empowering “Glad To Be Here®” mantra. His enthusiasm radiated as he recalled stories from his precision flying days, where he was nicknamed “Gucci” by fellow pilots.

In order to achieve their peak performance, Foley advised attendees to:

  1. Examine their present situation
  2. Define where they would like to be
  3. Focus on the positives that can help guide them there

Former U.S. Navy Blue Angels pilot John Foley with Katie Burroughs, Haley Gooch and Lindsay La Rosa from the Master’s in Marketing program.

According to Foley, research confirms that when a person feels satisfaction with where they are, they become more grateful, positive and productive. Companies can also foster teamwork by channeling positive visualization techniques.

MEET THE CENTENNIALS: WHO THEY ARE AND HOW THEY WILL IMPACT RETAIL

Youth marketing to the millennial customer is officially over.

Erik Medina, vice president of The Futures Company, defined millennials as the age group of 19- to 34-year-olds. His research through the TRU Youth Monitor dubbed the up-and-coming generation of those between 12 and 18 years of age as “centennials.”

Compared to their predecessors, centennials are more focused on mobile versus the internet, have faced financial upheaval and want to take a stand for something by supporting companies associated with a cause.

Centennials are also more inclined to want to buy niche products. They are interested in the “maker movement,” alongside the rise of Etsy and customized product choices. They view the future with wariness and grasp that personal success is not a guarantee in life. They are less concerned with fitting in and they value individual uniqueness.

Medina praised GameStop as a retailer effectively serving the centennial customer with fun, tech-savvy and personalized shopping experiences.

 TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION AND THE IN-STORE TRANSFORMATION

Fittingly, the 2015 Retailing Summit featured the man behind GameStop’s store innovations: Jeff Donaldson, SVP of the GameStop Technology Institute. Donaldson led a panel discussion, which profiled companies that are revolutionizing their businesses through technology.

Moderated by Debbie Hauss, editor in chief of Retail TouchPoints, the panel also included Scott Emmons, enterprise architect for Neiman Marcus, and Michelle Bogan, partner at Kurt Salmon.

When defining what innovation meant to them, Emmons said building stronger customer relationships and Donaldson said innovation can either be a new idea or a reinvention of something old, by creating a novel approach. For example, a low-tech solution that customers embraced at Neiman Marcus included in-store charging stations, which encouraged customers to stay and shop longer.

Each also agreed that innovation directly correlates with growth.  “The pace of change internally must exceed the pace of change externally,” Donaldson said.

The panel also briefly touched on incubator communities like REVTECH in Dallas — places where mentors guide entrepreneurs who are looking to refine their startup business ideas.

Forecasting hot trends, Bogan highlighted the increase of “buy” buttons on social media. She also mentioned the rise of subscription box offerings, including Birchbox. Donaldson said GameStop will look to crowdsourcing as it develops new products.

PAINT. DRINK. HAVE FUN. FIGHTING “A FAD” WITH INNOVATION AND CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Combining the wine and DIY art industries, Craig Ceccanti, co-founder and CEO of Pinot’s Palette launched his entrepreneurial and franchise concept in 2009. With more than 150 locations in 33 states, Ceccanti credits integrating innovation into his business plan and company culture as key to his success.

Franchise owners are expected to introduce new sales promotions, painting designs, and process improvements by reviewing customer surveys, asking for direct feedback, and effectively using customer data to stay relevant. Because, as Ceccanti concluded, complacency and “becoming a fad [will] make you vigorously prepared to not become one.”

BEYOND OMNI-CHANNEL: HOW TO REACH THE SPENDING CONSUMER

Sarah Quinlan, VP of Market Insights at MasterCard Advisors, debunked several retail myths by analyzing economic data from 2015 credit card transactions.

According to Quinlan, increased competitiveness from small businesses who provide superior customer service and specialized product offerings has driven down retail sales at department stores and other mass merchants. With reduced gas prices, consumers have additional disposable income that they have opted to spend on travel, at restaurants and on durable goods instead of apparel or more “stuff.”

Although ecommerce companies like Amazon are forcing traditional, physical stores to expand their offerings online, online-only companies like Warby Parker and Rent the Runway are opening brick-and-mortar stores to more personally engage with shoppers.

The store is and will always be the emotional heart and financial core of retail.

REDEFINING FOOD RETAIL: CREATING A WORLD OF ON-DEMAND INNOVATION, PERSONALIZATION, AND ACCESS

The Retailing Summit also featured healthy snacking subscription provider NatureBox, led by one of Inc.’s “30 under 30,” co-founder and CEO Gautam Gupta. Providing customers an algorithm-curated assortment based on previous purchases, NatureBox has become a leader using the business model of monthly replenishment.

Eighty percent of the nearly 5,000 new products introduced every quarter fail.

By mining its extraordinary data warehouse of customer flavor preferences, ingredients, etc. NatureBox reduced the product development cycle from 12 months to 12 weeks and increased its percentage of successful product launches.

SIMPLICITY THROUGH SUCCESS

RetailingSummit2015-48Newly named JCPenney CEO Marvin Ellison inspired the audience by detailing his career path at Target and Home Depot, and vision for JCPenney’s turnaround. JCPenney’s decline did not result from increased or new competition, a revolutionary technology or fewer customers, he said, but from a disaster in leadership.

To reverse the damage, Ellison pledged to attack differently. He started by plugging as many holes as possible and simplified the company’s strategic focus. Moving forward, each business decision will be evaluated on how it benefits JCPenney’s omnichannel strategy, growth of private brands and increase in revenue per customer.

JCPenney has turned the corner, and its future success hinges on a pledge for clarity of purpose and balance between the art and science of retail, he said

INNOVATION FOR THE SPECIALTY RETAIL CHANNEL

Newly acquired by Macy’s, Bluemercury—a friendly neighborhood store where customers can seek advice from “self-proclaimed beauty junkies who love people”—has high hopes of becoming the next “Starbucks of the makeup industry.”

Celebrating the mom-and-pop shopping experience, co-founder and chief operating officer Barry Beck described the company’s foundation as built on the three P’s: people, product and place.

Beck claims that Bluemercury’s people strategy is the chain’s secret weapon. By offering real career paths and higher wages, Bluemercury hires style consultants who have genuine client focus. Like “human Googlers,” they provide beauty solutions for customers, not just product recommendations.

The company, headquartered in Georgetown/Washington, D.C. has intentionally placed 14 stores within a 28-mile radius to increase brand awareness in the area.

According to Beck, innovation is important because “it’s a winner-takes-all game.”

THRIVING IN THE AGE OF THE EMPOWERED CONSUMER

With the expansion of ecommerce, home delivery is now integral to the customer experience. Steve Brill, Vice President for Global B2C Strategy for UPS, described the importance of strengthening relationships between retailers and delivery providers like UPS who interact directly with the purchaser.

Choice, control, and convenience top what customers want in efficient distance delivery. UPS recently created the “My Choice” program to allow people to select the most convenient delivery option when receiving a package, including flexibility on shipment date, delivery, location, etc. Brill identified this as an innovative response to the “situational need” that always accompanies shipping.

No single size delivery option fits all in an omnichannel world where options now include ship to store, ship from store and ecommerce returns.

RETAINING HIGH-PERFORMING PEOPLE

The second panel at the Retailing Summit, moderated by the Center for Retailing Studies’ Director Kelli Hollinger, sought to identify characteristics of high performing individuals and tactics for how companies can retain them.

Karyn Maynard, recruiting director at The Container Store, quoted the company’s philosophy that “one great person equals three good people.” She said it is essential when hiring to select the right candidate who can:

  • Speak up and contribute
  • Show perseverance
  • Nurture others

Karla Waddleton, division vice president at ALDI, Inc., said the German grocery chain tests the resiliency of new hires by challenging them with real responsibility. “We want to see their potential for leadership.”

According to Jennifer Lustig, senior director of human resources at PetSmart, employees want to feel valued. They also become more motivated when the career path for growth within the company is clearly outlined.

THE CLUTCH EN/INTREPRENEUR

Aggie graduate and football star Chris Valletta propelled himself from the NFL to the Apprentice to head entrepreneur and co-founder of Mission Athletecare. Inspired by basketball legend Michael Jordan, Valletta used his failures to work harder and perform under pressure—what he describes as being “clutch.”

Talent and motivation are not enough to set you apart, he explained. Having emotional intelligence or the ability to hold tight to your emotions while making decisions is key.

Being “clutch” requires being obsessed with details because the little things matter greatly.

Similar to a game of football, the retail landscape is constantly changing. You have to be able to adapt, think quickly and execute during the hard moments, he explained.

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Attendees also heard from breakout session leaders Matt Schmitt, President and Chief Innovation Strategy Officer at Reflect, with Lee Summers, Manager of Marketing and Technology at Nebraska Furniture Mart; Mathew Sweezy, Vice President of Marketing and Insights at Salesforce, with Aaron Stevens, Senior Sales Manager, Carrier Indirect & Regional Carrier at OtterBox; and, Jim Sturm, President and Chief Executive Officer at Brierley+Partners with representatives from Half-Price Books.

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The 2016 Retailing Summit will take place on Oct. 13-14 at the Westin Galleria in Dallas.

Visit retailingsummit.org for more information.