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Shawn Outler
Retail Trends

Macy’s exec helps women- and minority-owned businesses succeed

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Celebrating Women’s History Month

The retail industry is full of imaginative, inspirational and innovative people … and many of them happen to be female. Read more stories about women on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future.

With more than 25 years of experience in retail, Shawn Outler is a passionate champion of the industry. Outler’s knowledge and expertise is helping small businesses form successful vendor relationships with major retailers, landing her a spot on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future this year.

As a part of her role as senior vice president at Macy’s, Shawn leads The Workshop at Macy’s, a business development and mentorship program she authored in 2011 to foster the development of women- and minority-owned merchandise suppliers. As The Workshop celebrates its fifth year, we spoke with Shawn about her love of retail, the impact of this trailblazing program and the importance of giving vendors the tools they need to succeed in the industry.

What drives your passion for retail?

The retail industry is heavily influenced by world economics, as well as shifts in lifestyles and trends. As customers continue to evolve and change, so do their needs. My passion for retail is driven by three things: challenge, change and complexity of the business.

How do you see the retail industry evolving over the next decade?

The industry is evolving rapidly and technology will continue to transform how we do business. The customer is utilizing technology to decide what, where and when they want products and services. Speed, precision and customization will be the key differentiator among retailers.

“Be courageous and consistent. Take risks and always do your best.”
Shawn Outler

Why does The Workshop at Macy’s focus on women and minorities?

Macy’s has a long-standing commitment to vendor diversity and to providing customers with unique goods and services that meet their lifestyles. The Workshop was developed specifically to address the needs of minority- and women-owned businesses. Conducted annually, this program is a foundational element of our commitment to vendor diversity. We believe having a supplier base that reflects our diverse customer base gives us a tremendous competitive advantage, particularly because it enables us to source distinctive merchandise to present in our stores. It also helps us give meaningful support to businesses that contribute to the economic health of our local communities.

Now that the program is in its fifth year, how do you see it evolving going forward?

A number of The Workshop graduates are now providing goods as Macy’s vendors, with many more in the pipeline for future opportunities. As we begin our fifth year, we are thinking about what’s next. We are hosting a showcase for our top performers from the past five years. We hope to provide them with opportunities for matchmaking and media exposure to continue our efforts to foster growth within the retail industry. We want to help these businesses not only secure opportunities but to scale and sustain success year over year. That said, there is a tremendous need to secure capital. Helping to bridge that gap will be a focus for the future.

What advice would you give to businesses interested in applying for The Workshop?

Retail is a very competitive business. The goal is to satisfy the customer, resulting in increased sales and profit. We look for companies that offer differentiated products, who can help us achieve our merchandise strategy. Proof of concept and substantiation of demand is paramount. Be passionate about your business, intellectually curious and open to new ideas.