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Posted Date: 10/1/2003

Retail: Re-Defining the Modern 'People' Business

By  Kathleen DesMarteau

When you meet retailers who really love what they do, it shows. Their voices grow excited and their faces animated as they describe their target customer, and the latest strategy they have for winning his or her business.

Their passion for the business - and their subsequent success at it - always seems to connect to the fact that they enjoy the art of merchandising, the nuance of a smooth sale, the thrill of hitting a trend dead-on and the promise of ongoing profits from happy, loyal customers. After all, in many ways, retailing is the ultimate "people" business. Those who succeed have a great understanding of people, their wants and their needs. Of course, the leading players also know how to fulfill those wants and needs efficiently, profitably and with innovation.

Following are some of the most interesting perspectives I have heard lately from executives who run very diverse businesses yet share surprising similarity in their consumer-focused mindsets.

We need to be everywhere that people are running. Of our customer base, no 1 percent of consumers live in the same zip code. - Bill Ness, president, Road Runner Sports, an Internet-based running footwear and apparel retailer, addressing why the firm has not pursued brick-and-mortar expansion.

The retail business is all about common sense, your basic blocking and tackling. Yet it's never static. There are always new developments in product, and new challenges in meeting consumers' needs. Plus, you get to see your "report card" in your sales results every day. - Joe Scarlett, chairman and CEO, Tractor Supply Co., and chairman, International Mass Retail Association (IMRA).

Don't fall prey to "analysis paralysis," such as delaying contact with the consumer until you think you are certain of what she wants and how she wants to be informed about it. The important thing is to continuously stay at the forefront of the consumer's mind with frequent reminders. - John Vassos, general manager of merchandising and marketing, Hbc Direct, Hudson's Bay Co., on the firm's e-mail marketing campaigns.

Our customers don't like to talk about themselves in response to attempts to gather information about them in focus groups, etc. We know that many are unemployed, or are in desperate financial shape. Many also are extremely stressed for time. - David Perdue, CEO, Dollar General Corp., which is opening two new stores a day on average across the United States.

I admire the down-to-earth, steady focus each of these retailers has on his business and its consumer, and look forward to following their companies' growth and successes.

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