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The Learning Never Stops

Dave Ratner//March 13, 2013//

The Learning Never Stops

Dave Ratner //March 13, 2013//

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Ijust returned from the National Retail Federation “Big Show” in New York. It is an absolutely mind boggling experience.

The show floor takes up the entire Javits Center. Anything and everything having to do with retail is there.

It is the perfect place to find used POS equipment, carts, time and attendance software, fixtures, sign making software and hardware, mobile solutions, credit card processors, literally anything you can think of to help retailers, and not just for the big boys. I got plenty of ideas and names for stuff I may be able to use.

The NRF also puts on a whole day of sessions especially for independent retailers. For me, it is the highlight of the show. You cannot feel anything but inspired after you listen to a few of these folks. I don’t care who you are, you need to feel inspired every once in a while. For me, it is nourishment. I come away with a gazillion ideas (most of which will never work) but my mind is recharged and ready to try and make my business better and more loved by my customers.

Since you are an avid reader of my columns, you know I am on the board of the NRF. This was my third meeting, so I am now pretty comfortable with my board “peeps.” The board meeting was very interesting.

What struck me as the biggest “duh” was every retailer in the room has the same problem – getting employees. Did you know that retail employs one in four people in the U.S.?

So there is a pretty good sized outreach to colleges, and even high schools about trying to raise the perception of a retail career. Retail is not on the “sexy” list for most young people. The image is standing behind a register for the rest of your life. Fact is, retail is lots of IT (somebody has to design and run the computers), design, manufacturing, management, logistics, etc.

I chuckled to myself as I listened to our chairman, Terry Lundgren from Macy’s, talk about what they are doing to encourage young people to go into retail. Why did I chuckle? He has, are you ready, 170,000 employees! Can you imagine?

I sat next to the chairman of Tractor Supply, who is a very nice guy. On the other side of me was the CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club. I asked her where she was staying.
Where do you think? She is CEO of an $11 billion company. The Four Seasons? The Ritz? Maybe The Plaza? Nope, the Comfort Inn. I said, “You’re kidding, right?” “Nope, BJ’s is a value conscious business. How would it look to my customers and employees if I stayed in a fancy hotel she said?”

Right, silly me. It’s that culture thing. The cool thing about her is she walks the walk. Look her up on Google – Laura Sen. Read her history and interviews, it is a wonderful lesson on leadership.

Getting back to the sessions, it blows my mind that there aren’t more indie retailers there of all industries, to take advantage of all they offer. I am not preaching to you, I am stating a fact. You cannot learn new things sitting in your store. There are conferences all over the country that have great speakers. I was in sessions with folks from our biggest competitors. They understand how important it is to know how to reach today’s consumer. I heard case studies from companies that use all kinds of marketing tools. These folks don’t give away secrets, but they give you enough basic ideas of how, and why you need to do certain things.

Even at our industry shows the folks who put these on go to great lengths to get speakers who are there to help you grow your business. I don’t believe there is a single reader out there that won’t learn something from at least one of the sessions at a trade show.

This year I learned how to get the attention of customers who are walking down an aisle. I also learned how to get folks to walk down an aisle that is getting no traffic. Most importantly, I learned how to engage with my customers on the level they want to be engaged with. That info is worth untold dollars. It will become my secret weapon in my stores.