Last Tuesday I went to San Francisco to speak to an organization dedicated to promoting innovation. The Bay Area Innovators in Retail (BAIR) gets together quarterly to share experiences, promote leading practices, and support one another's success in innovation. I was impressed by the group.
Innovation in the retail industry is a diverse function. Moving beyond traditional product-based thinking, these professionals are applying innovation to merchandising, store design, shopper experience, business models, and channels. Some are even thinking beyond the store. One organization is looking at extracting value from its parking lots. Another is thinking about mobile retail in China.
Each company represented had an example of an innovation initiative in one of these areas. Some were small and others were truly breakthrough. No one was thinking broadly across all of these areas. That would really be radical and may be what is necessary to succeed in the long term.
The common challenge these folks face is maintaining executive support for their efforts. Retail executives tend to be fantastic operators and experienced merchandisers. Given the thin margins in the industry, efficient operation is a requirement. Investing in innovation is the only way off the margin treadmill. I heard the BAIR participants lament the wavering commitment their organizations had shown to sustained innovation efforts.
The members of BAIR know what it takes and are doing their part to revolutionize an industry.