2017 Retailing Summit Recap: Impressive Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Drive
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Retailing Summit in Dallas, hosted by Texas A&M University’s Center for Retailing Studies at Mays Business School. Having attended and presented at many other retail focused events and solution vendor user conferences in the past – hosted by the likes of Apparel Magazine, NRF, Oracle, Revionics, RIS News, SAP, and others – I was very impressed with the professionalism and quality of the presentations at this year’s Retailing Summit. This verdict was particularly impressive given the involvement of about 15 college students, who not only helped run the program, but also took part in several presentations – along with a handful of former students, professors, and administrators. While the content was not necessarily as deep as some other events I’ve attended, the presentations were certainly highly engaging and very well-orchestrated.
From my perspective, the students and recent alumnae were the highlight of the event. Mixed in with the prepared presentations by corporate executives were some refreshing opportunities to interact with young Aggies that exhibited impressive creativity, entrepreneurship, and drive. There was a start-up showcase, which allowed a quartet of new Texas A&M related companies to introduce their offerings to the diverse attendees. These included Fish Flops, a footwear company started by a current undergrad when she was a pre-adolescent. Helmed by a pair of current students, End Hunger is a mission-oriented snack company that devotes a portion of revenue to combating starvation in developing countries. A graduate in his thirties (also a serial entrepreneur) presented Basket, an app that compares prices and promotions of items on a consumer’s shopping list across local grocers and then guides the shopper to the store that will charge the least. A current PhD student touted his company, Stocked Robotics, which uses video recognition software to guide forklifts around a company’s DC, allowing them to become self-driving with a minor retrofit.
In addition to the formal presentations, there was a networking coffee hour which allowed participants to connect with an organization dedicated to reducing traffic fatalities by creating mobile-based rewards for safe driving (Safe2Save), a company that uses video recognition software to speed up the retail checkout process (Accel Robotics), and a start-up that enables improved product visualization on retail websites by efficiently delivering high quality images and facilitating the display of color and pattern variants (EverThread).
These presentations and interactions provided the real sizzle for the two-day conclave.
The scripted presentations were a little less exhilarating, but did explore different topics related (however loosely) to the overall theme of the conference: customer engagement.
Steve Sunderland, SVP of Store Operations for Dollar General, kicked off the event by highlighting strategies that Dollar General deploys to keep their value-conscious customers’ needs a priority. These strategies start with a detailed customer segmentation schema that concentrates on three core customer types. This segmentation filters throughout the company and helps reinforce empathy and communication between their employees and customers. Next, Sunderland reinforced the need to simplify direction and measurement for their enormous store operations organization. They concentrate on two main areas: standards and attitudes. Standards include efforts to maintain clean and well-stocked stores. Attitudes include being friendly and helpful to customers. They also concentrate on the experience of their employees, since they believe that the customer experience will never be better than the associates’ experience. This is a belief that The Parker Avery Group also holds firmly – a tenet that is reinforced with well-planned and executed training programs, aligned roles and responsibilities, and proper compensation strategies.
Next, Will Clarke, the Vice President of Poo Marketing for Poo-Pourri, took the stage. Poo-Pourri is a spray that counteracts bathroom odors, allowing for a more pleasant experience for all involved. Clarke emphasized the successful guerilla marketing campaign used by Poo-Pourri to raise awareness of the brand – primarily strong reliance on viral video advertisements, housed on YouTube and spread via word of mouth, to generate 250 million views. Their product has gone from a resident of the “gag gift” aisle to a staple at housewares retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond. Poo-Pourri’s corporate culture is dominated by the personality of the company’s founder Suzy Batiz. As part of the presentation, Clarke outlined some elements of Batiz’ management approach, as detailed in the new book, The Woo of Poo. These include #1 Relax and Unclench, and #10 Do Epic Sh-t..
Subsequent presentations detailed opportunities for retailers to optimize their appearance in location-based searches leveraging SEO (e.g., tire retailers in Atlanta, GA or Greek restaurants in Jacksonville, FL), provided a brief overview of graduate-level business strategy approaches (Porter’s 5 force model), and discussed creative disruption as a method for overcoming stagnation within a retailer’s business model.
The consensus view at the 2017 Retailing Summit was clearly that bricks-and-mortar is not dead – another tenet with which The Parker Avery Group firmly agrees. Instead, most presentations revolved, however indirectly, around making use of new tools and capabilities to improve customer experiences in both the real and virtual world. There is real value in this message, and the excitement generated by the current and former students was truly contagious.