Chewy CEO Sumit Singh on innovation as a motivator for success

NRF 2022: Balancing growth and a customer-centric culture
Peter Johnston
NRF Contributor

In a Sunday morning presentation at NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show in the SAP Theatre, Chewy CEO Sumit Singh discussed the company’s vision, strategy and path ahead with Bob Safian, host of the Masters of Scale podcast

In the midst of a pandemic, Chewy has shown amazing growth, from a boutique website to a major brand, tripling revenue over the past three years to $9 billion. Safian pointed out that a lot of CEOs talk about growth all the time, and that can get to be a sort of disconnect between long-term value and customer loyalty.

That has not happened in the case of Chewy, which recently joined the S&P 500 as well as reaching 20 million active customers. “Is there a kind of North Star that guides Chewy on its journey?” Safian asked. “Is it digital proficiency? Is it adaptability? Is it teamwork?”

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It’s a combination of all those things, Singh said. “I believe in the speed of innovation,” he said, “and the loyalty and longevity of customer care that a company can deliver.” Innovation breeds a lot of focus and improvement — whether it’s in process, in people protocols, infrastructure, architecture, it doesn’t really matter — toward the service of customers.

And there’s a loop, he continued, which happens when happy team members drive a better customer experience, which drives loyalty, which closes the loop. “That has to be the North Star,” he said.

And when circumstances change, Safian asked, as they have continually over the past couple of years, is that the well you go back to?

It must be, Singh said, and what you adapt is your approach to dealing with the situation that is in front of you. “Leadership, or the lack thereof, is most evident in a crisis — and what a crisis this has been for the past two years,” he said. “But also, what an opportunity to learn and adapt at the same time.”

But behind learning and adaptation, you must remember what you set out to do in the first place. “You have to be motivated by innovation and by delivering a quality customer care and experience over the long term,” Singh said. “Otherwise, it’s very easy to react tactically to situations or to challenges and to move things the wrong way.”

Pointing out that Singh has said his colleagues have to act as the chief customer care officer, Safian asked how he carries that attitude throughout the organization to make it happen. It’s difficult, Singh said, and unless you’re careful, success can make it harder.

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“Companies that are insurgents in a space start out with a kind of missionary approach to the customer,” Singh said. “Over time, the emphasis on scale and shareholder return can begin to loom larger in importance. But at the end of the day, customer and shareholder interests have to be aligned.”

No longer an insurgent in its space, Chewy is currently expanding its space by helping provide better health care for its ultimate customers — the animals. A lot of Chewy’s (human) customers do not take their pets to see a veterinarian regularly, often due to a lack of affordability and access. “We decided one weekend to launch a service that is now Connect With a Vet,” he said. “Somebody has to step in and solve these types of challenges.”

In closing, Singh said, “The watchwords for the future should be communication, innovation and perseverance. Also, empathy and compassion — and a real devotion to developing the ability to listen.”

Chewy CEO Sumit Singh talks about the company's "customers first" operating principle at NRF 2022: Retail's Big Show.

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