Special Report: Quick Response Retailing: Retail conference looks to the future

Despite the economic turbulence of recent years, retailers can still plan for the future, says the chairman of the planning committee for the Retail Council of Canada's 1995 conference.Thomas Wolfe, president of Toronto-based furniture retailer The Bombay Company, says changing consumer...

Despite the economic turbulence of recent years, retailers can still plan for the future, says the chairman of the planning committee for the Retail Council of Canada’s 1995 conference.

Thomas Wolfe, president of Toronto-based furniture retailer The Bombay Company, says changing consumer spending habits, more American retailers entering the Canadian market, and changing real estate markets – particularly in shopping malls – are just some changes with which retailers are having to cope.

Appropriately, ‘Create Your Future: Join the Next Generation of Retailers’ is the theme of this 31st annual conference, held June 11-13 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Wolfe says almost 30 expert speakers will provide ‘tools of learning and tools of implementation’ for retailers aspiring to success in the future.

For instance, Len Kubas, principal at Toronto-based Kubas & Plant Consultants, will be speaking on Sunday about the retail industry’s mass migration toward hybrid mass merchants or category killers: a move he says has both good and bad implications.

‘It’s a good thing for the consumers because they can get far more choice than they could at a smaller store with limited selection,’ Kubas says.

‘On the other hand, there is a tendency for these larger stores to drive smaller retailers out of the business,’ he says.

However, if smaller businesses get as close as possible to their customers, they will have an edge.

‘One thing these bigger stores can’t do is offer first-hand knowledge of what customers want and need and also know the merchandise well,’ Kubas says.

Jane Walpole, management consultant at KPMG Management Consulting in Toronto and another one of Sunday’s speakers, says in order to thrive in the coming years, regardless of company size, all retailers must have a strategic plan.

‘I’m noticing, in talking to retailers, that everbody’s really concerned,’ Walpole says.

‘They’ve done so much cost-cutting, they’re beginning to realize they’ve got to be more short-term focused and more competitive,’ she says.

Walpole will be advising delegates on identifying their market specialty and planning for the future.

She says the days of the ‘hard sell’ ought to be history. Retailers should focus on evolving consumer and service needs rather than stick to tried and tired plans.

‘In order to be competitive, you’ll need more innovative thinking,’ Walpole says.

Paul Alofs, president of Toronto-based HMV Canada, who will discuss operational excellence in the future of retail on Tuesday (as part of a panel including Pierre Boivin, president and chief executive officer, Canstar Sports Group, and Stephen Bebis, president and ceo, The Home Depot) agrees that now is the time for innovative change in the industry.

Alofs says highly centralized and bureaucratic retail organizations are failing because they are not in touch with consumers.

He says bringing in a decentralized management system to a retail organization, supported by a very high-tech management information system that passes decision-making back to the retail floor, is a lucrative strategy for survival and success in the future.

Alofs says local markets differ from community to community, and retailers are wise to be in tune with what is the best product mix and merchant strategy for best results in their area.

‘Retail will get more local in the future, even though the players may be global, like hmv,’ he says.

Understanding your customers is of paramount importance, says Laurence Metrick, president, Toronto-based The Metrick System, and Sunday speaker on ‘What We Don’t Know About Our Customers is Killing Us.’

‘It’s far more valuable today for retailers to understand what customers want, rather than what they want to provide them,’ Metrick says.

However, he says, far more often you find the opposite in the retail industry – most only know what they want to provide consumers.

Metrick says retailers have to learn to think like customers, adding, if you understand consumers, it is much easier to grow a business.

On Sunday, Gerald Faust, president of San Diego, Calif.-based Faust Management, will address the complex task of managing and motivating staff.

Faust also sees a need for change in the retail industry.

He says it is of upmost importance that customers’ expectations be met and that consistency is maintained, adding that this requires efficient management of all those involved in a business.

‘There is a need in all organizations to be responsible to customers, employees and to the organization,’ Faust says.

Sunday will also see Jason Morsink, market manager at IBM Canada, and Marty McGinnis, president, McGinnis & Company, shed some light on what technologies are available to assist small business.

Selecting the best employees for business is a subject to be tackled on Sunday by John Jones, vice-president, research and service, London House.

A panel discussion on Sunday will show the advantages of innovations in retail, and will be moderated by John Torella, principal and senior consultant, John C. Williams Consulting, and include Paul Elias, vice-president, Home Cinema & Sound, Edward Calb, president, Blox Kids, and Marci Lipman, president, Marci Lipman Graphics.

The panel will provide some insight into competing with mammoth category killers.

Monday’s keynote speaker is Ken Dychtwald, president and chief executive officer of Oakland, Calif.-based Age Wave, who will discuss retail success as a result of effectively tapping into aging baby-boomer consumers.

Dychtwald will include advice on attracting a mature customer base and maintaining them through appropriate marketing.

Also on Monday, keynote presenter Ted Rogers, president and ceo of Toronto-based Rogers Communications, will explore the future of telecommunications and retail.

Barbara Mowry, president and ceo of u.s.-based The Mowry Company, will establish the importance of developing solid customer relationships.

Mowry will show present and future trends in creating these relationships.

Another panel, to discuss education for professionals, will take place on Monday and involve Jim Chestnutt, general manager, Strategic Alliances and Eaton School of Retailing; Tony LaMantia, senior vice-president, Eaton School of Retailing, and Marilynn Booth, dean of Continuing Education, Ryerson Polytechnic University.

Sam Geist, president of Geist & Associates, will emphasize the importance of focusing on the future in today’s retail industry during his presentation the same day.

Database marketing and its impact on profitability in retail will be explained by Barbara Canning Brown, president, BCB & Associates, also on Monday.

Technology and its contributions to retail will be shown by Ken Nickerson, director of technical Services, Microsoft Canada.

Also on Monday, Dianne Brisebois, president and ceo, Retail Council of Canada, will reveal the results of retail council’s survey that will give some insight into consumer perceptions of retail sale promotion efforts.

Canadian-born author of Discipline of Market Leaders, Michael Treacy, a keynote presenter scheduled for Tuesday, will offer a look at his strategy, backed by case studies, to improve and prosper in retail.

Tuesday’s other keynote speaker, Robert Nourse, president and ceo of Fort Worth, Tex.-based The Bombay Company, will talk about the birth and growth of his company.

Nourse will cover the perils and pitfalls involved in creating a retail entity and ‘some of the things required to succeed.

‘Retail has always been a field where there’s a lot of innovative activity, a lot of new ideas, and a lot of new concepts,’ he says, adding, the future is not only with giants such as Zellers and Wal-Mart.

‘There’s a lot of room for entrepreneurial activity.’

As usual, a general retail trade show, called storemart, will exhibit new products, services and technologies through the duration of the conference.