FGI Presents The Robin Report’s Retail Radicals

“Disruptors” were so 15 minutes ago — it’s time to bring on the “radicals.” FGI’s annual breakfast seminar yesterday featuring The Robin Report celebrated “Retail Radicals,” in collaboration with SAP and sponsored by Marie Claire. In keeping with the theme of anarchy (or at least changing it up a little), the usual New York Hilton location was swapped for The Roosevelt Hotel which made the Grand Central commuter attendees very happy.

Breakfast attendees
Photo: Laurel Marcus

At the crack of dawn, well actually it was 8 AM (seated breakfast at 8:30) those interested in the state of retail convened over fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon and home fries. In his introduction, Robin Lewis, CEO of The Robin Report spoke of a date that will live in infamy: January 9, 2007 — the day Steve Jobs said Apple was going to reinvent the phone. “That was an understatement,” said Lewis. “He should have said ‘today Apple’s going to change the world.’ We don’t leave home without it, and a lot of people sleep with it. Steve Jobs flipped traditional retailing on its ear — we now have five million points of sale. He radically changed the world at warp speed.”

Here’s an even earlier remarkable date: June 5, 1994 — “Day one for Amazon — Jeff Bezos took it from a small online bookseller to an 18 billion dollar online giant. Now we are at an intersection of next-gen meeting traditional brick and mortar — the world of retail is at a big disconnect. Everyone wants the ‘experience’ of a ‘Starbuckian’ cool place where they can hang out and buy cool stuff. It is all achievable, but speed is essential. Retail radicals must turn battleships around to get to the New World,” he concluded.

Moderator Paul R. Charron (former CEO of Liz Claiborne) said he feels “too old to be a radical” (in the traditional sense of the word) but radical retail is what we need to “turn underperforming assets to performing assets. Everything should be reviewed, rethought, repurposed and reenergized — we need to think of old things in new ways,” he said as he introduced the three retail expert panelists: Marc Mastronardi, EVP, Business Development, Macy’s; Darren Hull, SVP Technology, Stores & West Elm Digital at Williams-Sonoma, Inc.; and Mark Bozek, Founder, Live Rocket.

So what is a retail radical? What do they do? Each panelist had a different take depending on their area of concentration. According to Hull, it’s important to find like-minded people who can work at a higher velocity of speed on a quick learning curve. “What was a success last year isn’t necessarily what will be a success this year,” he said. Mastronardi spoke of being able to see the endgame possibilities as endless. At Macy’s our drive for execution brought to life almost a dozen new concepts. You need an endgame of experience and how to do it.” Bozek joked that he liked the term “radical” as it brought back memories of “being at Berkeley trying to change things and smoking pot.” He added that “you have to be good at it. If you’re going to disrupt you have to do it radically,” citing Angela Ahrendt’s ascendancy from Burberry (2006-14) now as Apple’s retail chief since 2014. Bozek, previously CEO of HSN and EVINE Live and SVP at QVC under Barry Diller knows a thing or two about combining commerce and entertainment. His latest project “The Times of Bill,” a documentary on the legendary Bill Cunningham, has been “retail theater” at “Today at Apple” in-store programming. Charron offered his thoughts that “we should populate our organizations with deviant thinkers — people who don’t see things the way we see them” and “focus on creativity with a different but still legitimate point of view.”

Bozek went back to the concept of Apple’s marketing: “There’s always lines coming out of Apple; why are there no lines coming out of Bergdorf’s or Saks?” (Well, maybe because they don’t sell the iPhone X?). Mastronardi spoke of a new concept at Macy’s — the social selling video in which sales associates tell a story about their brands demonstrating “a level of engagement and authenticity” to which Bozek said, “Marc had the best idea since the Macy’s Parade.” Hull also praised and had implemented ideas where “you don’t have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to do something different. Build your street cred — little things produce big results. How are we changing things 12-18 months down the line?” he added. Bozek also believes a little “scar tissue” as the result of “some things that didn’t work or failures” alluding to his time at HSN under Barry Diller. “Exchange ideas,” he advised “Curiosity is the easiest thing to have right now. Make CEO’s curious — some of them are scared s@itless right now. It takes moxie.”

What experiences are the most relevant today? According to Bozek, it’s the Spy Museum on 8th Avenue — “It’s interactive; it’s for adults; it’s for kids — it’s experiential. It’s brilliant — the most exciting place I’ve been in a long time.” He’s also a fan of VaynerMedia — a digital agency that’s “really on point about customers and ideas.” Also, if you’re not on IG “you shouldn’t even be here.” What about those who came up through more traditional retail? Mastronardi believes his experience has helped him “understand how retail works and how to motivate 130,000 sales associates.” Charron agrees that prior retail experience is valuable to “overlay with a network of ‘deviant thinkers.'” Hull spoke of organizations that use “product-centric vs. customer-centric thinking. Amazon Prime comes from customer-centric evolution.”

Where do some of these new ideas come from and what to do if you sense a reluctance from others within the company? What if your marketing and sales teams are out of step? Hull commented “We make people accountable. There will be people who come along and people who don’t,” adding that growing your customer file helps to target incentives to them. Mastronardi said “We start with where do consumers hang out and how can Macy’s be there? Is there a business model that I can envision that we can bring to the table and monetize? If you can bring it to multiple levels and bring a team around it to create the end experience everyone will get around it.”  Bozek believes you must inspire a team to get everyone on board. “I wrote an article for The Robin Report “Amazon ain’t just a river in Egypt’ (http://www.therobinreport.com/amazon-aint-just-a-river-in-egypt/) about Amazon Denial Syndrome” and the $10 million spent on the content of Amazon movies and television shows. It’s art and commerce personified — they know what their customers are about. They watch a show and order food and everything else at the same time. It’s true convergence.”

What about brick and mortar’s fight with e-commerce within a company? Mastronardi believes the “incentive is to the total company. For significant success, you have to run the business where you start to marry the two. Our social selling videos are in sales in store, but they are driving traffic to our e-commerce platform as well as the store.” Hull thinks the two can be aligned with gimmicks such as “buy online – pick up in store” which drives traffic. Bozek said it’s the job of leadership to incentivize this redefinition. Charron agreed: “Leaders win the hearts and minds of the people.”

As the signal from FGI President Margaret Hayes came to wrap it up, Bozek felt it was important to note that none of the three panelists were wearing constrictive neckwear. “Remember last year’s panel? I was sitting over there in the audience while you talked about the no tie trend.” He spoken like a real retail radical renegade.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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