When I started this blog some 12 years ago, my goal was to replicate the many Monday morning quarterback sessions by phone with a select number of my peers in the retail, ad agency, and supplier worlds. Once the Monday am executive meetings were finished, there was always time for a call or two to get their insights on what was happening in our industry. We would talk about a new everyday pricing strategy at Sears, an acquisition by Saks, quarterly results for Walgreens, or what were they thinking with that spot on Super Bowl?
On many of those calls, was my good friend, Ed Carroll, CMO at Boston Store, Carsons, Saks, and BonTon at various times throughout the years. Our conversations were always lively and insightful and there was always a good laugh as well news updates on our similar families. We lost Ed last month after a hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer and I immediately felt an emptiness after so many conversations and good times. Our industries should also feel an emptiness for a true leader who set the standards high in a retail industry that didn’t always pay attention to branding while searching for the next best promotional event. To pay tribute to this great guy, I think that there are some real parallels to the keys to a successful branding strategy and to what Ed Carrol stood for over four decades in the industry.
Key #1 CREATE A VISION. Ed was always a big picture guy looking beyond the current hot trends to try to predict what was going to effect his company’s business 5 or 10 years down the road. He did this because of his insatiable interest in the industry and trends and his understanding of the various market segments and what was going to happen to his customer bases-whether they were baby boomers or millennials, male or female, one ethnic group or another. He’d always quote a recent article or study that gave some unique insights and then he was able to present it in such a way that it moved from opinion to fact-based predictions. I saw this on a number of the trade association boards that we sat together on over the years. He always had great questions for the presenter and always could start a good, lively conversation when the agenda had hit a lull. Yet, he did all this while still making next week’s 3-Day white Sale more exciting than last weeks.
Key #2 DO THE RESEARCH. Ed Carroll did research that many larger organizations had never even hear of and often knew more about their customers and how they shopped their stores as well as his, than they will ever know in time to make an impactful decision. He wasn’t a numbers guy any more than I was, but he sure knew how to find value that would have an ROI by understanding what those numbers meant and having smart people around who would provide the analysis. In our years on the National Retail Federation (RAMA) board, Ed was a champion to conduct membership studies so we could learn what attendees liked, didn’t like or just what they really wanted to know more about. The result of his dedication led to growth there just as it did at his home store in gaining market share.
Key #3 COMMUNICATE YOUR VALUE WELL. All of this led to some of the best retail advertising in the business. Sure there were daily ROP’s, the weekly inserts, but they were supported by creative executions that reached both the heart and the wallets of their customers. He figured out ways to develop ongoing programs that benefits the communities where the stores were located that continued to be successful even after the promotions had faded away. He always said: “Sometimes you just have to do the right thing!” His soft spoken demeanor belied his passion for excellence and also his creative spark for coming up with really “wow” events and messages. Yet, he was practical and knew that there was an important balance between price promotion and brand development. His presentations at many industry events were always well done, concise, humorous, and dead on with the point he was trying to make.
Key #4 IMPLEMENT YOUR PLAN EFFECTIVELY. With his passion for the preceding steps, Ed was a master planner and his teams reflected that efficiency at all his management positions He clearly knew where the “Desired Future State” was and what they needed to do to get there effectively. He was organized not so much on the details, but more on the key steps that needed to be done and that helped prevent many of the distractions that come into the retail marketing offices on an everyday basis. He always took the helicopter view and could make big things happen with small distractions. Working with him on some media taskforces over the years, his value the groups was always to bring clarity to what needed to be accomplished and insure that it was done before we went out enjoyed some of the fun of those retreats. If someone got off track, he wasn’t afraid to let the meeting organizer know that they missed the point on that one or it would have been better if…
Key #5 LIVE UP TO THE BRAND EVERYDAY. Consistency is the key to a successful retail brand so that whenever a customer comes in your store, you store, its associates, its selection and its service are disappointed that you couldn’t deliver on what your marketing promised. Ed worked as key member of management bring his expertise to everything from Human Resources and Training to Logistics and Supply Chain accounting. As a successful executive, Ed Carroll had a brand to live up and he did that without exception. His relationships with his organization, his agencies and suppliers, his trade organization and his friends, was consistent and without exception that of one who enjoyed his craft, share his expertise, led by example and made life enjoyable.
The industry lost one of its icons last month. I lost a friend and I’ll miss his inspiration more than anything.