Three things converged this week that brought up my past. Sometimes it’s fun to look back.
1. Having spent the first 20 years post-college in the retail department store sector, I am undeniably drawn to information about it. So, when an opportunity to log on to a webinar with a panel consisting of seasoned executives opining on what changes they see for the retail industry, I couldn’t resist.
Technology and social changes have been accelerated by the life-altering year we’ve just had. Buying habits, motivations, how we pay … and so much more about our lives will stabilize at some point, but shopping changes will be permanent.
2. The very next day I read the WSJ article about struggling malls. No surprise of course. Mall owners have been working to entice shoppers in recent decades with entertainment and events to coax foot traffic in an over-mall’d country. Way, way back it started with adding food courts, then restaurants, skating rinks, kiddie play areas, and so on. Reimagining the spaces of a mall and its acreage is high art and very high stakes for developers today. Innovative planners have some spectacular visions for our communities. Can’t wait.
The webinar panel noted how larger chain stores are offering reasons to come in other than to shop. They are planning to lease various merchandise departments to third party vendors. What? We did that decades ago and you got rid of them all! I had to laugh.
Here are the leased departments I can recall at the May Company in St Louis: Yardage & sewing department, watch repair, post office, wig shop, shipping service, travel agents, portrait photography, electrolysis, scissor sharpening, beauty salon, auto centers, fine jewelry, optometrist, record store, shoe repair & shine, major appliances, alterations, custom draperies and a fur department that also offered storage. The store programmed classes, speakers, and fashion shows. They were a city within. Lots of reasons to go with family and friends and spend hours. All these needed services were jettisoned in favor of high markup ready to wear.
3. Finally, we are noting the 50th anniversary of the Sylmar earthquake. I was standing in my bathroom taking the curlers out of my hair, getting ready to leave for my job at the downtown Los Angeles May Company. As a brand-new management trainee, I needed to get in early. I lived 60 miles from the epicenter of that quake, but my bathroom mirror rolled to the left and shattered as did nearly everything in the house. Even with the news slowly detailing the damage, I drove to the building at 8th and Broadway. All the street windows shattered debris everywhere. Today, none of us would be allowed in. But in we went, young buyers and this marketing department newbie, climbing stairs to the 5th floor because the escalators were twisted.
There, a few feet from my desk was one of the countless massive 10-foot-in-diameter columns holding up the 1906 building. It was horizontally sheered, shifted nearly a foot. Sanity reigned and the 7:30 a.m. management trainee class was canceled with advice to go home until the building was deemed safe.
Coming up in the world of retail is a master class in management. It developed grit, flexibility, no room for ego, and the people skills needed for survival among very driven people. The daily deadline rigors of rushed advertising departments, dealing with brash buyers, and ambitious upper management prepared me well for entrepreneurship and ultimately developing the business I grew in association management. I am grateful.
So, three things this week; a webinar, an article, and an earthquake brought me back to my work roots where I met people who are great friends yet today. After all, a good life is about people and associations are pods of people who want to make things better for their industries. My kind of people.