Shooting for the stars at Retail’s BIG Show

Matthew Shay

Matthew Shay

Imagine a young man who started a record store at the age of 20 and built it into a global enterprise, incorporating 400 businesses in fields from airlines to cell phones to health care.

A person like that would probably have some good retail stories to tell. Maybe how he took the record business from a mail-order operation in the basement of a church to a shop on London’s posh Oxford Street? Or how he ran up against retail price maintenance restrictions by offering records at a discount? Or how he once spent the night in jail for trying to avoid a British tax on domestic record sales by claiming the records he was selling had been exported?

That’s why we have given Richard Branson, founder of the $24 billion-a-year, 60,000-employee Virgin Group, a place to tell his story this month at Retail’s BIG Show.

Sir Richard, who will participate in a “fireside chat” on how to build and sustain brand loyalty in today’s turbulent times, is a legend among entrepreneurs. In fact, the “Sir” comes from being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his “services to entrepreneurship.”

And he’s someone who shoots for the stars — literally. Branson’s Virgin Galactic “spaceline” is developing a rocket to offer suborbital flights to space tourists. With roots in retail and experience at bringing such lofty challenges to reality, we think he can inspire other retailers to aim high as well, even if their dreams are a bit more down to earth.

Branson won’t be the only speaker at the BIG Show who has shot for the stars. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s keynote address is titled “The Sky is Not the Limit,” and he will share lessons he learned during his record-breaking year aboard the International Space Station.

Branson and Kelly are just two of a dozen keynote speakers who will share their insights as 33,000 attendees from 94 countries and all 50 U.S. states gather in New York this month. Retailers will also hear from the CEO of Intel, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and fellow retail executives at companies ranging from today’s startups to iconic brands in business for a century or more. More than 300 speakers are on the agenda, over 500 exhibitors will show game-changing innovations from 3D printers to merchandise-delivering drones and 100-plus sponsors are helping make it all happen.

When Richard Branson shoots for the stars, he builds a rocket. Other retailers might not go that far, but that doesn’t mean they don’t dream big. Some will end up among the stars — literally or not — and some won’t. But one thing is for sure — you’ll never finish on top if you don’t aim high. If a 20-year-old with a mail-order record business can end up there, there’s no telling how far the startup retailers of today will go.

This article was published in the January 2017 issue of STORES Magazine.