Retail's Big Show Tackles Big Issues

NRF convention speakers weigh in on the dysfunction in the nation's capital

"Dysfunction" in Washington, D.C., has led to the world witnessing a "lack of leadership in the United States of America," Starbucks Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Howard Schultz stressed during a panel discussion at the National Retail Federation's (NRF) 102nd Annual Convention & Expo, held in January at New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Schultz alluded to the "fiscal cliff" debate and said retailers will be directly affected as the government dysfunction impacts consumer behavior. Starbucks itself had employees write the words "Come Together" on coffee cups to express their displeasure with the U.S. government.

Schultz implored retailers not to simply watch what happens in the nation's capital. "We have to have a voice," he told the crowd. "The world is hungry for America to lead. We must send a message to Washington that we deserve better. I ask you to do everything you possibly can as employers not to be bystanders, and demand Washington does everything it can to deliver aspirations we deserve as citizens of the United States."

During the session, entitled "Conscious Leadership: A Call to Action for the Retail Industry and Beyond," Schultz was joined by Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc., and Kip Tindell, chairman and CEO of The Container Store. Robb relayed that with the U.S. debt ceiling expected to be surpassed shortly, retailers face another "rough couple of months."

"It's frustrating to see lack of leadership," Robb said. "You wouldn't run your business that way."

Eventually, the three panelists shifted the discussion away from the government and focused on how retailers can beat the competition. Tindell said the best way is to truly put the customer first. "[Employees] will take care of the customer better than anyone else," he said. "Customers almost feel like part of the company. They don't like us; they love us."

According to Robb, encouraging employees to innovate is a top way for retailers to separate themselves from the pack. Employees should feel they are part of a team. At Whole Foods, that's accomplished as 40 percent of employees own stock in the company.

In other NRF Show happenings:

  • Pennsylvania-based convenience store chain Wawa Inc. announced that it will implement the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) mobile wallet solution at its stores. Company Treasurer Jay Culotta said the retailer chose MCX over the many other players in the mobile wallet space because "it is a solution for retailers created by retailers." Wawa expects MCX to give the company access to better data, down to the SKU level.
  • NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said three things need to be accomplished in order for retailers to be more successful. First is tax code reform. At 35 percent, America has the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Second, the U.S. must open new trade opportunities, including bilateral relationships with the European Union. Third, the U.S. government must fix its broken immigration and VISA system.

NRF 102nd Annual Convention & Expo

Jan. 13-16, 2013

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, New York City

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