PROFILE

Steve Dennis

President, Sageberry Consulting/Senior Forbes Contributor

Steve Dennis is a strategic growth advisor, international keynote speaker and writer on retail innovation and the future of shopping. He was recently named a top 5 global retail influencer by two leading organizations and is a Forbes senior contributor.

His first book — “Remarkable Retail: How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Amazon & Digital Disruption” —will be published in April 2020.

During a more than 30 year career as a senior executive at two Fortune 500 retailers and as a strategy consultant, Steve has worked with dozens of retail, luxury and social impact brands to inspire, catalyze and design their journey from boring to remarkable.

Steve has delivered keynote talks and led growth & innovation workshops on six continents. His industry and consumer insights are regularly featured in the media including Bloomberg/Business Week, CNBC, CNN, Fortune, the Harvard Business Review, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, among many others.

Steve is the President of SageBerry Consulting. Prior to founding SageBerry, Steve was the chief strategy officer and SVP, multichannel marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group. Earlier in his career he held senior leadership roles at Sears, including VP, multichannel integration and VP/General Manager of a $600MM operating division. He also serves on several advisory boards.

Steve is the President of SageBerry Consulting. Prior to founding SageBerry, Steve was the chief strategy officer and SVP, multichannel marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group. Earlier in his career he held senior leadership roles at Sears, including VP, multichannel integration and VP/General Manager of a $600MM operating division. He also serves on several advisory boards.

Steve received his MBA from Harvard and a BA from Tufts University.

Steve Dennis is a strategic advisor, keynote speaker and writer on retail innovation and the future of shopping. He has been named a top global retail influencer by multiple organizations and is a Forbes Senior Contributor. His new book--"Remarkable Retail: How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Amazon & Digital Disruption"--is available for pre-order at major online book retailers. During a more than 30 year career as a senior executive at two Fortune 500 retailers and as a strategy consultant, Steve has worked with dozens of retail, luxury and social impact brands to inspire, catalyze and design their journey from boring to remarkable. Steve has delivered keynote talks and led growth & innovation workshops on six continents. His industry and consumer insights are regularly featured in the media including Bloomberg/Business Week, CNBC, CNN, Fortune, the Harvard Business Review, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, among many others. Steve is the President of SageBerry Consulting. Prior to founding SageBerry, Steve was the chief strategy officer and SVP, multichannel marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group. Steve received his MBA from Harvard and a BA from Tufts University.
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  • Posted on: 06/17/2021

    Can a financially stable, digitally-enabled Neiman Marcus make a comeback?

    As a former senior executive at Neiman Marcus it has been frustrating for me to see the damage that has been done over the years by an ill-fated PE buy-out and a failure to attract the modern luxury consumer. Neiman Marcus was slow to bust silos (see my comments elsewhere) and has struggled to balance its obsession with maximizing gross margin dollars with ueber-wealthy customers, with also attracting the significant numbers of younger, more accessible luxury customers it needs to be a profitable $4 billion plus brand. On top of that, the luxury market has become ultra-competitive with near-term headwinds from the COVID-19 hangover. NMG was hamstrung by its debt levels from making many of the changes they have need to make for more than a decade. They will certainly post much better numbers in comparison to 2020 and now have the financial flexibility to invest more aggressively. Yet I'm doubtful they can ever get remotely close to being back to the more than $600 million in EBIDTA (which would be closer to $700 million inflation adjusted) we generated the year I left the company.
  • Posted on: 06/17/2021

    What does it take to make omnichannel marketing work?

    The elimination of silos is a huge issue ("silos belong on farms" as I have been saying in my keynotes for years and devote a big section to in my book "Remarkable Retail"). Relentless silo-busting, must come from the top and by making the right technology and organizational investments. The second issue is becoming channel-agnostic and seeing the customer as the channel. The third is to embrace the blur that is shopping today and become committed to harmonizing the customer experience. This is best done by dissecting customer journeys (digital and physical) and rooting out pain points (table stakes) and amplifying the wow to become truly remarkable.
  • Posted on: 06/09/2021

    Is now a good time for retailers to open new stores?

    It's been a terrible time for retailers without a remarkable retail value proposition, a well harmonized shopping experience and value added benefits from their physical assets to open stores for many, many years. Conversely, even prior to the pandemic, many retailers across a wide spectrum of sectors successfully opened stores, ranging from dollar stores to off-price to brick-and-mortar dominant brands like Tractor Supply, Ulta, Lululemon, RH and many many more. What the pandemic demonstrated is a growing need to be remarkable, to see the customer as the channel and to respond to the increasingly hybrid nature of shopping and the resulting expanded role of stores in support of digitally-driven (and often store fulfilled) commerce.
  • Posted on: 06/03/2021

    Have flagships become obsolete?

    It's possible that's because they are thinking about profitability the wrong way.
  • Posted on: 06/03/2021

    Have flagships become obsolete?

    No, though perhaps the terminology needs to change. Physical presence is only less important for brands that sell what amounts to convenience and commodity-oriented products. For everyone else physical presences are an essential component of a well-harmonized (can we please stop using "omnichannel"?) customer-first strategy. But the role of brick-and-mortar continues to evolve. Shopping is not about physical or digital, it is how they work together in concert. Stores themselves are increasingly hybrid in nature, serving in their historical manner (places for customers to go inspect product, maybe get some sales help and get immediate gratification), but more and more as the hub of a brand's ecosystem. This means they are places to pick-up and return e-commerce orders, sources of product inspiration, the most elevated brand marketing, service centers and more. So the stores themselves will evolve in their layout, design and operations to serve their hybrid roles. A given retailer's format deployment needs to evolve to become more hybrid. Flagship stores will still have a role in being the most immersive and expansive expression of a brand (see Nike, Apple, Dick's, lots of luxury fashion brands). But there will likely be fewer of them, flanked by formats that are more singular in purpose (dark stores, express stores, service stores, etc.).
  • Posted on: 05/20/2021

    Macy’s CEO says recent gains are real and better things are ahead

    But hyperbole is the greatest thing ever!
  • Posted on: 05/20/2021

    Macy’s CEO says recent gains are real and better things are ahead

    What was surprising about their profitability? We knew they cut expenses and bought inventory very tightly. Largely fixed cost businesses show flow-through profits at 25 percent - 35 percent of sales increases and the year earlier quarter had massive write-downs and deleveraging of these same fixed costs due to how quickly the business cut off.
  • Posted on: 05/20/2021

    Macy’s CEO says recent gains are real and better things are ahead

    Better is not the same as good, and it's still far short of remarkable. It's totally expected that we will see strong sales growth from a year earlier for Macy's and similar retailers given they are comparing to a period when many stores were closed and work from home/not going out drove down the need for many of the items that are core parts of their assortment. Moreover, government stimulus is amplifying discretionary spending power and certainly plenty of folks want/need to refresh their wardrobes. The key number is that this quarter was 10 percent below the same period 2019. As I've been saying about Macy's for quite some time (and discuss in my book), a slightly better version of mediocre is not a winning strategy. The fact that Macy's has not been gaining relative share despite their direct competitors closing hundreds of stores and their years of "strategic initiatives" show they have a long, long way to go to drive sustainable profitable growth.
  • Posted on: 04/20/2021

    What goes into delivering a ‘wow’ shopping experience?

    Clearly online shopping has not replaced stores, as stores are involved with 90 percent of all retail transactions. As I go into in my book Remarkable Retail, the "table stakes" have been raised over the years as scarcity has given way to an abundance of choice, access, information and so on. The key is to deeply understand what customers value, be sure to meet the basic requirements, and then "amplify the wow" to create something truly memorable (Essential #7 in my framework). This is highly dependent on individual customer preferences, the specific purchase occasion and the context in which we compete for their attention, engagement and willing to share the remarkable story of our brand. One day a customer may find "wow" in cashierless check-out at an Amazon Go location, finding a huge bargain at TJX or getting inspiration at an RH Gallery. We must deeply understand customer journey and being remarkable in the moments that matter for that customer, for that purchase, wherever they happen to be (digitally and physically).
  • Posted on: 04/12/2021

    Will faster deliveries prove to be a valuable loyalty perk for Gap?

    Unlikely. There are many aspects of the customer experience that are increasingly becoming table stakes, that is, they are the basic requirements of executing a brand's strategy. And the notion of treating different customers differently is hardly a new one. Gap's ability to become a remarkable retailer will be determined by their ability to become more intensely customer relevant and deliver a memorable, differentiated experience. This strategy may be necessary, but it is hardly sufficient.
  • Posted on: 04/06/2021

    What will 80,000 closed stores mean for America’s retailers?

    It's almost like it all should be harmonized. ;-)
  • Posted on: 04/06/2021

    What will 80,000 closed stores mean for America’s retailers?

    The big story isn't the number of stores that will close. The U.S. has had too much retail space for 20 years and the combination of even more overbuilding, the growing irrelevance of many mall anchors and the collapse of the mediocre middle made a harsh reckoning inevitable. The big story is the change role of physical stores and how the false narrative of e-commerce being the primary reason for store closings gets spun again and again. For remarkable brands that aren't focused on categories where pure e-commerce (i.e. where stores aren't involved in any material way, i.e. 10 percent to 15 percent of retail) is impossible to compete with the key is to smartly deploy a hybrid and well harmonized strategy that recognizes that physical is far different, but far from dead. I unpack this in great detail in the new edition of my book, out next week.
  • Posted on: 03/26/2021

    Why should DTC brands sell to Nordstrom?

    Most insurgent DTC brands discover that they hit a wall on profitable growth without expanded physical distribution, largely owing to a.) the cost of online customer acquisition b.) the reality that many customers prefer shopping in brick-and-mortar locations and c.) particularly for apparel, the high cost of product returns. In addition to the "endorsement" of a well known upscale retailer, partnering with Nordstrom can address all these issues, helps e-commerce and may cover trade areas where their own store would not make economic sense. For department stores they get improved differentiation and reach new customers. Done right, it's a remarkable strategy.
  • Posted on: 03/24/2021

    Walmart uses brutal self-assessment in omnichannel turnaround strategy

    Absolutely. Brands, organizations and individuals alike suffer when they deny reality and do not push an agenda of complete awareness, radical acceptance and bold action. The retail world has been moving strongly toward one where the customer is the channel for nearly 20 years, demanding a customer experience approach that is hybrid and harmonized. Walmart has made some great strides, but has far more to do. As I say in my book, we have to start where we are, break through our delusion and move boldly ahead on our journey to remarkable.
  • Posted on: 03/15/2021

    How much HQ space will disappear as hybrid work becomes a retailing thing?

    The answer will vary considerably I suspect both by geography (given rent costs, urban density and commuting dynamics) and whether the business is in growth mode or not, but overall I would expect to see a 25 percent to 40 percent retrenchment over time for most retailers. I do think as we move toward a largely post-COVID-19 world the value of face-to-face interaction will become more appreciated as will the realization that we are wired for connection. Nevertheless this can be accomplished by periodic group meetings and occasional office days throughout the month. Both a significant downsizing and a move toward more flexible space seems inevitable.

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