The Retail Industry | Trade and Industry Development

The Retail Industry

Sep 30, 2005 | By: Sandy Kennedy
Prepared for Change

Change is facing the new and unknown. The competitive nature of the retail industry requires that it deal with change on an ongoing basis through innovative approaches and concepts, and often, a break with conventional wisdom. As Howard Levine, CEO of Family Dollar, stated, “If we don’t change and take on some risk, we’ll fall behind from a competitive standpoint.”

From technology to talent and from global presence to serving individual customers better, the retail industry is bombarded with change on virtually all fronts—evolutionary changes in products, markets and the workforce, and continuous change in processes, partnerships and regulatory requirements. And sudden, disruptive change, as we witnessed with hurricanes Katrina and Rita, brought upheaval to the industry, but also highlighted its resourcefulness, resilience and ability to respond.

At the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), we seek out those innovative companies that embrace change as a means for new ideas and ways to grow. Through our Leaders Councils, conferences and forums, we gather the best and brightest companies and individuals who have a passion for learning and a willingness to share what they can in order to advance the issues that affect their business and the industry as a whole.

New advances in technology are reshaping the retail community—bringing new ways of streamlining processes, and helping retailers become truly customer focused. With these new technologies come themore worrisome issues of hackers, security and privacy in a networked, data-rich industry—making industry collaboration a key component to stemming the new face of retail crime.

Through our Technology Leaders Council, IT executives are learning and discussing best methods to protect sensitive information. Through our Info Share program, loss prevention executives are sharing information on organized retail crime that could help other retailers and law enforcement agencies crack down on rings preying on consumers.

Along with the risks of data security come the rewards of getting to know your customers better, and in turn, serving them better. Through loyalty programs, retailers are taking their marketing down to the individual letters, communicating with customers on a one-to-one level that keeps them coming back.

The key to providing the level of service that consumers expect is having the right people in the right place to serve them. “People”—not competition, government regulating or the economic environment—consistently tops the list of the most important factor in driving growth for the retail industry. Through our People Leaders Council, our members are working together, discussing ideas focused on finding and keeping talented people, on creating career paths, on getting students interested in retail careers, on encouraging diversity and on motivating and empowering front-live employees to serve customers well.

And if it’s hard enough to ensure top-notch customer service at home, try it on a global scale. Globalization affects virtually every leading retailer, whether seeking new markets and opportunities for expansion or simply sourcing in overseas markets. The results are U.S. consumer enjoying high quality products at the lowest prices, and overseas consumers buying U.S. goods and participating with U.S.-based retailers more than ever before. Since its admission into the World Trade Organization, China has emerged as a strong and powerful trade partner, increasing demand for U.S. exports and accelerating already strong demand for Chinese imports. Whether it is U.S. companies that are sourcing overseas or, increasingly, companies outside the United States that are looking to join the global economy, the retail industry undoubtedly has gone global.

Yet in all discussions revolving around change, there are some key components that the industry agrees upon: handling change effectively comes from the top. At a recent gathering of more than 500 retail executives, participants ranked “courage” and “decisiveness” at the top of the list in terms of today’s key leadership qualities – a reflection of the need for leaders to guide organizations through the uncharted waters of a changing world.

Change is a continual process. True leaders are constantly learning and searching for new ideas—both from within and outside their own industry. The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) grows and changes with the needs of the industry, serving as a resource for members and the industry as a whole.


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