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The Brand Within the Brand

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Chuck Luckenbill
Vice president, visual merchandising
Naperville, Ill.

Chuck Luckenbill joined OfficeMax as vice president of visual merchandising in 2007, heading a team that includes merchandising, product development, branding, marketing and store operations.

Luckenbill previously held senior leadership positions in visual merchandising and store design with Kohl’s, Carson Pirie Scott & Co. and Dayton-Hudson Department Stores. He also headed his own consulting firm, Luckenbill Design, working with retailers as well as fixture and design companies, and served as president of a fixture company and as vice president of sales and business development at Trimco Display.

Was there anything about your early jobs that suggested a retail career?
My first job was at Erickson, a regional gas station chain based in Wisconsin that gave away giftware with every gas purchase. One of my jobs was arranging displays of those giveaways in showcases that were mounted in the islands between the gas pumps. There was no “corporate” guidance in terms of presentation — it was just, “Here are the cartons of stuff and do whatever it takes.”

I also worked for two independent grocery stores that are now long gone. I stocked shelves at one. At the other, one of my jobs was making signage. I had a set of markers with different tips and I made the signs for the produce department specials. The loss leaders were featured on a 40-ft. wall and each one would get its own sign.

And those jobs led you to study fine arts, right?
Actually, I saw myself becoming either a studio artist or a potter. But I was in love with a girl who was going to the University of Minnesota, so I got a job at Dayton’s doing windows.

Is there a difference between visual merchandising techniques for fashion compared with hardlines?
It gets back to Retailing 101 — it’s the use of sightlines, creating vistas and utilizing graphics and signage to tell the story. But one of the harder things for us is [creating] the emotional connection. That makes us different from fashion retailers, but we know something about our customer’s behavior.

At OfficeMax, we know the average customer walks 30 feet every seven seconds, so we’re setting our stores with that in mind. Compared with fashion retailers who use mannequins to display coordinated looks, we have “trendcaps” for our thematic groups of products.

“Path to Purchase” and shopper marketing are hot buttons. What’s the latest with OfficeMax?
OfficeMax, like most every other retailer, is always searching or researching our customers’ shopping habits – “What do they want?” “What draws them into the store and through the store?” Most of all we’re asking, “What compels them to make decisions?”

When it comes to promoting the brands we carry, we need to consider how we present those brands within the OfficeMax brand. And that’s a challenge for us and every other retailer — to make sure they give enough punch to the brand they’re trying to present within their own brand.

So visual merchandising combines both art and science. What are the challenges facing you and fellow visual merchants?
Staying competitive and not looking like everyone else.

On the personal side, how do you spend leisure time?
We have a lake home in northern Wisconsin that’s in the wilderness, and it’s where my wife and I like to spend time chilling out. It’s the place I’ll get started reading the Walter Isaacson book on Steve Jobs.