Retail NaviGator

The Retail NaviGator - our communication to you about our research on retailing issues and the activities of the David F. Miller Center. This ongoing media change creates a direct connection to the retailing community in a way that keeps information current, direct and GREEN!

March: Issue 2, 2013

In this issue:


Gators See Value in Retail Reception

The David F. Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research hosted the bi-annual Retail Reception in early February to welcome retailing recruiting professionals and retail-bound students.

Students consider retailing as a career option once they understand that it is about leadership, growth and development. The work is intellectually challenging and attracts some of the best minds. Recruiters know this and focus on individuals who offer leadership qualities, perform well at the University and have an ability to communicate with others. The Retail Reception offers the optimal environment to visit with recruiters and learn about retailing.

The event is sponsored by the Miller Center staff, which has focused on educating students about careers in the retail industry since 1987.


Sears Holdings Executive is a Retail Leader

Barbara Wichman is the Director of Leadership Development at Sears Holdings Corporation (SHC), and heads leadership development strategy for the Executive Leadership Team. She is returning to SHC after having been a part of Sears Roebuck and Company from 1995-99. Throughout her career, Barbara has held leadership positions in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Performance Management at Motorola, Andrew Corporation and Sara Lee. Barbara graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a BA in International Relations in Economics and Commerce. She also holds an MBA from Edgewood College (Wisc.).

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How did you get your start in the retail industry? What career path has this start led you to?
When I was growing up my dad managed a Ganser’s 5 & 10 store. I would put the 5- and 10-cent stickers on the inventory in the basement, which was my first experience in retailing. While I attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I worked for JC Penny and TJ Maxx part-time. When I graduated I started a management training program in Minnesota for Gantos. At the time, Gantos was a Midwest company getting ready to expand, and because of my ability to train employees very well, my store (in St. Louis) became a training store for managers who were then sent to West Coast. After a couple of years, I decided to go back to school. While attending Edgewood College to get my MBA, I managed a bridal shop. After receiving my Masters I went to work for Sears Roebuck and Company in the Corporate University to develop and facilitate programs including customer service courses for stores, managerial courses, team building etc. I was a participant in a women’s mentoring program at Sears, where I met a woman who invited me to come work at Motorola organization development leading the talent development and organization effectiveness for a business. I led a lot of talent management processes, leadership development, and organizational design. I then took a few years off to start my family, but I continued to do volunteering and one of my accomplishments was developing a program for 6- to 9-year-old children on how to avoid abduction. After two years, I went to work for Andrew Corporation as a global organization development director. Then I went work for Sara Lee where I was responsible for talent management, and performance management. Finally, I came back to work for Sears Holding Corporation (SHC) where I’m responsible for leadership development for the executive leadership team.

What do you like most about working in retailing?
Retailing is a very dynamic business. People don’t realize that department stores have many different levels of sophistication: The stores, technology, and use of data and analytics. The complexity of this business is enormous. Technology is changing the face of retail.

What decisions have you made in your career that you look back on and feel were mistakes? What did you learn?
I don’t believe that I have made mistakes, but I have had key learning moments. There are always ways to do things better. You have to have the mindset of having the awareness to stay open to everything around me. With that there are no barriers, only challenges that need to be overcome in different ways. I have always had a mentor outside of retailing who I’m always open and honest with. This has been a huge benefit to me. It helps me keep an open mind and listen to what others have to say. But the most important thing I learned is to always be authentic and true to myself.

What have you learned about retailing that you wish you knew back when you first started?
The complexity of the industry. I was too naive to understand the complexity of what I was facing Sears in the beginning. My naiveté caused me to make decisions that now I look back on and think, “Wow, that was bold.” But it was a good thing because I always had the mentality of, “I can do it” or “We can do it.” Another thing is to always keep the customer in mind. It always needs to be emphasized. We always hear leaders speaking about corporations but we need to challenge people to think about customers a little more. At Lastly, retailing can be a lot of fun. People think it’s just a lot of hard work. It is, but it’s one of the most interesting and compelling roles I have ever had.

A leader must be equipped with a set of capabilities necessary to perform his or her role. Which one would you say is the most important ability a leader should have?
It would have to be adaptability, authenticity and flexibility. People need to be open to ideas about the changing face of retailing. Also, employees can tell when you’re not being your authentic self and no one wants to follow someone like that.

Are there born leaders? Can people be trained to be a leader?
People are born with specific attributes but it’s their decision to cultivate them or not. Some people have these attributes very naturally but they need to be aware of them and learn how to use them effectively. Leaders who are aware of their skills and capabilities are the ones who have the greatest impact on people. They also need to be aware of how they are perceived by others and how to use that information to be a better leader. Even if you look back at a classroom full of schoolchildren, you can see leadership in some of them. These kids keep going further in school, where they can use these skills or lose them.

How do you juggle time with family and friends and maintain such an important position? Can you suggest to students how to manage this?
I love what I do. It’s not a Monday-Friday job. I can work nights and weekends because it doesn’t bother me so much. I am a mom and I have an 11-year-old daughter, so I have learned to be at her volleyball or basketball games, but then I need to work at 10pm or get up earlier in the morning. Also, I am training for 100-mile bike ride and my first marathon this year. So I have to come up with creative ways to manage it. I can get up earlier or make sacrifices in the social aspect of work by not going to lunch with a coworker. Also with my daughter, I like to practice for my marathon or bike ride with her. I am sure one day she will appreciate it! It’s about having fun!

Earlier, you said that you took a few years off to focus on your family. Was it difficult going back to work?
I only took off two-and-a-half years, but I was scared about going back. However, while I was not working I was still volunteering, fundraising, and working on a class for kids about how to avoid abduction. So I was still used to having a full schedule. It was an adjustment.

What advice can you offer students considering retailing as a career?
First, walk into retailing with a sense of curiosity and realize that retailing is changing. Students with creativity and open minds are what we need to transform this industry because it is transforming, but it hasn’t even hit the tip of iceberg yet. Also recognize the huge impact of technology, social media and the savvy levels of customers. Think about yourself as a customer – what do you want? And then speak up!

Do you believe there are barriers for men or women in this industry?
Men and women both bring something different to the table. I believe there are challenges that need to be overcome. I think barriers are mostly self-imposed by limited belief in one’s self.


Uplifting Interview with CEO of Bealls

By Jennie Clark

Steve Knopik is the Chief Executive Officer of Beall’s Inc. After earning a BSBA Degree from the University of Florida in 1977, Steve began his career as a CPA for KPMG, a global accounting and auditing firm. He joined Beall’s Inc., in 1984 as the Director of Finance and grew with the company over the ensuing years and advanced through a number of leadership roles before being promoted to the position of Chief Executive Officer in 2006.

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What advice can you offer students considering retailing as a career?
I believe that retailing is a misunderstood industry and, therefore, far too few students seem interested in retailing as a career. It’s mostly viewed as undesirable because people think they are going to be on their feet and dealing with finicky customers all day long. I love the fact that, in our business, as daily sales stream in, we get a report card every day and can really feel like we’re on the front lines of what is happening. That’s one key reason why retailing is so exciting and fun.

There are many facets of a retail organization and a wide variety of functions that must be done well to be successful. Retailing is one of the businesses that are low transaction value, but with high volume. Modern technologies enable us to harness all that transactional data and make better decisions. Some of the insights that we can get from all that data are fascinating.

The growth of online sales is changing the face of retailing and it is great fun to be a part of that. Whether it is tablet, mobile, or desktop, the digital side of the business adds a new dimension and requires a lot of focus and effort. I’d tell students that a career in retailing can present them with a diverse set of opportunities. It’s great because really anyone with almost any skill set or interest from any academic standpoint can pursue a career in retail. I would encourage anybody to give it a try.

Often, people select a career path because they want to make a certain amount of money. I’ve learned over the years that money is only one element in the overall equation of what is going to make you happy. Ultimately it is the type of work that you do, and the people with whom you work that make the difference.

I think it is okay for students to have some uncertainty about the future. My advice is that they need to think through their experiences and try to concentrate on what they are good at and what they like to do. One way is to start and to continuously expand a list of things you do and do not like in your life. This list will help you to move toward a conclusion about what is going to make you happy. Then a paycheck won’t be as large a factor in deciding on the career that is right for you.

As a CEO of a multi-billion dollar organization, you’ve led many people from many different lifestyles. What leadership style do you recommend for students to study?
There is no correct answer to the question. There is a vast array of leadership styles that can be successful. Some people can be successful because they have charisma and they can naturally convince people to act through their power and will. Others are more soft-spoken and work behind the scenes to support others and encourage them to work hard and succeed. They like to direct things from backstage.

In my experience, the leaders that are most successful in the retailing space are ones that are more collaborative. Most every major initiative that we take on requires significant work by people across disciplines – for example, players from merchandising, store operations, the distribution center and IT. A team from a single department can’t adequately represent all of those functions. Great leaders have to be able to communicate and collaborate. Another key is to understand the limitations and the strengths that each discipline brings to the table.

There is no one leadership style that is more successful than others. No matter what your style though, a successful leader in retail must be a great communicator and must be able to harness talents from multiple disciplines.

How do you manage all of your responsibilities? How do you maintain balance in your life?
When I think about the early years of my career, it was a lot of long days and weeks and a lot of travel. A lot of times when friends would invite me to do things, and I simply had to say “no” because I had to work.

The reality is that if you want to get ahead, you have to be prepared to run hard and “go the extra mile” during the first several years while you are in a new job. You have to demonstrate that you are willing to do what you need to do to help the company to succeed.

Work-life balance can sometimes be hard to achieve because you have to invest some of your time in learning the culture and specifics of the job. Over time, however, you cannot consistently work long days and weekends and not feel the repercussions.

I am fortunate that today I am able to achieve a good work-life balance. I’ve surrounded myself with great people that care a lot about what they do and it’s their professional purpose to make sure that I don’t worry too much about things that they are responsible for.

It’s a tribute to those people that I’m able to live a balanced life.

I believe that I have an ideal job. Our business is so great because it is good size. We are involved with everything that all big retailers are involved in, but we are private and have more freedom to invest in certain projects that can make a difference for years to come instead of only those that are designed to produce short-term success.

What was your first-day speech to the team like?
The interesting thing about my promotion to the CEO role was that it was part of a well-orchestrated succession plan. Bob Beall worked on helping me grow into the job for several years, so the promotion was less of an event and more of a transition.

Moreover, it is unusual for us to get everyone from all three of our corporations together for an event. So, I cannot say that there was a big hoopla the first day I was promoted. There wasn’t a benchmark speech.

When I do talk to the leadership teams say during a town hall-type meeting, my message is often devoted to conveying the importance of working together to better serve our customers. In addition, maintaining our values and our company culture is really important to me. I see the values and culture as real difference makers in the success of our company, so I always talk about those subjects when I address our teams. It is vitally important to me that our leaders embrace our values – whether it is treating people with respect, treating them fairly and recognizing them for the things that they do well.

We operate two regional retail chains that compete against some big powerful companies. So Beall’s Outlet and Beall’s Department Stores have to consistently deliver offerings to our customers that are unique and inspiring.

When you want to get to know an executive, what are two questions you ask?
There are a couple... One of the simplest questions is, “What keeps you awake at night?” It forces them to come up with what problem they are wrestling with. The answer almost always opens up a nice avenue of conversation.

I also always try and ask, “What can I help you with?” I want to help people in any way I can.

Do you have a mentor?
My dad is my mentor – not so much in business as in life. He is a simple guy, and he was an electronic engineer. I remember when in the early 1960s he built a color TV for us from a box of parts that he got from a catalog. In some way he and my mom raised me to be successful and driven, and to this day, I don’t know how they did it. How did they teach me my values and motivations? How did they teach me to never settle for second best? It was never overt.

When I first started out at UF, I was intent on being a lawyer, so the plan was to go to law school. After studying philosophy for about a year, I realized I didn’t want to be in college for all of the years that a law degree required. So I quickly turned to business and accounting because I knew that major that would allow me to get out and get a job. I wanted to be independent. My dad taught me to strive for the best in life. There are things that parents do for you, and he instilled a drive in me to be independent and successful.

Bob Beall is another mentor of mine. I’m a lot different than him, but there are a lot of characteristics he displays that have rubbed off on me. He almost never overtly gets angry. He is always the cool customer in the room. He is never one to dwell on who is responsible for a mistake. He’d rather devote his energy to trying to figure out what to do to fix it and how to get it behind us.

To this day, he continues to be very interested in the business and, as chairman to providing his guidance and overall direction. He has a nearly unquenchable thirst for information about what’s going on and wants to be updated often. He’s a great role model for me.

What trends do you see in the future of retailing?
One really game-changing trend is the explosive growth of online retailing. It’s like nothing we have ever seen before. If you were to rewind the clocks by 7 to8 years, few people thought apparel would ever be successfully sold online. The though was that customers needed to try clothing on and touch or feel the fabrics We’ve learned though, that apparel does very well online, and it is obvious the it will continue to grow as a percentage of the total business.

Another thing I think is desktop computers are destined to become far less relevant. The mobile channel may be the most important facet of the online business in the future. It’s not true for everyone, but it is certainly moving that way. We can’t ignore it. Omni-channel is becoming more important. In short, the customer wants to interact with you when they dictate and in the manner that they choose. They want to experience the Bealls brand on their own time and in their own way.

If you were to send fan mail, who would be the recipient and why?
I’d change the question a bit. If the question was someone who is living today that I would like to spend time with I would probably break it up into different parts. I’m a big sports fan and a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan. So maybe Mike Matheny, the team’s manager. It would be fun to share ideas about what happened during last week’s games and what the week ahead will look like.

For movies, it would probably be Woody Allen because he spews out so many creative ideas and has such a compassion for film that it simply boggles my mind.

U.S. and world affairs are subjects that I’m interested in, but getting politicians to give us straight talk is nearly impossible. If I were to interact with a leader in world affairs, I’d probably choose someone like Bill Clinton or Kofi Annan, and would pray that they would talk openly with me without feeling like they had to be politically correct.


DSW Succeeds with Customer Engagement

By Jennie Clark

On February 8, 2013 the Retail Seminar Class hosted Deborah Ferrée the Vice Chairman and Chief Merchandising Officer of DSW. DSW stands for Designer Shoe Warehouse, and it is a specialty shoe retailer that also sells handbags and accessories. DSW has always succeeded with marketing strategies before they become on trend by other retailers. Ms. Ferrée spoke about her experience with DSW and why she loves working in the most rewarding industry, retail.

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Ms. Ferrée joined DSW in 1997 and has worked in the retail industry for more than 30 years. Ferrée has been key in the success of DSW as a retail powerhouse that offers great customer service, fashionable merchandise and a cohesive company culture. DSW employs approximately 10,000 people with 1,000 of them at corporate headquarters. DSW prides itself on its two pillars: Assortment and value. The company is hoping to expand to 400 stores by 2015, and DSW is growing internationally. Most people in the audience were shocked by the percentage of sales DSW produces in the men’s department. DSW has 65% of sales in women’s, 10% in accessories and a remarkable 25% in men’s. Ferrée joked to the students that they needed to get into the men’s shoe industry!

Ms. Ferrée stated that every retailer should want a multi-channel customer. A multi-channel customer is worth more revenue to a retailer because they are interested in shopping online, in-store, etc. DSW takes advantage of the multi-channel customers. DSW drives customer engagement through social media, interactive crowd-sourcing and popular commercials and advertisements. DSW gets their customers that use social media to browse their selections and to inform them on shoe trends. DSW monetizes their relationship with their social media fans by making the DSW posts relevant to customers. Relevant posts are most important in social media because they stand out to the audience and aren’t included in the white noise that is created by most other companies and people. DSW has a 90% retention rate with its socially engaged customer. DSW wants customers to share about their great experiences and to ‘like’ their photos.

“A lot of retail companies are sleepy. They don’t want to incorporate new ideas and they need too,” Ferrée said. DSW has integrated new strategies with their customer in order to keep their marketing significant. DSW has 12% of its customers creating 31% of its sales. If DSW continues to foster its relationship with its loyal customers then they will not be able to be stopped in the shoe retail industry.

Many students asked Ms. Ferrée about how they can succeed and build themselves a great career in retail. “You must make sure you as a brand matches with the company you work for,” Ferrée said. You must make sure that connection is spot on with the company. Ferrée suggests to stand out and to not blend in. She encourages students to do their research and to keep up to date on all current news and trends.

DSW is a leader in the shoe retail industry. Ms. Ferrée has been crucial in the company’s success and shared with students her experience in making DSW, “America’s Favorite Place for Shoes.”


Scot Congress Addresses Oestreich Group

Scot Congress, President of Congress Jewelers, with showrooms on Sanibel Island and other Gulf Coast locations, addressed approximately 30 students and others on February 1. The Oestreich Speaker Series is endowed in memory of Gator graduate Holly Oestreich, and annually features retailers noted for the entrepreneurial success.

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Congress traced the history of his family’s jewelry business, founded by his father in 1959 in Elkhart, Indiana, to its highly successful current form. It is known for its trademark “beach sandals” design, but also has evolved into being a leading seller of high-end, custom-designed jewelry, as well as a dealer in pieces by globally-renowned jewelry designers, and makers of fine watches, such as Breitling, Rolex and Gucci.

Besides tracing the company’s history, Congress also offered the participants advice for creating business success and achieving personal satisfaction through community engagement, sound business planning, disciplined talent management and the creation of unique and exciting shopping experiences. Congress’s wife and business partner, Melissa, also shared the podium.


Retail Navigator

This electronic newsletter from The David F. Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research is issued throughout the year to provide updates on what is happening in retailing at the University of Florida. Information regarding student outreach, jobs, internships, research and retailing connections throughout the country will be included. We hope you enjoy seeing what Gators are doing in the retail industry!

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