Monday, November 29, 2010

The post Turkey Leadership Sensation

Now that this year's Thanksgiving has come to an end, we are pretty sure that you have returned to work relaxed, belly full, wallets empty, and ready to take on your job with gusto! With that in mind, we have noticed a few bits and pieces that could help in  motivating your team, improving your leadership and of course, adding some fun into the workplace.

Mr Rogers and Management Advice 
Most of us can remember Mr. Rogers. From PBS, Mister Rogers Neighborhood ran on TV from 1968 to 2001, offering a safe and sane TV show for millions of children over the year. Much maligned and mocked, It seems that there is some advice for the workplace in Mr. Rogers approach, and you can read about it HERE. it is a summary of an article from a recent issue of Fast Company.

We liked one of the five management tips best: "Be Consistent in who you are, and what people should expect. We think this is especially important in the campus world, and for retailers to stay focused on their core products and values. Although the desire to snag trends is important, staying focused on your history, and your core mission creates an environment of customer trust and satisfaction.

Speaking of Values...
Have you ever spent what seems like an endless amount of time with staff and bosses hashing out your mission statement, core values and the like? After you wordsmith and hammer out some pithy statements, what happens next? They often become just words on the page, added to annual reports or appearing on the staff bulletin board.

What about sharing these values with your customers? We stopped for a burger at the restaurant chain "Red Robin" recently, and were intrigued by how this restaurant gets their message out. They have printed their core values on the back of drink coasters and the check envelope. There are four values; Honor, Integrity, Continuing Seeking Knowledge and Having Fun. They call it "Living the Core Values", and the descriptions are well written. It suggests that this might be a good place to work, or at least someplace you might want to come back for more meals.

We liked the core value of "Having Fun". As Red Robin sees it, fun is about staying fresh, vibrant and always willing to seek out and learn new things. Value number two is good as well. Integrity. Empower people to do the right thing and they will.

We think it is smart and clever. Does it work in campus retail? We think so, if you took your values and printed them on receipts, receipt holders or displayed them individually throughout the store. A way to share your values with your customers.

Cyber Monday and Holiday shopping.
A few surveys gave us pause last week as the media looked at workplace, employees and holiday shopping.

The first survey asked 100 large company IT managers how they handled employees shopping on line during work hours. 44% said they now block popular online shipping sites to combat "time theft", especially at this time of the year. Most employees admit to shopping on work time, but under estimate the time they spend online, or argue that their activities are during break times.

We thought it is something for managers and supervisors to keep an eye out as Cyber Monday rolls along.

The second survey (one commissioned by Ebay), was intriguing as we had just not thought that much about it. Their survey showed that 6 percent of workers admitted to calling in sick in order to Christmas Shop. 20% of the respondents had considered doing this.

It is not a large percentage, but it does give one pause, and, as always it's something for people supervisors to keep watch on during the holiday shopping frenzy.

Can Campus Retailers.....Connect?
There was a recent article in NACS Campus Marketplace about Assumption College (Worcester, MA) that we liked. Presumably this store has an employee by the name of "BookstoreJosh". In a fit of creativity, they have created two YouTube videos to promote the bookstore, both as a place with more products than textbooks, and a fun place to hang out.

Now many stores have done similar on YouTube, but have generally been a bit flat and boring. YouTube by committee, without much spark. Assumption and BookstoreJosh have gone the other way, creating fun and friendly videos that highlight the store in a positive and enthusiastic vein.

We like video #2 best, with it's campy batman theme music and focus on the bookstore as a campus community center. "The Bookstore....we've got time" is the tag line, and while we would have nixed the "window shopping" line, we enjoyed the focus on using the store's Mac demos for "time wasting activities"

Good job, and we are waiting for the next chapters in the Assumption College Bookstore video library. You can see the whole video at
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Annette Verschuren - Female Home Depot CEO

When the president of the Home Depot Canada says she'll do something, it's hard for anything to stop her -- whether it's childhood hardships, male-dominated workplaces or the daunting task of growing a U.S. home-improvement company from its shaky early Canadian toehold of 19 stores to its current 179.

Annette Verschuren will receive the 19th-annual Henry Singer Award from the University of Alberta School of Retailing for excellence and leadership in retail at a ceremony in Edmonton, Canada.

One of only a handful of female chief executives in North America, Verschuren says her upbringing as a daughter of immigrant Dutch dairy farmers on Cape Breton Island pushed her to shatter glass ceilings.

When Verschuren's father suffered a debilitating heart attack, the five kids, including 10-year-old middle child Annette, had to shoulder burdens beyond their years.

"We worked hard as a family together on the farm, and having that responsibility at such a young age really influenced my life in terms of capacity," Verschuren said.

"One doesn't think that a 10-year-old can pull a calf from a cow, but I got to do that and learned a lot about life."

Verschuren contracted a kidney condition, which required four operations between ages 15 and 21. "That makes you focus too, on life and where you want to go and what you want to be. I decided not to be a victim. I decided to fight it and here we are at the age of 54."

After switching from arts, she earned a business degree from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and got a job with the Cape Breton Development Corp., giving loans and working on business plans with sawmill operators and metal fabricators.

After moving into the coal-mining side of the business as director of planning, she moved to Toronto to work for the Canada Development Investment Corp. where she worked as executive vice-president privatizing Crown corporations such as merging Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. and Saskatchewan Mining Development Corp. to become uranium producer Cameco.

She joined Imasco Ltd., a tobacco, retail and financial services conglomerate where she worked for prominent businessman Purdy Crawford, who was impressed by the fellow Maritimer. He made her vice-president in charge of corporate development, responsible for investing in companies. But Verschuren wanted operational experience so she could run a company.

She was put in charge of 63 Den for Men stores. Verschuren stayed a year and then struck out on her own, forming her own company. She persuaded the CEO of crafts giant Michael's to partner with her and expand into Canada.

As president and co-owner of Michael's Canada, the chain grew to 105 stores.

That's when the Home Depot came calling for Verschuren.

Verschuren said it was tough to leave Michael's, and she wasn't sure if her independent nature would fit into a corporate job.

"We set the ground rules very clearly at the front end that I would have a lot of autonomy, and to this day I have amazing autonomy -- but you have to produce."

When she started in 1996, the Home Depot Canada "was not in good shape," Verschuren said.

"They had opened up five stores and hadn't put any inventory in, that's how tough it was. It was tough during those few years, and so we had to build it up, get the right team around me and build the organization. There were great people in the organization; they just needed leadership.

"Fourteen years later, we have 179 stores and do almost $6 billion in sales. We have 28,000 people working for us. It's been quite an exciting career."

Her gender is not a factor for her, Verschuren said. "I never knew that women and men were treated differently until I left home. ... My parents never treated me any differently than the boys, and the Dutch are a little like that. They recognize the equality of people."

Arthur Blank, co-founder of the Home Depot, told Verschuren he was heavily criticized for naming her to run the company in Canada.

"He said, 'I knew you had the energy and the passion and the determination to make it happen,' " Verschuren recalled.

"And remember Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus, the two original founders of Home Depot, are Jewish -- they were discriminated against too, and so they respected diversity. I never, ever honestly have felt in this company discriminated against."

But the fact a woman leads a home-improvement retailer still surprises many. If she's in a store with one of her male vice-presidents and someone announces the president is in the building, "every customer will come up to the man I'm with," she said, laughing.

"But you can't take that stuff personally. That's just society."

But she's as comfortable with volunteers on Habitat for Humanity building sites as she is with CEOs and politicians.

Volunteerism is a big part of her life and she encourages it at the Home Depot. September was the month of service where staff at all stores volunteered for community projects.

"People love to work with organizations that genuinely give back," Verschuren said. "Whether we get credit for that or don't doesn't matter. What's really important is that the community we serve gets better."

Friday, November 12, 2010

A tale of Two Retailers

The is the story of two fashion retailers. One that had it all, and the other that wants it all. A tale of how one retailer has a ride to the top, only to experience an inglorious collapse. The other, a small regional company, that has defied all odds to become bigger and bigger - even in a tough economy.

Our story begins with the manufacture and retailer "American Apparel". From the very beginning, American Apparel sought to redefine clothing basics. Their spin was to create well made, high quality T-Shirts, sweatshirts and the like. Good quality, no frills, basics you could wear outside your house without feeling embarrassed. They added to this quality by creating products that were cut specifically to fit women. A new idea, and one that was embraced wholeheartedly.

Now selling basic t's is pretty dull. So, American Apparel made their name known by creating provocative advertising, and to being one of the first to tout their clothing as being sweatshop free, ethical clothing. A differentiators from the rest of the marketplace. Spurred on by the media attention and customer enthusiasm, American Apparel went on a rapid expansion plan. Opening stores everywhere, pouring millions into marketing campaigns, and creating a pop culture star out of founder Dov Charney.

Yet now it is saddled with $120 Million in debt, the retail stores (over 200 at last count) are doing poorly and customers have lost interest in the company, finding other retailers to fill the void for basic fashion wear. Now, just over a decade from inception, American Apparel is contemplating Chapter 11. A shell of its former self.

On the other side of the fashion coin is manufacturer and retailer LuluLemon. Founded in Vancouver BC less than 10 years ago, the moderately priced yoga and fitness fashion label has grown from a few local stores to a dominate player in the fitness clothing sector. Touting fashionable, moderately priced fitness wear, LuLuLemon rode the wave of increased popularity of Yoga as the new fitness regimen.

The company has found success, and expanded rapidly throughout Canada, and now into the US marketplace. What makes their story remarkable, is this rapid and successful expansion during the recession. While other retailers pray for 1% or 2% same store sales growth, LuLuLemon is experiencing double digit growth this year - 30% to 40% over 2009. A company to be reckoned with.

A fall from grace and a Phoenix from the recessionary ashes. That's our tale of two retailers.

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