Gary Maxwell, chief supply chain officer at Dollar Tree Stores Inc., hopes to raise the image of supply chain employment. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
Retailers be woke.
Concisely stated, that was a recurring theme as more than 1,800 leaders of retail companies and logistics providers gathered Feb. 24-27 in the Disney suburbia outside Orlando, Florida.
From executives of such companies as Target Corp. to two-time Olympic soccer gold medalist Abby Wambach, speakers imbued the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s LINK 2019 conference at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee with messages of diversity, inclusion, social awareness and positivity.
Target’s chief diversity officer, Caroline Wanga, implored conferees to actively seek inclusion in the supply chain workforce based not on moral grounds but rather upon a solid business case.
“It’s how you survive in retail today,” Wanga said of the inclusive practices championed by the Minneapolis-based megaretailer, including in hiring for logistics positions.
“The goal is parity,” she said. “It isn’t about giving anybody an advantage. The first step is qualified. There are no charity jobs. It’s about equity and parity.”
Target’s vice president of inventory management, Gretchen McCarthy, said having workers from as diverse backgrounds as a retailer’s customer base provides valuably varied perspectives, and she urged leaders of other firms to join the 1,800-plus-store Target chain in changing the makeup of their supply chain labor forces.
“While uncomfortable at times,” McCarthy said, “it’s a really important step.”
Target’s executive vice president and chief supply chain and logistics officer, Arthur Valdez, said the supply chain is “particularly in need of that balance in talent.”
In another wokeness-centered session, Todd Soller, senior director of global logistics at Ventura, California-based outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia Inc., said on-site child care centers are delivering benefits at the firm’s 700-employee primary distribution center in Reno, Nevada, with the program being expanded to also encompass the East Coast distribution center opened last year by Patagonia in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in collaboration with DHL Supply Chain.
Patagonia’s chief human resources officer, Dean Carter, said the child care facilities, also in place since 1984 at corporate headquarters, are among family-friendly initiatives that have shown business value in terms of tax-related benefits, as well as employee engagement, retention, recruitment, loyalty and morale, while helping put – and keep – more women in management positions.
Noting that at least 25 current Patagonia employees were brought up in part at the company’s child care centers, Carter smilingly said, “At Patagonia, we start succession planning at eight weeks old.”
While that’s probably not exactly what Gary Maxwell, chief supply chain officer at Dollar Tree Stores Inc., had in mind when he suggested pursuit of “nontraditional recruiting programs,” the Chesapeake, Virginia-based discount retailer is committed to collaborative expansion of the supply chain labor pool, including through training initiatives and transition of experienced, mature workers into “encore careers.”
Maxwell said his company, which operates more than 15,000 North American stores under Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree Canada brands, also is dedicated to upgrading the image of supply chain jobs.
“I think we in the supply chain should have a good reputation,” Maxwell said of an industrywide concern, “but that’s not what I see. We want our associates to connect to purpose so they feel like they’re not just shipping boxes but moments. It’s not just about boxes. We help people’s lives.”
Rob Mills, executive vice president and chief technology, digital commerce and strategy officer at Tractor Supply Co., said a cultural focus is part of how the Brentwood, Tennessee-based farm- and ranch-centric retailer is managing innovation to achieve profitable growth, spur customer engagement, offer relevant products and services, and deliver foundational capabilities across all channels.
“Educate your team on innovation, be a disruptor in your category and make innovation a part of your culture,” Mills advised.
Jeff Pilof, senior vice president of supply chain at Woonsocket, Rhode Island-headquartered CVS Health Corp., the largest U.S. pharmacy health-care provider, with more than 9,800 retail locations, said maintaining an appropriate work-life balance is increasingly important in a world that has embraced a “do-more-with-less” mentality.
“Work-life balance is simply a state of being,” Pilof said. “It’s about being as excited to go to work as to go home.”
Pilof advised conference participants to live by three concepts:
In a luncheon address, soccer standout and gender and orientation equality advocate Wambach exhorted “relentless pursuit of excellence” through concentration on the human element.
“With all the technology, people are forgotten,” said Wambach, who garnered Olympic gold in 2004 and 2012, as well as the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup championship. “You have to remember, it is people who drive your business. People keep us connected. We’ve got to get back to making people more important than numbers. Focus on people and the numbers will come.”
In opening the business agenda, Jim Gehr, president of North American retail for conference title sponsor DHL Supply Chain, beseeched conferees to get with the times.
“If you’re not evolving your retail strategy, you’re falling behind,” Gehr said, citing three key areas of evolution: “Converting bricks to clicks” in this era of burgeoning e-commerce; unprecedented competition for labor; and application to supply chains of emerging technologies, including improved systems, flexible robotics (improving picking productivity by as much as 25 percent) and use of analytics to make the most out of vast quantities of data.
See the March 11 print edition of AJOT for comprehensive coverage of RILA LINK 2019, including reception photos.