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.
  • VIEW ARTICLES
  • VIEW COMMENTS
  • Posted on: 09/02/2021

    Allbirds simplifies growth drivers to three trends

    These are important, but don't get at the heart of their (and many other DNVBs') issues. While Allbirds has done many things well, they are (thus far) very much a niche product. One key will be expanding their addressable market without diluting the core of what got them to their $200 million current run rate. Not so easy. Which brings me to my second, they will definitely need much more physical distribution. But profitably expanding beyond a few dozen stores to a few hundred is far from certain. Lastly, their profit margins are way too low, driven mainly by below average gross margins and high marketing costs. They will need to make a lot of progress in the next couple of years to support (and maintain) unicorn status.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2021

    What’s the formula for e-commerce profitability?

    For quite some time "traditional" e-commerce profitability has largely been driven by gross profit dollars per order, since pick, pack and ship (through the mail) costs don't vary as much as merchandise value. With a few exceptions (digital downloading of entertainment, big-ticket consumer durables) virtually all product flowed from large regional e-commerce DCs to the customers home or office. But a lot is changing. First there is way more product diversity that doesn't conform to the traditional model (fresh, frozen, refrigerated grocery). Second a lot more orders that we call "online" involve a store, because the product is fulfilled from store stock with the customer picking it up and taking it home, or a runner picks it up to home deliver or the store associate sends it through the mail. Moreover, the growth of e-commerce is generally pushing up return rates, which drive a lot of extra cost. So the siloed approach to channels is becoming far more hybrid, and the profit dynamics can vary widely. Generally speaking higher gross profit/order will carry the day for shipped items. Online grocery will need to lower the average cost of delivery (either by automation) or getting the customer to come pick it up. Low gross profit product that is prone to returns is pretty much hopeless (which is why you don't see the off-price guys or Primark chasing it).
  • Posted on: 08/31/2021

    Best Buy builds a virtual store to assist customers remotely

    This is further evidence of what I call the "hybridization of retail" (shameless plug: see my Forbes article and "Remarkable Retail" podcast episode on this topic). Best Buy has been on top of the fundamental blending of digital and physical for some time and the related change role of the physical store from merely a place to buy things, to a stronger role in digital fulfillment, product inspiration, service center and more. This is a next logical step. Many retailers are actively experimenting with formats outside of their core prototype model (see Nordstrom Local, IKEA and many others) to meet the demands of modern retail. Expect traditional stores to become more hybrid in nature, the supply chain to become more hybrid in nature, and retailers' overall portfolio of formats to do the same.
  • Posted on: 08/11/2021

    Will luxury consumers buy what Neiman Marcus is selling in 2021?

    While I've been gone from the senior leadership team at Neiman Marcus Group for quite some time, I still see the fundamental challenges of the luxury department store sector as fundamentally the same, namely, winning and profitably growing customers outside the historical high-spending, price insensitive uber-wealthy segment. Outside of China (and perhaps the Middle East) the luxury sector started to mature a decade ago and much of the growth in North America and Western Europe for most luxury brands came from raising prices, not transaction growth. E-commerce provided some upside, but NM, Saks, Nordstrom and others are now highly penetrated online. Fortunately Neiman's has gotten out from under an absurdly over-priced, over-leveraged PE buyout, and that gives them time and money to mount a transformation. Yet, all the things they've struggled with for over a decade are still the same. And the competition has only gotten more fierce, from both disruptive brands and their vendors' more developed DTC strategies. I am also convinced that for strong profitability to be possible, more consolidation needs to occur. North America doesn't need NM, Saks and Holt Renfrew.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2021

    Should retail prepare for a vaccine resistant virus?

    All businesses would be wise to accept we live in an increasingly VUCA world: VOLATILE, which requires us to very clearly articulate our VISION; UNCERTAIN, which demands we gather actionable insights; COMPLEX, which compels us to create CLARITY; and, perhaps most importantly, AMBIGUOUS, which requires great AGILITY. The likelihood of more virulent strains means we must develop different scenarios and become fundamentally more agile, flexible and adaptable. We can't stop the waves, but we can learn to surf!
  • Posted on: 08/04/2021

    Prime members will have to pay for grocery deliveries from Whole Foods

    Delivery convenience wars have been driving a race to the bottom for several years -- with COVID-19 adding a whole new dimension. While it's impossible to predict the precise impact, I expect it to be material. But there are three things we know for sure: 1) much of local grocery home delivery is wildly unprofitable, 2) the economics improve dramatically when consumers do the work (i.e. curbside pick-up/BOPIS/"normal" shopping and 3) cross-sell and up-sell is much better in the store. Expect more moves from the competition to stem the bleeding.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2021

    Can ghost kitchens inject new life into mall food courts?

    I see this as an interesting but rather limited opportunity. Food halls can certainly bring new life (and traffic!) to what is an overwhelmingly unremarkable part of most regional malls. Yet there are a lot of complications. The first is that the capital cost to retrofit is significant, requiring substantial food hall and delivery volume to make it work. Second, the logistics (and potentially tenant and zoning issues) of running a high volume ghost kitchen (and the endless stream of delivery cars) is not trivial. The centers that make the best food hall locations are likely the ones where this will be the biggest obstacle. Third, home delivery growth is starting to moderate at the same time that the overall economics of it look very, very challenging. Consolidating production helps the economics for delivery companies, but they have many other issues to ever make decent money. Bottom line is that costs are almost certain to go up, which will also tamp down demand. I see mall based ghost kitchens/food halls making sense in dozens of malls, not hundreds.
  • Posted on: 06/23/2021

    Forget digital first. Stores first, digital second is the future of luxury retail.

    Like so many things, gross generalities aren't very helpful. Certainly physical retail plays a greater role in luxury and higher-end fashion than mainstream retail, but even back in my Neiman Marcus days we saw a strong cohort that was very much either digital-only or digitally-led. So as far as LVMH's statement, it's too simplistic, but clearly physical retail is a huge component of their success and will remain so for the foreseeable future. From the data I have seen in recent years, the majority of luxury customer journeys either start in a digital channel or are significantly impacted by digital influence. So it's not an either/or, it's a blend, and the emphasis will vary depending on the customer segment and the purchase occasion. The key is to map out the different customer journeys and deeply understand the interaction of digital with physical and orchestrate a well-harmonized customer experience.
  • Posted on: 06/23/2021

    Is it time for mainstream retail to go all-in on the resale market?

    It's hard to ignore a market that is garnering significant and growing consumer demand and investment dollars. So I am generally in favor of most retailers experimenting to gauge whether it helps win, grow and keep customers they need to drive their business long-term. Having said that, the unit economics of mainstream resale look extremely challenging. Understanding a path to profitability is always important. In this case, especially so.
  • 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!

Contact Steve

  • Apply to be a BrainTrust Panelist

  • Please briefly describe your qualifications — specifically, your expertise and experience in the retail industry.
  • By submitting this form, I give you permission to forward my contact information to designated members of the RetailWire staff.

    See RetailWire's privacy policy for more information about what data we collect and how it is used.