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Finish Line, Cabela's execs: Company culture and young talent key to omnichannel success

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The Finish Line and Cabela's are two brands that tend to stand out in their respective fields. Cabela's rich heritage dates back to the late 1950's when their first brick-and-mortar store opened in Sydney, Nebraska, and their first mail order catalog was not far behind. Celebrating a later birthday of 1976, The Finish Line has not taken long to position themselves as the second largest athletic retailer in the U.S. So why the history lesson? As Cabela's Scott Williams and The Finish Line's Chris Ladd explained in their session on omnichannel perspectives at this year's Summit in Denver, retailers have to know where they've come from - and most importantly, arming themselves with the right talent out there today - to meet new challenges of a "channel-less" world that customers expect. 

Jeff McCall of GSI Commerce (left) discusses omnichannel perspectives with Cabella's Scott Williams (center) and The Finish Line's Chris Ladd (right)

Since Cabela's launched their e-commerce department in the early 2000's, Williams said, between 35-38 percent of their sales are direct, due in large part to a concerted effort to synchronize their online and offline catalogs. Though their 38 nationwide stores account for the remainder of their sales (with another 11 to 12 new stores to come over the next few years), Williams noted that Cabela's doesn't miss an omnichannel opportunity. They set the retail bar high for their grand openings, which attract between 3,000-4,000 customers, by creating niche content and omnichannel events that puts the customer "in the center." Utilizing the wide variety of outdoor merchandise Cabela's has to offer, product pages are targeted specifically at customer's interests and are seamlessly integrated across all channels. To reach the end goal, Williams added, he's built a solid young team around him. "We recognized what we needed to do to be best-in-class when it came to meeting needs across mobile, social media, and more - and it starts with young talent. They're focused on working for a brand and culture they can identify with and be proud to work for. We think that's us." Just how committed are they to digital? Williams said in addition to their two new stores in metro Denver, Cabela's plans do devote between 60-100 employees to their digital strategies.

Ladd was quick to echo these sentiments. As a traditional multichannel retailer, The Finish Line has been practicing direct fulfillment in stores for six years. And in order to succeed, Ladd said, the strong sense of company culture is paramount. Referencing the 'management 2.0' model from Michael Zeisser's keynote, building high-performance digital teams, "becomes the thin red line that ties everything all together. Digital retail should be about creating an all-around, go-to-customer strategy and not focusing on an in-store-only approach."

The big issue for both: Big Data. Or effectively digesting and implementing the information to bring it back around to the user is crucial to creating a memorable experience. Finding the "signals within the noise," as Ladd called it, is essential for creating a "channel-less" customer experience. This will be a determining factor, both agreed, if print catalogs are ever completely migrated to the digital space.