A big show for a big and vibrant industry

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BJ’s Wholesale Club Chairman, President and CEO Chris Baldwin opened NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show in grand style, balancing the “big” of retail with the impact of its individual innovative leaders.

The Sunday morning session began with a moment of silence to honor of one those icons in particular: Nordstrom Co-president Blake Nordstrom, who died suddenly in recent weeks at the age of 58.

“Blake Nordstrom was a great friend to many of us, a visionary leader who was committed to making a positive difference for future generations,” said Baldwin, who also serves as chairman of NRF’s board of directors.

The moment closed with applause, and Baldwin moved on to talk about “the industry that Blake loved so much,” as well as this year’s show. It is, he noted, the largest retail conference and expo worldwide. The 108th annual event has drawn nearly 40,000 attendees from across the globe, including 700 exhibitors, and is expected to bring a $45 million impact to New York City. There are more than 500 scheduled speakers in more than 200 sessions, making up more than 100 hours of content. Opportunities for growth and inspiration abound.

And so, he asked the crowd, “Who remembers 2016?” That was the year of the supposed “retail apocalypse,” complete with store closings, bankruptcies and layoffs.

“I would love to say that retail is back, but that would be wrong,” he said. “Retail never went away. As I stand here today, I can say that our industry is more healthy, vibrant, innovative and exciting than ever.”

A good portion of that is its people. During his brief remarks, Baldwin called out a variety of leaders — and companies — helping “reimagine” the industry.

Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart, and John Furner, president and CEO of Sam’s Club: Not long ago, Baldwin said, Walmart was known as a bricks-and-mortar powerhouse, but now is “very frequently mentioned as one of the most innovative companies in the world,” thanks to strategic acquisitions, investments in technology, increased automation, the aggressive rollout of grocery pick-up and delivery and other factors.

Brian Cornell, chairman and CEO of Target Corp.: The company “sets the standard for being an inspiring place to shop” through next-generation store design, remodeling, investment in team members, and use of stores as hubs.

Miki Racine Berardelli, CEO of KIDBOX: The company uses data to change the way parents buy clothing for their children, all the while moving toward a goal of clothing more 1 million in need.

Greg Sandfort, CEO of Tractor Supply Co.: The 80-year-old organization that began as a mail order company “invented the do-it-yourself trend” and maintains an unwavering commitment to serving the rural lifestyle through its more than 1,700 stores.

Jeff Gennette, CEO of Macy’s: Macy’s has “defined what it means to be a successful retailer.”

Marla Beck, co-founder and CEO of Bluemercury: The luxury beauty retail chain, now part of Macy’s, has experienced “exponential growth, in large part, because of its approach to people.”

Baldwin also shared a few stats about the impact of retail overall as the nation’s largest private sector. The industry supports one in four jobs — 42 million workers — in the U.S. and contributes $2.6 trillion to the country’s GDP. In addition, he said, one-third of Americans have their first job in retail. Since 2016, retail has grown faster than the GDP; there were 2,000 net new store openings in 2018; and NRF said it expects 2018 retail sales to increase at least 4.5 percent over 2017. As for NRF and its philanthropic arm, the NRF Foundation, they continue advocating for the “people, policies and ideas that keep this wonderful industry vibrant,” he said.

Baldwin wanted to start the week, he said, by “stressing that there are truly astonishing things happening in our industry. I’m humbled to be here representing retail. I can also tell you it’s even more humbling to compete against some of these great leaders and companies every single day. Truly, it’s an incredible time to be part of our industry.”

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