Attracting and Retaining Retail Talent

As retail continues its rapid transformation, efforts to find and keep the right employees must change right along with it. It’s not just that the people are different; technology has ensured that the jobs are, too.

Consider data analytics; two years ago Macy’s Inc. had no team focused solely on the field, according to Chairman and CEO Terry Lundgren. “But now we do,” Lundgren told a Retail’s BIG Show panel discussion on “Building Tomorrow’s Workforce: How Retailers Are Attracting and Retaining Talent.” The keynote also included Greg Foran, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., and James Rhee, executive chairman and CEO of Ashley Stewart. It was moderated by Bill Brand, president of HSN.

Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

“We have to embrace new thinking to meet the demands of this new workplace,” Brand said. “We must experiment.” And, he said, we must collaborate.

The NRF Foundation’s new RISE Up education and credentialing program, mentioned during the session, is one such effort at collaboration. The initiative, already backed by more than 20 companies, is aimed at helping people acquire the skills needed to secure jobs in retail and advance into promising careers, regardless of education, background, economic means or age.

“What we all know is that change is constant,” Brand said. “In the next five years, they say retail will change more than in the past 50 … . Now is the time to think and act differently.”

Members of the panel spoke about ways their companies are doing just that. Foran talked about numerous Walmart efforts to change with the times: The Pathways entry-level training program offers basic skills; there are plans to build 200 training academies by the end of the year; and the company is raising pay rates, working on retention and ensuring associates have the right technology to do their jobs.

“We know if we can get the army of Walmart to march, it will not just be better for Walmart, but better for the industry as well,” Foran said.

Rhee, meanwhile, spoke about the importance of culture and loyalty. Plus-size fashion and trend retailer Ashley Stewart was founded to provide women a boutique-like setting in urban areas, and has long stood for values like respect and empowerment. But it hasn’t always operated on the best business sense.

James Rhee, executive chairman and CEO of Ashley Stewart

James Rhee, executive chairman and CEO of Ashley Stewart

Rhee became CEO in mid-2013 as the company was headed toward bankruptcy (its second in just over three years), and by championing kindness, transparency and focusing on the core customer, the company is thriving. Ashley Stewart also has a highly engaged — and loyal — customer community.

“I know the industry is going through a lot of change,” Rhee said. “I hope it’s some form of encouragement that what was arguably one of the worst businesses could reinvent itself around something as basic as loyalty and friendship.” As for the employees, the minute they felt safe, they became leaders.

Lundgren, for his part, said ongoing training, regardless of level, is a key component in retention. He also noted how crucial it is to keep sharing the stories of the retail opportunity and of individual company culture and progress.

“Those are the things that make people say, ‘I think I’d like to work for that company,” he said.

This story originally appeared in print as part of STORES Convention Daily on January 16, 2017. Download the digital edition and see more highlights from Retail’s BIG Show 2017.