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Cowboying Up to Innovation

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Sheplers, Western Wear

Bob Myers
CEO Sheplers
Wichita, Kan.

A black cowboy hat and boots might be considered casual attire for some, but for Sheplers CEO Bob Myers, the look is all business. Myers, who joined the western wear retailer in January 2010, is passionate about e-commerce and digital retailing and committed to training future industry leaders. Myers began his retail career some 25 years ago with JCPenney. He helped build that company’s e-commerce presence and eventually served as merchandise director of JCPenney and His e-commerce expertise took him to QVC, where he served as vice president of merchandising at; a few years later he was named senior vice president of platforms, new media and broadcast technology for and QVC. Myers’ vision for Sheplers includes opening new stores, growing the business across multiple channels, merging once disparate information systems and making sure that as the company gallops into the future, employees will be prepared to take on new challenges. STORES Editor Susan Reda recently spoke with Myers. Tell us a little bit about Sheplers. From the exterior it might seem like a sleepy mom-and-pop-type business, but inside the stores are focused on delivering a customer experience that has made it a destination for authentic western wear. How’s the business trending, and what are your plans for growth? Our business is great and plans for growth are underway. Since I came on board, we’ve had significant growth ... Sheplers has a highly stable consumer who tends to own [his or her] own home and live in one place for a long period of time, which seemed to shield us — even during the recession. You spent most of your career with big retail companies. What attracted you to Sheplers? I’ve always had this theory about specialty retailing. I was convinced that a specialty retailer could become a destination online and could own a vertical. Sheplers presented that opportunity. Their stores are a destination in the communities they do business in, and they have become a destination for western wear enthusiasts around the globe ... for at least 30 years. In the time since you joined Sheplers, you’ve made some changes. What are you most proud of? The way the team has worked together is by far the biggest accomplishment. Often when a new CEO comes on board he likes to make changes. I was very lucky; there was already a great team here. I supplemented the team with some of the best players in the industry and we got to work. We changed every single system in the entire company — the merchandising system, the management system, the front-end platform, the database ... During that entire time, there was an extraordinary energy level that I think even our customers felt. How has e-commerce changed at Sheplers, and what do you see as the next steps? Digital is now the center of the customer relationship in retailing ... [Retailers need] to grasp that, acknowledge it and build a vision and mission statement around it ... That doesn’t mean you’re still not going to expand your store footprint, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to have a print strategy. It’s just that digital growth means so much more than just the sales that you’re getting. It’s a customer touchpoint. For us, acknowledging that digital is the center of our customers’ lives was at the heart of the changes we made. We removed all of the silos ... to get to a point where we could have one set of planners, one set of buyers and one set of merchants who work across multiple channels and multiple platforms, focused on the customer. Does that mean one customer database, too? It does. All information, whether it’s how many e-mails we sent you or when you were in the store last or whether or not you visited the website, is there. It represents one of our goals: to have all the information in one place so that we can deliver a better customer experience. How large are Sheplers stores? We have a supercenter, which is almost 89,000 sq. ft. Think Bass Pro Shops meets western wear. These stores are very authentic, built out of wood. If you rebuilt that store today, it would cost millions and millions of dollars just to do the woodwork. Our new prototypes range from 15,000 to 25,000 sq. ft. What’s the assortment like? When the customers walk in, they see an unbelievable jeans assortment, tailored specifically to cowboy fit ... you might find one or two SKUs out of the 60 or 70 styles we sell that don’t have a boot cut. Another standout is our assortment of cowboy hats. On average, we have a 40 ft. wall of cowboy hats — everything from an opening price point straw or felt hat to some that retail for up to $5,000. Then there’s the boot section, which typically spans the back half of our entire store. ... We’ll have about 5,000 boots in a small store [and] 10,000 to 15,000 different pairs of boots in our larger stores.

Given the amount of business you do online and your role as an e-commerce pioneer, what’s your view on the Internet sales tax fairness issue?
What’s interesting to me, having come from some big brands to more of a local store brand, is that you can see how unfair it really is. It doesn’t make sense in this day and age; we should be on equal footing.

I think it’s time to fix it and move forward. It was nice during the incubation period when e-commerce was just getting started, but we’re well past that now and we need a simplistic way to implement it, not different procedures state to state.

What would you say is the top challenge that you’re facing right now?
The No. 1 challenge was unifying the platforms to get into the next stage of growth. We now have a single unified customer database and we’ve eliminated silos, so we’ve already overcome a formidable hurdle.

Another challenge is attracting and developing qualified talent ... we’ve started our own training program to bring people up through the ranks.

Retail has changed so much recently; there are so many layers of complexity. Today’s buyer has to understand what is online, in the stores, in our catalog, even globally. A big part of our business is international; we ship to 170 countries. The challenge is training people to handle all that and not get bogged down, but still be innovative merchants.