Global Retailing Conference: Ahead of the Curve

Mobile, social media and brand licensing were among key retail trends discussed at the annual Global Retailing Conference, "Accelerate Your Brand–Get Ahead of Your Shopper," sponsored by the University of Arizona.

Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s

Whether it was the brand management focus of Iconix Brand Group, the resurgence of the Polaroid brand, the big box success of Costco or the mobile strategy of One King's Lane, the critical factors in retailing that were identified by speakers at the 17th annual Global Retailing Conference, produced by the University of Arizona, were the importance of social media, e-commerce, customer engagement, brands and licensing.

Brand licensing was a key topic in several presentations at the annual event, held last month. Among the sponsors for the event were License! Global, Iconix Brand Group and Saban Brands, as well as major retailers including Macy's, Walmart, Dick's Sporting Goods, J.C. Penney and Home Depot.

Neil Cole, Iconix

Neil Cole, president and chief executive officer, Iconix Brand Group, discussed the recent addition of three properties to its brand portfolio, international expansion and how the direct-to-retail model will continue to grow and be a key merchandising strategy for major retailers worldwide.

Cole told attendees that he's "sleeping pretty well these days" after the recent acquisitions of Buffalo, Lee Cooper and Umbro. He also explained the importance of international expansion and how it has grown to represent more than 30 percent of the company's revenue. He projects that number will increase to 40 percent over the next few years.

Iconix is ranked as the world's second largest licensor (behind Disney Consumer Products) with $13 billion in retail sales of licensed merchandise, according to License! Global's Top 150 Global Licensors report.

Scott Hardy, president and chief executive officer, Polaroid, told attendees how the licensing model has re-established the Polaroid brand, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Over the past several years, Polaroid has expanded its business to include instant and digital cameras, high-definition camcorders, mobile printers, tablets and TVs. According to Hardy, the Polaroid television is Walmart's exclusive brand.

Hardy also discussed the brand's extension to retail stores, called Polaroid Fotobars, where consumers custom print and frame photos. The first store opened in March in Del Ray Beach, Florida, and 10 more stores are being developed in markets including New York, Las Vegas and Boston.

Tory Burch, Tory Burch

Guest speaker Tory Burch, who has built a luxury lifestyle brand, outlined the history of her company. Founded in 2004, she now has more than 80 freestanding stores worldwide. The brand is also merchandised in more than 1,000 department stores. Burch says that the brand is expanding its licensing strategy in various categories including a recent partnership with Fossil for timepieces, Estée Lauder for a fragrance and cosmetics line and with Luxottica for eyewear.

"The Global Retailing Conference at the University of Arizona is curated each year to engage the audience on the most current retailing trends and access to C-suite talent in the most intimate setting possible. It's particularly important for brand owners and licensors to learn from the big picture thinkers and consider the economic and technological developments driving retail in real time. This is even more critical as lines by sales channel blur and as the customer experience trumps all," explains Martha Van Gelder, director, Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing, PetSmart professor of practice, University of Arizona.

Scott Hardy, Polaroid

The opening keynote, delivered by Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive officer, Macy's, focused on the importance of omni-channel retailing, or mobile retailing. He believes the retailer is addressing the mobile challenge with the My Macy's strategy, which launched several years ago to address consumer needs on a local store basis.

Lundgren says his biggest "changer" is "inventory optimization." He explains that this means having the ability to fulfill online orders in Macy's stores.

Several retail presentations emphasized the importance of e-commerce from the big box warehouse club, Costco, to the upstart e-retailer One Kings Lane.

Jim Sinegal, co-founder and former chief executive officer, Costco, explains the evolution of the company and how the club store truly has never wavered from the original philosophy of being a price-driven, treasure-hunt destination. Yet, as much as Costco has stayed true to the "old" mindset, it has very much embraced and emphasized the new with improvements in mobile apps and e-commerce. Sinegal points out that the company currently generates about $2.5 billion in sales from its online business and that will continue to grow in the future.

Doug Mack, chief executive officer, One Kings Lane, stresses the importance of mobile apps, pointing out that almost 30 percent of the e-retailer's sales can be attributed to mobile, and that eventually mobile will surpass desktop sales. He says that tablets account for 60 percent and smartphones for 40 percent of that number.

Yet, while Mack emphasizes the importance of technology, he also points out that finding unique products and providing service are also critical for the new home furnishings retailer that was launched just four years ago. It is now among the fastest growing online retailers.

While Walmart's longstanding commitment to its customers is widely known, the retailer's initiatives with social media and Facebook might not be as top of mind.

Wanda Young, vice president, media and digital, Walmart, discussed how the retailer is using Facebook to connect with customers, a strategy that underscores the importance and integration of social media and retail.

Young says that Walmart has the largest fan base in the U.S., with more than 28 million fans, and that there is a Facebook page for every Walmart store in the U.S.

Young says that every person in the U.S. is connected to one fan of Walmart.