A look back at the Texas A&M University Retailing Summit
By Mort Goldstrom
The Center for Retail Studies at Texas A&M University conducted its 24th consecutive two-day summit on retailing Oct. 11-12, 2012. Approximately 250 participants – a mix of students, recruiters and retailers – attended sessions featuring speakers from major retailers. The summit offered attendees the chance to learn about the challenges and opportunities of retailing today, and to network with key executives from major accounts.
This year, the event included presentations from:
- Southwest Airlines
- Toys R Us
- GSD&M Idea City
- Guilt Groupe
- Gallery Furniture
- Maritz Institute
H-E-B: Retail in a Changing Economy
Craig Boya, president and chief operating officer, H-E-B
- Food retailer H-E-B does $19 billion in sales entirely from Texas. It has 340 stores and 76,000 employees.
- Average prices are 14 percent below average and profit margins are between 1 percent and 2 percent.
- Labor is their biggest cost and they continue to explore ways to lower costs and streamline operations.
- H-E-B launched a statewide health initiative focused on reducing obesity in Texas. Although it embraces community work, the company is trying to balance the push for healthier lifestyles with the need to compete with other major retailers, such as Walmart, and make sure it is serving customers what they want.
AT&T: Our Passion for Retail
Kelly King, president, South Central Region, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets
- AT&T has been in retail for 28 years and now has 2,300 stores.
- Change is not constant for them. Change is accelerating.
- From the first Bell telephone in 1876, it took 100 years to reach 100 million people; It took only 25 years for personal computers to reach 100 million, and only 16 years for cell phones.
- Some interesting facts on the rapid pace of technology adoption: It takes one week to text more messages than there are people on Earth; It took eight years for Facebook to reach one billion users, but Instagram is already at 80 million; Twitter users send a combined 400 million Tweets per day.
- Sales people in an AT&T store rank with car salesmen as the worst. The company needs to change the culture to meet consumer needs more than making one more sale.
- Because only 75 percent of households have a landline today, AT&T has diversified into selling remote lighting, alarms and even temperature controls.
Toys R Us Inc.: Employment Branding and the Role of HR in Brand Development, an Interview
Kelly O’Neil, vice president of human resources, Toys R Us, with Dr. Michael Wesson
- O’Neil discussed the need to provide service in a world of “discretionary engagement.”
- Toys R Us will be installing “pop-up stores” in Macy’s locations this year.
- He said Toys R Us can’t differentiate its brand with exclusive merchandise and is focusing on service, which can also trump the impact of consumers researching in stores and buying online.
GameStop’s Loyalty Program: More Growth, More Knowledge, More Power to the Players
Jenn McMillen, vice president of loyalty and customer relationship management, GameStop
- GameStop is an international video games retailer with more than 6,600 stores worldwide and e-commerce sites.
- McMillen demonstrated the use of a sophisticated customer relationship management system coupled with aggressive training to convince consumers to buy video games in the store rather than downloading online.
- Loyal customers get games early and can even compete to be “in” a game.
Journeys: The 26-Year-Old Teenager
Jim Estepa, president and CEO, Journeys
- Journeys is a national shoes and clothing retailer for teens and preteens.
- Estepa talked about the importance of meeting the needs of its young customers by making them comfortable in the mall as well as the store. This chain continues to grow in shoes and clothing through music, concerts and social acceptance by teens.
Southwest Airlines: Building a Brand From the Inside Out
Ginger Hardage, senior vice president of culture and communications, Southwest Airlines
- Southwest is the largest domestic airline in the United States.
- Happy employees remain the most valuable tool for Southwest in retaining passengers. The company has a 1.1 percent employee turnover rate and receives 200,000 employment applications a year for just 400 positions. Mercer Consulting helps measure employee engagement.
- The airline does a monthly roadshow featuring employee dinners with the CEO. The company also offers employees full pay for time taken off to serve the community.
- Southwest was able to exceed the revenue that would have been generated by implementing a bag fee by not doing so.
GSD&M: The Purpose-Driven Business
Roy Spence, CEO, GSD&M Idea City, and author of “It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For”
- Roy Spence founded one of the nation’s top advertising agencies, based in Austin, Texas. He is also one of the county’s top motivational speakers.
- Spence talked about the need for people and businesses to have a purpose in life. He believes that the return of creativity and entrepreneurship will be what it takes to jump start the U.S. economy.
Maritz Institute: The Social Life of Brands
Mary Beth McEun, executive director, Maritz Institute
- The Maritz Institute, founded in 2009, has created a network of thought leaders to collaborate and harvest ideas from disciplines such as social cognitive neuroscience, neuroeconomics, social psychology and social-network analysis.
- Among other things, Maritz analyzes social media to understand the social life of brands and to predict consumer behavior. This approach is being used by major retail marketers to shape what consumers think of their offerings.
Gilt Groupe: Changing the Way People Shop, an Interview
Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, cofounder and chief marketing officer, Gilt Groupe, with Cheryl Bridges
- Gilt Groupe is an online, membership-based “flash-sale” fashion retailer. They have diversified into sales on local services and travel packages.
- Wilson discussed how Gilt Groupe uses impulse and unique fashion to stimulate short-term buying in a new way.
- The travel version has not proved to be as effective.
- The data analytics from observing what individual consumers gravitate toward has proved successful in building the site’s products and approach.
First Published: October 24, 2012