Where have all the retail merchants gone?
For almost as long as I can remember, people in and around retailing have been wondering where all the creative talent has gone. I can distinctly remember one conversation about whether the rise of cookie cutter chain stores would spell the end for "merchant princes." (Yes, that was the term used.)
I recalled that particular conversation based on an insight from Lee Peterson, EVP creative services, WD Partners, shared on this site yesterday. He wrote, "The retail industry has been systematically eliminating (or driving off) what I would call ‘natural’ talent for years. Requirements for staff to have MBAs, the hiring of former CFOs as CEOs and the focus on data more than instinct are just a few of the factors that have caused that. People like Mickey Drexler, Grace Nichols or Les Wexner would have no chance in today’s retail leadership scenarios."
While not directly applicable, I also thought about a Domino’s commercial that introduced three employees that pursued art outside the workplace. One was watercolorist, another a glass blower and the third a muralist. The point of the commercial was to connect the talent these individuals display outside Domino’s with the chain’s hand crafted pan pizzas. I have to admit that after seeing the spot, I wondered if people bought the message. Terms like creativity, artisanal and hand-crafted are not what come to mind when I think of Domino’s. Cookie (er, pizza) cutter is a term that does.
Do you agree that much of the natural retail talent in society is finding work in other industries? What must retailers do to attract and retain the next generation of merchants?