Retail & Luxury Goods Conference 2019!

If you were following along on Instagram, you may have seen that my mom and I attended the Retail and Luxury Goods Conference at the Harvard Business School again this year! Last year was my first time attending the conference and I was very surprised by how much another year in business has taught me! I still found myself needing to google a lot of verbiage (KPI, AR, Capital Efficiency, Top Line, Digital First and so on…), but some of big concepts that seemed so huge and intimidating to me last year, I now have the ideas and confidence to tackle them. 

I think about all of the professional development I had to do when I was a teacher. We would sit in faculty meetings, grade level meetings, curriculum planning meetings, and so on. I had built a small, strong group of teachers to work with to get the most out of meetings. We all know what it's like to leave the meeting that should have been an email. And we all know what it's like to leave a meeting where you feel the immediate need to get to work and take action. That's how I felt last year and again this year. It's also great to sit amongst people who are forward thinking, optimistic and love getting things done. I now have a million ideas churning just waiting to come to the surface! All of these ideas were sparked from the insight from the presenters. Here's what I felt was most impactful from the conference. 

The day started with a keynote from Sophie Marchessou who is a Partner and North American Leader of Apparel, Fashion, and Luxury at McKinsey & Co. For all of you who are not aware (including myself) McKinsey & Co is a consulting firm. She discussed trends for the following year that retailers need to take into consideration based on the year prior and future projections. A few of them were:

Getting Woke

I was shocked that the word "woke" was being used by such a prestigious company but in retrospect I guess it's the only word that fits. The big idea is that my generation (I'm technically a millennial, being born in 1986) and the Gen Z’s are extremely socially and environmentally aware. There is a deep passion for purpose driven shopping and spending. New consumers care deeply about the purpose behind the product or retailer selling them the product. By getting “woke”, you sometimes lose customers by taking a stand which doesn't always align with everyone's values. However, you help attract your customer who is deep rooted in the same fundamental values as you are. A great, large scale example would be the Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. On my small scale, I wondered last year if I would get pushback for collecting donations for a tender age shelter housing illegal children. In some ways it's a risk you have to be willing to take to really figure out who your customer is. 

End of Ownership

This trend was fashion focused but I found it fascinating so I wanted to share. People want to rent or borrow clothing on a large scale. The discussion was that we have already seen Airbnb renting houses, WeWork renting workspace and companies like ZipCar renting cars. The masses now want to rent and consign clothing (not just dresses for cocktail parties and weddings like I thought), and top retailers have to follow along with this to stay on trend. Big retailers might need to acquire businesses in this category to stay competitive. 

Self-Disrupt

Disrupt was a word used both last year and this year many, many times. A disrupter is someone/something that comes in and totally shakes up an industry. Think Amazon or Uber. The focus this year was that businesses need to be their own disrupter and shake things up to retain customers. They need to find new ways to communicate with them, offer different services/products/events and keep things exciting in order to keep customers coming back. 

Radical Transparency

Consumers want to know where and how products are made. Companies need to be transparent, allowing customers to gain insight into exactly what they are buying. I feel like some of this aligns with getting woke. As a consumer, I see how this is important, and I know it influences my buying decisions. 

Branding & Storytelling

One of the panels we listen to included Emily Ferber, Editorial Director of Into The Gloss. Into the Gloss is the blog by Glossier and the foundation of the company before they created any product. (If you listen to the podcast How I Built This, you can hear all about it.) Emily and others spoke about their brands, communicating with customers and a bunch of other topics.

Here's what they had to say collectively:

Building a brand has to start with a big purpose. Your idea has to have longevity and withstand changing times. You also have to meet a need not being serviced with your target market.

You need to be where your customer is, physically and digitally. Our customer (for the most part) is in Boston, specifically Charlestown. We need to have more of a digital present to be with them when they are not in the shop. This has been so hard for me because building two brands, two brick & mortar shops and two websites at once is very time consuming and I find it to be super challenging to juggle. It's also very expensive! 

We need to develop relationships with customers beyond just face to face interactions. We need to continue to get to know our customer personally, which I think is a huge advantage we have over big box stores and online-only retailers. Yes, they can get you products fast, but they don't get to know you or what's happening in your world. (They will never run into you at Monument grabbing a glass of wine, or at Asana taking a pilates class!)

Retailers need to provide experiences for their customers. We need to bring people together, create a gathering space that offers learning opportunities, like workshops and classes. It’s really important to me to use both stores as places where you and your friends can gather for a fun event. This also helps develop relationships shifting you from shopper to friend. 

We need to tell stories that resonate with customers and help us continue to communicate with you. I found so much inspiration in this area. We have always wanted to "blog" but I really didn't know how to start or what to say. It's almost too challenging when there are too many options of what to write about and I hadn't found the correct angle. (Also, honestly I've just been too busy with Junebug.) When we have limited time and so many places to gather information I didn't want to start writing something if it wasn't going to be awesome, purposeful and actually meaningful. When I left the conference the idea finally clicked. I found the correct way to approach this, finally! In the next months, we hopefully will begin to create content that you want to read. It will help you gain more insight into our community and the fabulous people here. It will teach you something. It will be interesting and impactful.

I hope there might be a little nugget of information that sticks with you from the information I learned. As always, when you come into either shop, please ask questions! My mom and I didn't attend this workshop to keep all the information for ourselves. Want to know more? Just ask!