Gary Sankary

Retail Industry Strategy, Esri

I am a 45 year veteran of the retail industry. My career started in the back room of my father’s shoe store. His advice to me when I went to college, “Don’t go into retail”.

After 27 years in executive leadership at Target, I now work for Esri. Here, I get to survey the retail industry holistically. I evangelize location intelligence and help retailers unlock the local insights the need to better engage customers, preform local market analysis and make key decision about store and facility optimization.

Everything in retail happens in a specific place for a reason. Location intelligence can help you understand that reason.

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  • Posted on: 07/26/2021

    Macy’s should have stayed local

    You are exactly right, Carol. A localized assortment of blah, is still blah.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2021

    Macy’s should have stayed local

    I disagree with the premise of this piece. From my perspective, the consolidations of buying operations at Macy's and other department stores was a result of declining sales, not the cause of it. When Macy's consolidated May Company, and took away my local name plate Daytons/Marshall Field's, the department store business was already facing headwinds. Macy's eliminating nameplates is just one example of many regional department stores consolidating and eliminating local offices and names. When this happened, impact to the business was pretty minor. Sure there was nostalgia for the for the old names, but overall customers were attracted by the brands and offers inside the store. At the time department stores were losing ground to big box mass stores and their low price fashion offers. More critically, they weren't winning with younger demographics, or better said -- "future customers." I would argue that it's simply not true to say that closing local buying offices and changing the name of the store means Macy's, or any other fashion retailer, has decided personalization and localization is no longer important. Or, that they can't deliver localized assortments. In fact, the algorithms that the author disparages provide unique insights to buyers that weren't available 20 years ago. Back then we went with "gut," which I would argue led to, on average, poorer buying decisions and higher markdowns that we see today. Local buyers in my experience are able to spot local trends, however, they struggle with bigger and trend-forward concepts, which is critical in fashion. I would also remind readers that when enterprise data management and MDM tools came online and companies had access to their vendor data, it was one of the big "AH HAHs" for some department stores with regional buying offices. And I remember very well when my company discovered that our cost on more than few items varied as much as 20% for the same dress shirt, depending on the market. The reason? Some buyers are better negotiators than others and vendors were better negotiators and could cost average to protect their margins better than we could. Localization is a key to successful retail today. The key here is the ability to analyze local market conditions and make decisions based on local demand. The tools available today make this easier and more accurate than every before. Consolidated buying operations were a result of declining sales and the need for more efficiencies in operations to drive margin. It was a reaction to declining sales, not the cause of it. Not to mention, since todays consumer engages with their retail favorites across a number of platforms, it's not realistic or practical to suggest that a local buyer can do a better job with personalization.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2021

    Have indie bookstores found answers to counter Amazon?

    I think it's wrong to think of Amazon as a "bookstore" anymore. They still dominate the market, especially for casual book buyers and e-books. There's no way the independents can compete with that. But for hardcore book fans, I believe they enjoy the experience of browsing a local book store, settling in with a cup of coffee and reading something new, or meeting authors and having discussions about new releases, or ideas for their next book, with someone who actually knows something about the subject matter. They're in the community building business and, I believe post COVID-19, those experiences have become more important to more people. I expect to see independents continue to thrive in the near future. is certainly going to help. Allowing smaller bookstores to provide "extended shelves" will help keep their existing customers from "having" to go Amazon for a specific book, keeping them in their ecosystem.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2021

    Is it time for retailers to reinstate pandemic protocols?

    I believe retailers should work to find a middle ground between back to normal and total lockdown mode. I support companies requiring vaccines as a condition of employment, and I would support allowing associates to wear masks when they feel it necessary. I don't support going back to hero wages. The risk today, vs 15 months ago when we had no vaccines, is almost 100 percent avoidable. We know how to keep employees safe, and customers know how to keep themselves safe. Follow local guidelines, require vaccinations for front line workers, and use common sense.
  • Posted on: 07/14/2021

    7-Eleven expands mobile checkout to thousands of U.S. stores

    This will absolutely be important, especially in the convenience channel. The value proposition for these stores is fast and easy transactions. This extends that value proposition for many of their customers. 7-Eleven has been bold about trying new technology to engage their customers, this is a great example. I do believe they will have an edge competitively because they've tried and tested these technologies.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2021

    Will ‘Scan & Ship’ give Sam’s a leg up on club competition?

    This is a win/win for Sam's. They provide their customers with a frictionless experience for big ticket, bulky items, and they are able to be more efficient in operations. That alone is worth the investment in this labor market.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2021

    Can a Tesco exec school Amazon on physical retail?

    Tesco is outstanding when it comes to operations. Mr. Hoggett's knowledge and experience will be huge for Amazon. I believe that he will have an immediate impact on Amazon's brick-and-mortar strategy. He brings deep experience in operations and execution in a space that Amazon is still, in many ways, figuring out.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2021

    Target and Chipotle are watching TikTok video resumes to find workers

    This is a new idea to me, I have mixed thoughts about it. It makes total sense to me that a video would be a better medium to quickly screen a candidate than a resume. Thank a labor shortage for upsetting an established paradigm. I would worry a bit about profiling, it could feed a bias based on physical appearance, or accent, or some other physical attribute that might keep people from getting that first interview. It's also going to be a hurdle for lower income candidates who may not have reliable access to the internet or technology -- it will be difficult for them to create their videos. It feels like this is the future of job applications, but there are considerations that need to be addressed before this goes mainstream.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2021

    Can ghost kitchens inject new life into mall food courts?

    I read this story as being about mall space being re-purposed for non-retail usage. Yes it is supporting retail, but these kitchens are not attracting customers to the mall, and in fact are really adding to the narrative that the local mall as a customer-centric shopping center is dying. When a mall becomes a fulfillment center, in my thinking, it's no longer a mall.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2021

    Are independent grocers thriving?

    I happen to fall into the rural market profile. My closet full-line grocer (which to means they carry produce) is 15 miles away. I have another one 18 miles in the opposite direction. Both stores are independent, local 3-4 store chains. The big guys wouldn't be able to generate enough revenue here to make their model work. Thank goodness the independents are here or I'd be driving 40 minutes each way to the nearest big box. That said I've also seen local stores in the cities thrive. They've been able to carve out a niche in local foods and personalized service. These are differentiators that the big chains have difficulty replicating.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2021

    Could Dollar General become a go-to healthcare resource in rural America?

    I applaud this strategy, it has the potential to address a dramatic disparity in the delivery of health services between urban and rural populations. I do however have to wonder how they can scale this service. A lot of the issue in rural parts of America is the lack of trained professionals to deliver that care. This is why so many rural states have programs to exchange medical school costs for service in rural clinics for a given amount of time. I'm not sure how Dollar General will be able to solve this issue. Getting product out to their rural stores, not an issue. Finding doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and health professionals to staff these locations, that will be a very significant challenge.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2021

    Will in-person conferences make a comeback after a year of virtual shows?

    I absolutely think that in-person shows will make a comeback, but I suspect in more of a hybrid way. Virtual access has opened up these events to larger audiences. This is a good thing that I don't think many of these shows want to give up. At the same time businesses are always hesitant to send groups of employees to trade shows due to budget and time out of the office concerns. There is value in both models. I expect to see more shows that have key sessions streamed for larger audiences, while at the same time hosting engaging events for attendees to participate in.
  • Posted on: 06/30/2021

    Impulse shopping is a family/social affair

    As a parent I can remember when going through a store with three young kids was an exercise in patience, requiring the careful application of the word "no" and lot of lessons about picking your fights. I would fall back on "OK I caved" as I tried to reconcile ad hoc purchases with the family's Chief Procurement Officer. And I can report being influenced by friends' purchases when strolling through a Cabela's. The original mission was one item; the final market basket, substantially more than one. Turns out a friend found some items that until the moment I was shown them, I didn't know were essential for me to own. (That meant another conversation with the CPO.) But to say this is new news or ground breaking research -- not so much. Affinity marketing has been a tactic in retail since the very beginning. Curious how this study seems to have missed an entire body of research in the marketing world about influencers, affinity and market baskets.
  • Posted on: 06/30/2021

    Is fast food going too slow in reopening for dine-in business?

    QSRs have thrived during the pandemic. The big lesson is that they can grow sales, meet their customers' needs and build new experiences for their customers that do not involve the overhead of dining rooms. Why would the be in a hurry to reopen? They're enjoying a successful new revenue model at the moment.
  • Posted on: 06/28/2021

    Can AI solve e-grocery’s erratic out-of-stock substitutions?

    AI can solve a lot of things, but predicting brand and flavor preferences of individual consumers is probably not one of them. Food is a very personal item for most consumers. It's very difficult to understand the attributes they use to choose individual items, and get it wrong and you're charging a customer for something they don't want. My recommendation is to ask. I was getting texts from Instacart at one point about what to substitute for missing items. You could also ask the customer if they want to allow substitutions. Bottom line, work on supply chain issues to improve availability.

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