The annual "Movers and Shakers" event held April 11th provided the Retailing and Consumer Science Department students with opportunities to jumpstart their career exploration and interact directly with professionals in the industry. In addition to the opportunity to interview with companies present, students participated in various interactive breakout sessions that featured trending retail industry topics including branding, international business, online retailing, and store management. More than 100 students met participating retailers including J.C. Penney, Macy's, Nordstrom, Academy, H.E.B., Al's Formal Wear, Target, Wal-Mart, Stage Stores, Safeway, and Kohl's.
The highlight of the program was the keynote speech given by H.E.B. President Scott McClelland titled "The Future of Retailing: Being an Entrepreneur in the Food Industry." He addressed what H.E.B. is responding to the changing economy and demographics in Texas.
"While the total economy is larger, the reality is it's only larger for some people and that tends to be for people who have money," McClelland said. "As a result, over time we are seeing a shrinking middle class." McClelland added that the distinction between the people who have and people who have-not is becoming more pronounced in Texas, which affects the way people shop.
"In Houston today, 26 percent earn less than $25,000 per year and 15 percent earn over $100, 000," McClelland said. "If you think about the type of items you would put into a store, no two customers are the same."
McClelland advised against merchandising toward the perceived "American Consumer," adding that Houston has grown more diverse; it has a vast African American and Latino populations and a rapidly growing Asian population.
"When you start to define what the average American looks like, you realize that there isn't an average American," McClelland said. "So, when you try to merchandise towards average, you're not going to be gaining anything."
"This is a complicated city in which to do retail in both the demographic and competitive sense, and the formats of Houston stores vary by location and cater to merchandise that sells better in those areas," McClelland said.
Addressing the increasing growth in the Latino population, H.E.B created Mi Tienda, a store that targets the purchasing habits of first generation Latinos. McClelland said he traveled around Mexico and Central America and brought back new, unique ideas that have worked.
"We realized we needed to build bigger stores and sell items that others can't, won't or haven't yet thought of," McClelland said. "We have distinct advantage of living in Texas and there are unique idiosyncrasies of living here that you won't get elsewhere."
"Retailers tend to fall into two different groups: those that are perceived to have high quality but also have high prices and those that are perceived to have low prices and low quality. We should strive to have low prices and high quality. "With this positioning comes expectations from the brand," McClelland said. "To try and lower expenses to make more money will violate what the brand and the experience stands for and all of the sudden people stop shopping there."
Following the keynote address, various breakout sessions related to retailing were featured with trending topics relating to branding, international retailing, online retailing, and store management.