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NRF’s ‘Really Big Show:’ Talk of Consolidations And More Discomfort

NEW YORK — After muddling through 2002, retailers have a lot to look forward to in 2003 — most of it not to be welcomed. There will be more...

"You must learn to anticipate what the manifestations of each of these stages are as you go forward," said Wacker. "This is what will bring the opportunity for innovation front and center within your organization. Innovation is not a one-time commitment…It’s a never-ending journey."

Apparently, few take it, Wacker implied. "How come 70 percent of the goods in any department store are in every department store? That’s not using your gut," he said.

According to Ken Walker, managing partner of Retail Options, there’s a good reason to innovate. "You guys have run out of options," he said during the session "Innovate or Die," which he moderated. "You have done everything to cut costs. Innovating, in all honesty, is your last chance."

"There is no one right way" to define innovation, Walker said. "It can be a new look, a new idea, a new technique, the old revisited. At the end of the day, it’s about differentiation."

The biggest hurdle in organizing a company for innovation is "fear of failure," Walker noted, but much else is also required, including a chief executive officer "who really feels the need" a team that explores the market together, reviews products together, and is led by a "chief image officer" so the company is focused. "Communicate innovation to everyone in the organization."

Target is one company with a predisposition to innovate, at least according to Michael Graves, president of Michael Graves & Associates, who has an exclusive product line at Target, including housewares and bedding. He said Target four and a half years ago wanted him to design the scaffolding for the Washington Monument, which Target paid for. That led to a lunch meeting with former Target hard goods executive Ron Johnson. Graves confessed he had never been to a Target, while Johnson said Target had been knocking Graves off for 15 years. Johnson got Graves to design about a half dozen original items, initially, and now Graves has about 600 bearing his signature at the mass retailer.

How does Graves see the process of innovation? "It’s about understanding who we are. What we do when we design stuff is to tell stories." Graves also said that when designing, "I avoid the ‘wow factor’ as much I can. Wow will be old by tomorrow. I don’t think it’s what pays the bills."
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