Demos Parneros is a Board member, investor, former CEO – Barnes & Noble, and former President – Staples (North American Stores & Online)
Over the course of your long career, you have spent a lot of time thinking about traditional and online retail. Given the pandemic, where do we go from here?
For more than a century, good retailers have demonstrated the ability to adapt to changing customer shopping behavior. For the past twenty years, the challenge for many traditional retailers has been to add a meaningful online and mobile experience. Today’s most innovative retailers start with the customer in mind, not the channel, and we are seeing many successful digitally native brands build stores in order to respond to customers’ needs. Today’s pandemic has pushed us to change and adapt… ready or not. The solution starts with a model that works and that meets not only the business needs, but also guarantees the safety of employees and customers. Retailers must embrace rapid change, be willing to learn from their mistakes, and accept that the cost of doing business will be higher. Quick and decisive action will be key for retailers to find the way forward.
A great example of this is CVS Health, which created a safe, socially distant, and contactless checkout process where you can still interact with your cashier through a plexi-glass divider, and bag your own items.
As a sought-after advisor, Board member, and investor, you are seeing a lot of business plans these days—which ones stand out?
I meet smart, passionate and hard-working entrepreneurs every day who share their ideas and business plans. The plans that truly stand out, identify a clear and focused goal or problem they are solving. They also have well defined purpose and distinctive advantages that will help them succeed. Just as important are tenacity and an aligned and talented team that places high value on learning and curiosity.
This is was clear with Wealthramp’s business plan — “Simplified access to personalized, fiduciary, financial advice”.
In this tumultuous period, what should new product or service companies be doing to build their brand and find customers?
Listen, learn and iterate. While this crisis has challenged the way we live and work, it is also a catalyst driving change, innovation and new models. When forced to change, we are forced to reinvent and also think deeply about what we truly need. Our priorities have changed, so thinking about customers, products, and brands must go through today’s post pandemic filters. Is your brand delivering a solution to a real problem? We know today’s consumers have heightened sensitivity about shopping safely, so clearly communicating what new processes you have implemented to ensure their well-being is vital to calming their anxiety. Finding customers is easier when the product or service meets a true need.
I like the quickness and flexibility shown by the Cleancult team. They have satisfied customer needs, kept their supply chain running smoothly, and taken care of their employees. Besides that, they are reaching out to donate to their community in this time of need.