Remodista Interview Series: The Importance of Women Leaders in Retail Commerce
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Remodista Interview Series: The Importance of Women Leaders in Retail Commerce

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Interview #3: Valerie Keast, Multi-Channel Merchandising Strategist, Formerly at Victoria Secret (13yrs) Maintaining a fine balance of understanding the customer locally, but projecting a consistent ...

Interview #3: Valerie Keast, Multi-Channel Merchandising Strategist, Formerly at Victoria Secret (13yrs) Maintaining a fine balance of understanding the customer locally, but projecting a consistent message for your Brand globally, is one of the most important things to address as you expand a business globally. As you expand a Brand into new countries it’s important to keep the image and core of the Brand true, yet understand the nuances of the your customer in each new market. Who are they? Why do they like this Brand? What is the cultural differences in each market and how might this impact the projection, voice and content of your Brand? All of this can be challenging for your resources, and can be as time consuming as launching a new company, however it’s an important step in setting your Brand up to be successful globally.

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Remodista Interview Series: The Importance of Women Leaders in Retail Commerce Remodista Interview Series: The Importance of Women Leaders in Retail Commerce Document Transcript

  •   Remodista Interview Series: The Importance of Women in Retail Commerce Valerie Keast, Multi-Channel Merchandising Strategist, Formerly at Victoria Secret (13yrs) Interviewed by Kelly Stickel, President and Global Community Builder, Remodista November 7, 2013 What is the most challenging piece of growing a brand globally thinking about the consumer with mobility? Maintaining a fine balance of understanding the customer locally, but projecting a consistent message for your Brand globally, is one of the most important things to address as you expand a business globally. As you expand a Brand into new countries it’s important to keep the image and core of the Brand true, yet understand the nuances of your customer in each new market. Who are they? Why do they like this Brand? What is the cultural differences in each market and how might this impact the projection, voice and content of your Brand? All of this can be challenging for your resources, and can be as time consuming as launching a new company, however it’s an important step in setting your Brand up to be successful globally. With your brand, you have a lot of experience in the area of retail commerce and innovation. How has being a woman framed your perspective on this topic? What do you think you do differently than men (if any)? Innovation is a critical piece of staying relevant creatively and technically. Staying relevant attracts customers and keeps customers tweeting, talking and sharing. All growing brands need
  • to monitor product lifecycle to remain relevant today. If you observe strong brands they have a constant flow of new ideas, those ideas are supporting by a healthy product pipeline. I recently read an article on Toyota, they noted that is was important to spend time and money testing and generating new curiosities, getting feedback from your best customers so you can offer what she wants, when she wants it. From a woman’s perspective, we inherently have a passion for product, and share our thoughts and ideas about products we like and use. Social media is proving to have a significant impact to build and grow brands. Women in retail have an advantage because they take the time to read what the customers are saying tied to the data and arrive at conclusions that provide deep understanding of what the customer likes and dislikes, therefore synthesizing this information into proposing what might make an innovative and relevant product launch. What do you see as the key drivers for increasing growth in the retail sector today? Expanding globally, allowing your brand and ideas to be accessed anywhere in the world. Creating a demand for items no matter where you live. The most exciting trend I see is that traditional retailers are seeing the need for investing in infrastructure that supports omni-channel retailing. This kind of retailing allows companies to be connected with their customer frequently to satisfy her needs and curiosities. Recently a study shared at Fashion Digital New York showed that more than 80% of smartphone shoppers are using search engines while in a store. According to a March article in RetailWire, Forrester Research expects e-commerce in the U.S. will see another string of double-digit gains over the next five years, albeit barely at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). What role do you see executive women playing in this growth? Naturally as females, we are a large consumer group and will support this growth through sharing our own experiences. Sharing our experiences, what we like to purchase? Why we like them? Sharing what commerce sites inspire us can have a positive impact on e-commerce retail. Additionally, a large part of growing in the E-commerce channel is identifying and connecting with your customer. NastyGal.com is perfect example of one of the most successful online apparel companies founded and run by a young female entrepreneur seeing 10,000% growth in last year at close to $150M its a gorgeous story. Sophia Amoruso is the founder who studied what her customer was buying, when she would buy it, and what she bought with it. Sophia lived and breathed the NastyGal brand as well as continued to serve up to her customer what she wanted, when she wanted it. Another example is an executive woman like Mindy Grossman, who started in traditional Brick and Mortar retailing at Polo, Nike and now is changing they way people are shopping at HSN. She is inspiring many executive women that might have traditional experience in Brick and Mortar to think differently about how they embrace innovation and growth in retail through other channels, the largest growth in being mobile/e-commerce. The retail industry is innovating quickly. As a leader of a very innovative company, do women approach innovation differently? What are the pros / cons to their approach? 2
  • Women leaders I have studied and or worked alongside in fashion retailing have curious minds and are innovating constantly. In fashion retail, as a leader, its imperative that you innovate and refresh. The approach women take in innovation is very collaborative, in some ways this can be an advantage, taking calculated risks, assessing the risks and not making costly mistakes. This can be disadvantageous when initiatives need to move faster and the collaboration creates a bottleneck where ideas aren’t able to push through as quickly as customers are ready for them. How are you thinking about your brand as you extend it to the global market? What are you learning about the global consumer? As a leader for a world recognized Brand of Victoria’s Secret, we were very cautious in moving into global distribution. There was a belief that we would loose the focus on the core of the business where there was still so much growth to go after as well as so much competition. It’s important in a large Brand to keep you eye on the core businesses as you expand. As we expanded, we wanted to be sure to find the markets where we could easily project our brand identity consistently. Customers have been purchasing for the Victoria’s Secret Website for more than 5 years, it’s been constant steady growth but in apparel the challenges of size and fit can create hurdles for online shoppers that don’t want to pay expensive shipping rates to find out things are a challenge to wear. ASOS and Net-a-Porter have done great jobs at expanding globally in the fashion retail space. They are great models for how to expand and still service your customer locally. What industry trends excite you most today? Where do you see the most opportunity for growth? One exciting thing is how store retailers are modernizing their checkout process in their brick and mortar stores. Customers can shop and purchase on the spot via iPads versus having to wait in long checkout lines. This will be a great source of growth for some retailers this Holiday season, as they service more customers, and create a better customer experience. How retailers are embracing the buy online and pick up in stores, allows for customers to navigate easily online to find their item, shorten their delivery time frame and in-tern the retailer has the opportunity add-on and interact with the customer in person when the arrive pick it up their merchandise. This additional step can be seen as a great customer experience when executed well but also a retailers dream for an opportunity to increase a sale. What do you believe is the most pressing issue retail currently faces that inhibits growth? This is a very important question for all retailers to ask themselves regularly. While it might sound backwards, something that would enhance growth would be providing a safe environment to fail, creating businesses that allow for experimentation and testing. If more companies saw the benefit of long-term transformation of their businesses, listening to innovative ideas and having incubators it would create more uniqueness in the marketplace. The creativity and uniqueness would create dynamic story telling and therefore stronger connections to brands, less discounting and more growth for retail businesses. 3
  • Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, encourages women to work collaboratively to talk about what they can do, rather than what they cannot do and support one another by sharing challenges they face as females in the corporate workplace. How do you see this playing out in the retail sector? I have been fortunate to work with and for strong leaders that were women who supported growth and development of other women. There are very few successful retailers that have mastered work-life balance and it only amplifies when you have a family. Women leaders are breaking barriers of traditional working structure, and support more creative solutions of job sharing or working partnerships so they could attract and retain even more female leaders. Leaders that could still manage a career, instead of feeling forced to make the choice between work and raising a family. Having a community like Remodista, gives women a space to collaborate, share and come up with new innovation as the world evolves thinking with mobility. What advice do you have for women in retail? What is one piece of advice you would like women to take away from your experiences? Retailing is an amazing place to build a career; it is always changing, always challenging and provides a great space to test new ideas. In my experience, it’s critical to have a curious mind and be a student of your industry. Whatever sector of retail is your specialty, stay engaged, understand the past and present trends in order to ask questions and propel businesses into the future. My most important advice is to find strong women mentors that will be your sponsor and help you find a seat at table. Women should never stop helping one another succeed. At all levels we should define the business structure that is not fitting into traditional models but one that works for WOMEN. Valerie Keast, Multi-Channel Merchandising Strategist Valerie Keast is a multi-channel merchandising professional who has successfully directed growth in fashion apparel and denim for the world’s recognized lifestyle brands including Victoria’s Secret, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Levi’s. 4
  • Most recently Valerie served as Associate Vice President, Merchandising for Apparel at Victoria’s Secret Direct. During her 13 years with the company, she managed growth for the fastest growing division in the largest US Direct Apparel Brand with over 1M Daily Online Visitors, $750M Annual Sales, 60 Annual Catalogs, and 300M Circulation through influencing the strategies around Merchandising, E-commerce Presentation, Product Design, and Marketing for the women’s apparel category. She launched multiple successful new product strategies including the Best Selling Fold-over Yoga Pant worn by millions of young women today. The Modern Separates knitwear Collection that led the way in replicating successful and innovative launch strategies for online and catalog. During Valerie’s tenure at Victoria’s Secret, she worked alongside some of the best female leaders in retail today. She was credited for hiring and promoting top female talent at Victoria’s Secret, as well as motivating teams to higher levels of productivity and morale. Prior to Victoria’s Secret, she held the positions of Merchandising Manager at Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Jeans. At Tommy Hilfiger, she managed the assortment of Men’s Tommy Jeans with design and development traveling to Asia and other parts of the world to negotiate and develop the best assortment to deliver to the likes of Federated Department Stores. At Polo Jeans, she managed the Merchandising and Product Development for Women’s Sweaters and Knits leading the teams in building commercially viable assortments within the Polo Brand filter. Valerie began her career in San Francisco after receiving her B.S. from University of California, Davis in Textile Science. She came to New York City to follow her dreams of building a thriving career in fashion retail. She’s an active supporter of Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Pelatonia Bike Against Cancer, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and currently an active participant in the Remodista: Retail Mobility Distilled community. Kelly Stickel Co-founder, Global Community Builder and President For over 15 years, Kelly has built many rich partnerships focused on community, content, and commerce. She is proactive in building alliances with key leaders that are helping to lead the way. Kelly is experienced and passionate about researching emerging markets, innovations in technology, business drivers for transformation, and consumer 5
  • behavioral shifts due to thinking with mobility. With the business objective to create an educational forum elevating women and collaborating on new strategies that integrate content and commerce, Kelly founded Remodista, June of 2010. Kelly continues to share innovative thinking with mobility. New strategies stemming from community are creating paths that have large cost saving dollars, increased efficiencies, and new revenue streams attached to its growth. For the last 6 years, Kelly has been an active leader, calling out trends, and supporting the expansion of mobile and social commerce through curriculum, collaboration, video, consumer behavior research, articles, and mentoring programs for young tenacious leaders. Kelly continues to expand thought leadership through various initiatives and programs. For the past 15 years, Kelly has also worked as a mosaic artist and teaches classes in the community. Remodista is a collaborative forum with three primary goals: to elevate women, educate brands, and mentor a community focused on shaping universal best practices for global retail mobility. By connecting industry leaders with innovative ideas, who are ready to learn, share and bring visionary strategies to the market, Remodista has built a strong brand community. 6