An Education in Retail

Posted by    |    October 12th, 2010 at 11:48 am

When you hear the word “recession,” do you go “la la la la” and put your fingers in your ears in an attempt to block out the sound?  Yeah, me too.  But some things just can’t be ignored, especially by industries that have been hardest hit.

Take the retail industry, for example.  The last three years have been brutal – to sales, to store openings, to general industry morale.  But never an industry to get down for long, retail is forging ahead bravely and thoughtfully.

I recently had the opportunity to get inside the brains of some of the top retailers in the country and learn how they are facing today’s economy and serving today’s consumers at the annual Retailing Summit hosted by the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University.  This year’s theme was “The Evolving Consumer: emerging issues and future outlooks.”

Speakers included:

  • Larry Maggee, chairman, CEO and president of Bridgestone Retail Operations
  • Sid Keswani, regional vice president for Target
  • Rachel Bishop, divisional vice president of strategic planning for Walgreens
  • Michael Wood, senior vice president and director of syndicated research for TRU
  • Garrett Boone, Chairman Emeritus for The Container Store
  • Zain Raj, president and COO of SolutionSet
  • Denise Lee Yohn, consulting partner for Denise Lee Yohn, Inc.
  • Ken C. Hicks, chairman, president and CEO of Footlocker, Inc.
  • Tony Roger, senior vice president of brand marketing for Walmart
  • Dr. James Taylor, vice chairman of Harrison Group
  • James M. Damian, senior vice president of Best Buy’s experience development group and chairman of Buffalo Wild Wings

Garrett Boone, chairman emeritus, The Container Store

The summit dove deep into the habits and mindsets of today’s consumers, how they are spending, or not spending, how the recession has affected their attitudes, and what to expect from them in the future.  Just a few of the interesting facts I learned are:

  1. More and more manufacturers are opening their own retail outlets.
  2. Consumers today are moving from recession to recovery.  Future spending will be shaped by prioritization.  In other words, the recession may ease, but consumers will remain cautious for years to come.
  3. “Millennials” (consumers between the ages of 12 and 29) represent $461 billion in retail spending every year.
  4. Today’s media (wireless, mobile, instant) are significantly shaping the way consumers research, spend and save when they shop.


Sid Keswani, Target Stores

  1. When Millennials were polled about their favorite brands, Apple was the number one brand in every category.  Why?  Apple is seen as premium yet accessible, fun-enabling, infinitely and easily customizable, savvy yet approachable, a company that feels like a movement, innovation is at its core/DNA.

Many more lessons were learned, but what really sticks with me is the work that is being done by the TAMU Center for Retailing Studies.  The Center is housed within the Mays College of Business and its birth is described on the Center’s web site:

A retailer’s challenge in 1980 was the catalyst for the creation of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University. Donald Zale, son of Morris B. Zale who founded the well-known jewelry corporation, challenged three business schools: “Do something for retailing.” Texas A&M responded and Mays Business School became the first business school in the nation to make a formal commitment to retailing education. 

One of the largest retailing studies centers in the country, the TAMU program has housed over 2,300 students who have “completed coursework, internships and leadership programs that have prepared them for professional careers in retailing.”  Students in the program were busy working the Retailing Summit, and those I spoke with were very proud of the work they are doing and the lessons they are learning.

And when you think about it, retail stores are a critical part of our lives.  We visit them on site, online, and via catalog more times than we go to church every week.  So it’s good to know that the future leaders of the retail industry are learning all that they can about the business.

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