ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Discomfort is inevitable when running a business. There are good days, there are bad days and then there are days that require a retailer to think outside the box. Sterling Hawkins calls these “MacGyver moments,” after his favorite TV series as a kid.
“Our businesses give us discomfort,” said Hawkins, co-founder of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology (CART), Los Angeles, during his presentation at CSP’s2019 Outlook Leadership conference. “Sometimes we need to think differently. MacGyver would use chewing gum and a paper clip to stop a speeding train.”
Hawkins referred to the fictional character’s unconventional problem-solving skills as something retailers can learn from. Thinking beyond the realm of what’s possible may be a recipe for success in an industry that’s moving faster than ever before, he said.
Here are four tips Hawkins gave retailers at Outlook …
Innovation is ...
Hawkins pushed attendees to rethink their definition of innovation, to consider that it spans across all functions of an organization and that discomfort—experiencing trials and tribulations along the way—lies at the base of every innovative team.
“Innovation isn’t just technology,” he said. “It’s not about money. It’s relationships and teamwork. It’s exponential change for the better. It’s about discomfort, both as an individual and as an organization.”
He pointed to activists Malala Yousafzai and Mahatma Gandhi and Tesla founder Elon Musk as examples of breaking through discomfort to reach innovation. The one thing these people had in common was that they “risked everything to achieve their potential,” he said.
Technology is the language
Technology has always been at the forefront of change, Hawkins said. For instance, in the early 1900s, the concept of self-shopping—walking into a store and grabbing items yourself—came to fruition; self-checkout was introduced in 1992; in 1994, it was loyalty; and in 1995, online shopping took us all by storm. Retailers are going to fall behind if they don’t keep up with the changing technology, Hawkins said.
“These are the languages that consumers are starting to speak,” he said. “Consumers are choosing these new technologies, and it’s up to us to meet them there.”
Enhance the old
Retail technology innovation isn’t always a robotic arm or an experience-altering piece of equipment. Sometimes it means enhancing something that already exists, Hawkins said.
Take a new type of vending machine, which has been tested with flying colors in an undisclosed c-store. Consumers open the door and take as many options as they’d like, and the machine uses computer recognition to recognize the buyer and the product so it can bill them accordingly. C-store monthly case studies of this machine saw a 1,000% increase in sales and a 25% margin boost over a nine-month period, Hawkins said.
Take new actions
The key to seeing results is taking new actions, Hawkins said. This can be broken down into three steps: Aiming for an “impossible” goal; taking measurable steps to achieve that goal; and sharing your results—whether failures or successes—with those around you.
“Your company will try to evolve with technology and achieve greater things,” Hawkins said. “It’s the failures of these different things that will make you learn and eventually succeed.”