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Blog PostsTransformational Advice from Consumer and Retail Industry Leaders 

Transformational Advice from Consumer and Retail Industry Leaders 

By Gail Amsterdam, Founder, CEO & Chief Talent Curator, Amsterdam Associates

As retailers continue to dramatically change for 2023, taking advice from respected leaders who have influenced their industries, will help you reach your performance peak.

Since they are experts on everything from navigating multi-billion dollar corporations supply chain challenges, to knowing how to drive sales conversion and outstanding margins, to strategic business excellence, these icons’ are the real deal! 

“Retail is a customer business. You’re trying to take care of the customer—solve something for the customer. And there’s no way to learn that in the classroom or in the corner office, or away from the customer. You’ve got to be in front of the customer”. 

— Erik Nordstrom, CEO, Nordstrom

Our customers want our advice, they want to know we have their backs, that we aren’t just looking to sell them something.  By focusing on developing a value driven, long-term relationship, you ensure that the customer feels cared for and heard.  That’s what builds loyalty and respect; which will lead to the customer repeatedly choosing your brand.

“Too many businesses today are based on driving prices lower by screwing over somebody: pounding suppliers or squeezing employees. We’re the opposite. We put our employees first. If you take care of them, they will take care of your customers better than anybody else.”

— Kip Tindell, CEO, Container Store

‘Treat others the way you want to be treated.’  Sometimes the most valuable business strategies are the most basic ones.  As one of the first lessons we learn when we begin to socialize and later acts as the foundation of society, treating people well represents a critical value system. Applied to business, the ‘treat your employees the way you’d want your customers treated, both stakeholders will loyally committed to you ad infinitum.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

– Bill Gates, Co-founder, Microsoft

The customer is always right. This tried and true value belief, shapes your associates’ approach to serving customers whether as floor associates, right up to the C-Suite. Even from the top of one of the most successful global specialty stores, despite evolving trending topics, this most simple advice still applies.

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It’s best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.” 

— Steve Jobs, co-Founder, Apple Inc. 

Ryan Breslow, Executive Chairman of BOLT embraces a culture that values making mistakes on a daily basis, Sara Blakely CEO and founder of Spanx has followed this philosophy since she was a child.  Each night at the dinner table, her Father asked the family what mistakes they had made that day as a compass for the direction they should be pursuing.  As Jack Welch said, “I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.”  Create work environments where mistakes are accepted.  Let your team know about your mistakes so they can learn from them.  Don’t let fear allow you to freeze and not take actions, even if they’re mistakes.  Going the wrong way will ultimately lead you on the correct path in small doses.

“You walk into a retail store, whatever it is, and if there’s a sense of entertainment and excitement and electricity, you wanna be there.

— Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks 

Offering personalization and value added services to your customers makes them feel you as the retailer totally grasp what they want.  Having memorable store experiences is the future and now of retail; whether in bricks-and-mortar, DTC, or online. The customer wants you to do more to impress him/her and in turn, they will demonstrate their brand loyalty to you every time.

“Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees”. 

— Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

The culture at your retail business will dictate the type of attitudes everyone present should have. Now with DE&I rising to the top of the priority list – culture that appeals to everyone is more important than ever. By offering a diverse and inclusion oriented environment to all  your employees and customers, every aspect of your business will expand to new heights. Just as DE&I guides the world of commerce, culture should be your number one priority.

“When you look at the reasons people leave companies, it’s usually because their boss is a jerk or because they aren’t learning and growing. So we spend a lot of time developing leaders internally and creating learning opportunities.”

— Neil Blumenthal, CO-founder and co-ceo, Warby Parker

Cultivating  a culture where everyone can thrive, not only benefits individuals, but the company as well.  Everyone needs to feel valued. In turn, executives and associates’ passion increases their commitment, which always results in successful companies. Continually presenting enhancing leadership opportunities to your people will make sure they are with you for the long-haul, while you offer them growth, advancement, and unique experiences.

“Change before you have to.”

― Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO , General Electric

You don’t want to be the first to leave the party, but don’t be the last.  You may not know what’s exactly around the corner, but procrastinating won’t put you on the road to success. Pivoting in retail hugely affects your sales and margin results. Keeping your eye on where your business will be going before you get there and pivoting quickly with market data, will consistently prepare you for its future.

“The front end business of retail remains critical.”

Nicole Leinbach, Founder, Retail Minded

Sure, there are advancements in retail technologies and infrastructure, but as you build out your business, don’t forget the basics. Brick and mortar still remain the priority.  Serving the customer through a variety of channels always brings you back to the store, execution, customer service, merchandising, and the entire experience.

“I learned to push the envelope when it comes to asking questions or making requests. And if you hear ’that’s not possible,’ then ask ‘what is possible,’ instead of just saying thank you and leaving. But also to think creatively about problem-solving.”

— Emily Weiss, Founder, Glossier

Necessity is a long standing motivation for potential retail customers to shop with you. Retail executives must always be ready to make the impossible – possible. It’s not enough to accept what you have.  Omni-Channel leaders today need to push boundaries and provide customers with what they didn’t even know they needed.

Heed these retail leaders’ wisdom and they will directly influence your strategic roadmap and move your results quickly to the touchdown.  Your off the chart performance metric results, likely shall, make you a rock star leader to be quoted just like these seasoned eagles one day.  

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