Shift happens: You are either remarkable or irrelevant

In a world of constant disruption, even being ‘very good’ is no longer good enough. There will always be another retailer doing it better.

To stay relevant brands must become, and stay, truly remarkable.

In this session at last week’s National Retail Federation ‘Big Show’, Steve Dennis – President & Founder of SageBerry Consulting, Gretchen Ganc – EVP, Strategy & Analytics of The Container Store and Michael LeBlanc – Founder & President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company Inc, outlined the key principles of making the ‘remarkable mind shift’, highlighting real-world success stories from one of the world’s most innovative retailers.

Steve Dennis is also the author of ‘Remarkable Retail’. His argument is that physical is far from dead, but unremarkable retailers are dying. Those playing in the ‘middle’ are collapsing – quickly.

“They are not the fastest, not the cheapest, not the most innovative. They have no competitive advantage”, said Dennis.

Today retailers need to be ‘intensively relevant and remarkable’.

While Dennis’ book offers retailers eight ‘essential strategies’ to succeed in an increasingly volatile and uncertain future, in this morning’s session, Dennis and his colleagues focused on three.

Dennis began asking the audience to reflect on where retail was in 1995.

Back then retail was essentially physical. Customers simply went to a store, spoke to a team member, and picked up what the store had to offer. The basis of competition was geographic and based on scarcity.

Over 20 years, that ‘scarcity’ has eroded.

Inventory was scare. Once customers had a few choices – now they have limitless choices. If products are not available, customers missed out. Now, they can go elsewhere, instantaneously.

Information was scarce. Previously, customers spoke to salespeople and trusted then. Information is no longer scarce. Transparency of price, testimonials, customer reviews are available at the customers’ fingertips.

Inexpensiveness is no longer scarce. There are now more ‘dollar stores’ than normal retailers in the US. If you think your offer is ‘low price’, someone else is lower.

Convenience is no longer scarce. Everyone is delivering within hours, rather than days.

Dennis, LeBlanc and Ganc spoke of three essentials – the need to harmonise, be memorable and be radical.



“When we think about this as being ‘omni-channel’, we are one essentially one brand, no matter what channel customers choose to use to shop with you, mobile, online, instore. Harmonise your team. A customer may engage with different members of your team. Ensure the customers’ experience is consistent. This increases trust, loyalty and revenue”, said LeBlanc.



“Rather than the idea of small incremental changes, really step up and find your point of difference’, advised Dennis.

Your ‘unique value proposition’ must be clear and relevant for your customers. Ganc, suggested to ‘amplify the ‘wow’ factors’. What are the two or three things you are well known for already and promote those things. Is it authenticity? Is it quality? Is it a fun and exciting experience to shop with you?

Ganc explained The Container Shop uses a dashboard to measure NPS and other variables to constantly understand what is happening. Constantly focusing on the elements they do well, and strategically leveraging those factors.

Ganc also suggested that “one great person = three good people”. In recognising the challenge to find the very best people, particularly in today’s market, she suggested retailers can’t risk dropping their service standards. She suggested investing heavily in training, coaching and instore mentoring.

“Do you want ‘great’ people in your stores, or just ‘good people?”

Ganc indicated her leadership teams engaged regularly with their people. “This keeps them invested. We create competitions, and fun. When we release a new product, we do a short sharable video and send it to our teams”.



Finally, it was suggested that it was all too common for retailers to become constrained by how they define themselves. “They never try new things or engage with people outside their organisation”, said Dennis.

It is important to test and learn. Very few retailers have R&D budgets and link with universities, or external groups. Retailers need to develop a ‘culture of experimentation’.

“The biggest risk is to sit still or move slowly. Look at Bed, Bath and Table – they stayed still watching the last 20 years happen to them”, said LeBlanc.

Risk is fear based – we don’t want to make mistakes, so we don’t move forward.

“Failure is not an option, but neither is success”, said Dennis. There are risks in ‘growing’, but they are far less than ‘not doing anything’.

“Perfection is the enemy of progress”. There is a need to act fast. Innovation is necessary, speed is essential. Important to take ‘calculated risks.

Ganc offered The Container Store had recently shifted from traditional larger format stores to smaller format stores, located in inner-city areas and in doing so, increased revenue per square metre. This innovation came about via experiment and testing new store formats.

The Container Store invests in testing store designs, range, before rolling out.



SageBerry Consulting, LLC is a specialized consulting firm that helps retail, consumer and luxury/fashion brands and investors realize remarkable, customer-centric growth and marketing strategies. SageBerry was founded in 2009 by Steven Dennis, most recently the Senior Vice President of Strategy, Business Development & Marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group.

The Container Store Group, Inc. is an American specialty retail chain company that operates The Container Store, which offers storage and organization products, and custom closets. The company has made Fortune’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” in each of the past 17 years.

Michael LeBlanc is a Canadian retail pioneer with over twenty years of executive front-line retail experience in brand development, marketing, promotions, CRM and e-Commerce. Michael offers a unique perspective as the Voice of Retail in Canada, leveraging knowledge and experience to provide strategic advisory services and tactical consulting to local, national and international retailers.





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