How DSW stays a step ahead

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Production Note: This conversation was originally recorded in September 2017 and reflects comments and initiatives by DSW that may have subsequently changed or ended.

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Want a culture of innovation? Be prepared for constant change. After 25 years in business and 500 store locations in the United States and Canada, DSW recognized it needed to adapt to changing consumer behavior to successfully compete in changing markets. “If you don’t figure out how to evolve your business [around] a value proposition that creates an emotional connection with your consumer,” says CEO Roger Rawlins, “you’re going to melt away.”

On this episode of Retail Gets Real, Rawlins and CFO Jared Poff discuss DSW’s brand revamp along with innovative retail concepts the company has launched to better serve modern consumer needs.

DSW has a history of innovation. It was the first shoe retailer to create an open layout and the first to launch a rewards program, Rawlins says, which has resulted in “grocery store-like” returns — 95 percent of sales come from loyalty members. DSW taps into that loyalty: When thinking about revamping the business model, the team asked customers what they wanted from a shoe retailer that they could not find anywhere else.

"If you don’t figure out how to evolve your business ... you’re going to melt away.”

Roger Rawlins

One answer? Shoe rental. Poff says acquisitions help with the overall strategy; higher-end shoe retailers like Canada’s Town Shoes allow DSW to expand operations as well as its rental inventory. In select markets like Washington, D.C., where occupancy is expensive, customers can store their winter footwear with DSW. “We’ll take pictures, we’ll write product descriptions, you’ll have a virtual closet that you can look at,” Rawlins says. “From our standpoint, we think that’s a great value to our consumer.”

Technology is inspiring ways to make the customer experience better: DSW is exploring the ability to take foot measurements using a smartphone and using 3D printing to custom-fit shoes. “We have got to evolve and think differently,” Rawlins says. “We can’t achieve our mission of inspiring self-expression doing it the way we used to do it.”

Listen to the episode to learn more about DSW’s journey through change. For more stories of innovation and reinvention from top thinkers, don’t miss in Las Vegas, September 12-14.

Nadee Bandaranayake is an assistant producer on NRF’s Retail Gets Real podcast. Meet all the co-hosts and learn more about the show.