By David Dorf on Aug 31, 2012
Businessweek's 2012 Interview Issue has interviews with three retail CEOs that are worth a quick read. I copied some excerpts below, but please follow the links to the entire interviews.
Take me through your merchandising.
One of the things I learned from Steve [Jobs]—Steve said three times in his life he had the chance to be part of the change of an interface. If you change the interface, you can dramatically change the entire experience of the product. For Steve, that was the mouse, the scroll wheel on the iPod, and then the [touch]screen. What we’re trying to do here is change the interface of retail. What we call that is the street, and you’re standing in the middle of it.
When you walk into a store today, you’re overwhelmed by merchandise. There is a narrow aisle. Typically, it’s filled with product on tables and you’re overwhelmed with the noise of signs and promotions. Especially in the age of the Internet, the idea of going to a very large store and having so much abundance is actually not very appealing. The first thing you find here is you’re inspired. I have used the mannequins. The street is actually this new navigation path for a retail store. So if you come in here—you’ll notice that these aisles are 14 feet wide. These are wider than Nordstrom’s (JWN).
What did you learn from the recent recession about selling groceries?
It was a lot of humble pie, because our sales experienced a drop that I have never seen in 32 years of retail. Customers left us in droves. We also learned that there were some very loyal customers who loved Whole Foods (WFM), people who said, “I like what you stand for. I like coming here. I like this experience.” That was very affirming. I think the realization was that we’ve got some customers, and we need to make sure we know who they are. So instead of chasing every customer out there, we started doing customer discussion groups. We were growing for growth’s sake, which is not a good strategy. We were chasing the rainbow. We cut the growth in half overnight and said, “All right, slow down. Let’s make sure we’re doing this better and more thoroughly and more thoughtfully.” This company is a mission-based company. This company started to change the world by bringing healthier food to the world. It’s not about the money, it’s about the impact, and this company is back on track as a result of those experiences.
You’ve worked in retail all your life. What drew you to it?
I graduated from college, and I did not know what I wanted to do. Macy’s (M) came to campus to interview for their training program, and I thought, “Let me give it a try.” I got the job and fell in love with the industry. The president of Macy’s at the time said, “If you don’t wake up every morning dying to go to work, then retailing is not for you; it has to be in your blood.” It was in my blood. I love the fact that every day is different. You can get to be creative one day, financial the next day, marketing the next. I love going to stores. I love talking to associates. I love talking to clients. There’s not a predictable day.