Wrapping up #NRF2019 with Our 3 Key Takeaways

The NRF Big Show is the world’s largest retail conference and expo. And while the official numbers aren’t in yet, in years past, the show has boasted over 37K attendees, 16K Retailers and more than 800+ exhibitors from 99 countries.

The sheer volume of new ideas, technologies and companies we experienced this past week was incredibly inspiring. And while we could create a top 50 or even 100 list, we’ve settled on 3 key takeaways from #NRF2019:

  1. Associate Engagement
  2. Retail Analytics and Customer Insights
  3. Machine Learning and AI

Associate Engagement

The daily pursuit of continuous operational improvement shouldn’t come at the expense of a companies most-valuable asset, it’s employees. As a people-centric organization, it was great to see that there were many new technologies and platforms focused on improvements in task management and employee communication. Tools and apps like those focused on shift-swapping are quickly becoming organically adopted by employees, which in-turn is garnering the interest of management. There is a clear win-win when associate engagement and morale are improved.

Retail Analytics and Customer Insights

Pulling disparate information sets together, like online sales, instore sales, CRM and traffic data is challenging. There were many offerings from organizations promising a more holistic view of the customer. Queue management, shopping patterns, dwell time, and getting employees where they need to be at the right moment were also topics and focal points for a variety of dashboards and data aggregation tools promising the holy grail of actionable consumer insights.

Machine Learning and AI

According to this NRF session summary, by 2021 75% of retailers will be using AI /Intelligent Automation for supply chain and demand forecasting, consumer intelligence, and marketing campaign management. And while we agree that adoption is and will continue to occur, much of the hype around AI and Machine learning is very reminiscent of the “Big Data” and “Cloud” buzzwords and phrases we’ve been seeing and hearing now for the better part of over 5 years. That said, industry giants like IBM, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce will continue to lead the charge, while many will take the wait and see approach. Either way, it’s here and not going away, but right now it still feels like there are currently a lot of half-baked solutions out there looking for problems to solve.

What were your takeaways?

7 Success Factors for Labor and Workforce Optimization in 2019

Many of our clients are making Workforce Optimization and Labor Management a top priority in 2019.  Our experience has shown the following 7 factors to be critical for success in any type of workforce productivity initiative.

  1. Build from the Bottom Up – Companies that adopt a Lean / Continuous Improvement culture first, have better overall success and adoption when implementing technology platforms like Labor Management (LMS) and Workforce Management (WFM).  The key is to have a solid operational foundation before adding technology.
  2. Lead from the Top Down – Leading change and improvement needs to be modeled from the Executive level down. The Executive team should establish a cultural foundation for improvement in order to demonstrate its importance to the associates.
  3. Succeed and Sustain from the Middle – Ultimately Operations needs to own the day-to-day program and be supported by Engineering, IT, HR, and Training. A grassroots Engineering effort cannot sustain long term cultural change without operational support.
  4. Engage Early and Often – Transparent communication and Associate / Supervisor involvement is critical for buy-in of the program.  Demonstrating the connection to the customer needs to be addressed early and communication that the cultural and operational improvements are bigger than the individual.
  5. Make it Fair – The confidence and success of the entire program relies on fair and equitable performance expectations.  Engineered Labor Standards (ELS) are the foundation of accurate performance expectations.
  6. Train, Train, Train – Front line Management (Supervisors) are being asked to deliver more today than ever before.  Best-in-class companies are providing extensive training for Supervisors to aid in improving their leadership and soft skills along with Lean and technical skills needed to succeed in a Labor Management environment.
  7. Celebrate Success and Reward – When results are achieved, reward and celebrate successes Make it fun and provide motivation for the entire team.

Are there other factors that have been crucial in your continuous improvement journey of Labor and Workforce Management?

We’d love to hear from you!

Current Trends and Business Challenges in Supply Chain Labor – Part 2: Optimizing the Workforce

Last week, we explored the business challenges and trends in supply chain labor. In part 2, let’s take a deeper look at how companies are addressing those challenges.
Best-In-class supply chains are addressing workforce challenges by taking a comprehensive approach to their labor strategy…

When observing workforce optimization in warehouse and distribution centers, we can typically refer to three areas that comprise the building blocks of effective Employee Engagement.

Experience shows that best-in-class companies take a Crawl – Walk – Run approach to the implementation of workforce optimization strategies. The overall journey typically requires a cultural transformation within an organization, but the benefits outweigh the efforts with improvements in employee engagement, retention and bottom-line results
If we take a closer look at the three areas, here is what’s working:

Lean Warehousing:

  • Process Standardization works because it produces documentation for processes across all shifts, reduces variability, makes training of new employees more effective, increases safety and provides a baseline for continuous improvement.
  • Establishing a Baseline for Measurement is important, because it can reveal how much improvement has occurred through incremental changes.
  • “Walking the Floor” is an ideal way to engage employees in real-time and provide opportunities for coaching and learning.
  • Process Improvement is continuous, effective, necessary and is at the core of Kaizen
  • Recruiting and Hiring Best-Practices are the hallmarks of any successful business with a people-first culture.
  • Eliminating Waste across all aspects of the business enables investment in additional resources.

Workforce Performance:

  • Establishing productivity, quality and safety targets is an effective way to set a reference point for expectations.
  • Engagement and Education is a favorable way to encourage positive behavioral change in employees.
  • Reinforcing desired work habits is a positive way to reiterate the goal of continuous improvement.

Workforce Staffing and Planning:

  • Utilizing Technology to establish Engineered Labor Standards with software products like LaborPro™ is an effective way to better manage ever-changing labor models.
  • Performance Reporting is imperative to highlight the effectiveness or shortcomings of established and agreed upon goals and targets.
  • ROI Analysis confirms that all efforts point to improvement to the bottom-line.

Final take…

The challenges in supply chain labor will continue to evolve, just as trends will continue to change. By Staying nimble and relying on tried and true Lean Principles and Performance Goals, best-in-class companies will not only endure but will also thrive in today’s challenging environment.

Connors Group Introduces Partnership Aimed At Manufacturing Business Improvement


Pittsburgh, PA – CONNORS GROUP, a market leader in productivity improvements through labor and process optimization, is pleased to announce a partnership with PRIMA BUSINESS SPECIALISTS of State College and Pittsburgh, PA. This partnership will create a comprehensive offering aimed at identifying and solving manufacturing business problems.

“Our labor and process optimization efforts and results are the best available” stated John Connors, Chairman of Connors Group. “The addition of PRIMA and their WISDOM ™ components to our lean and productivity improvement capabilities will allow us to offer our manufacturing clients a complete portfolio of services resulting in faster bottom-line results.”

PRIMA recently rolled out WISDOM™ which combines knowledge and experience in: interim executive placement, strategy, its execution, growth, talent acquisition and retention, and new product launches as applied to process dependent businesses.

“The Connors/PRIMA relationship combines extremely capable and proven front and back-end business practices and experiences while delivering this complete solution to the market,” Said Rocco Petrilli, Founder and Managing Partner of PRIMA Business Specialists. “The exit of the Baby Boomers and GenXers from the manufacturing base, combined with the dwindling numbers of the entering generation, creates a void in the necessary knowledge and experience that is vital to business control and success. The Connors/PRIMA partnership provides a ready, effective and affordable solution to this critical issue.”

“The continued resurgence of US based manufacturing is threatened by limits in talent” added Jeff Peretin, President of Connors Group. “The enhanced proficiency of the Connors/PRIMA team provides manufacturing companies with both short and long-term sources for this talent.”

About Connors Group

Connors Group was formed in 2008 with the mission of helping our clients achieve real, measured and sustainable operational improvement.
As a proven management consultancy specializing in workforce performance and productivity improvement, we help our clients achieve long-term operational success through proven methodologies and extensive field experience.
Our qualifications are established both by our satisfied clients and by the personal experience of our consultants. Our founder and executive team were formerly part of HB Maynard, where we developed and delivered a high-value workforce performance model and approach based on a seventy-five-year legacy of productivity management expertise. Connors Group continues that legacy in our work today.

About PRIMA Business Specialists

Founded in 2007, PRIMA Business Specialists LLC is an execution-based business whose sustainable competitive advantage is the rapid delivery of resolutions to its client companies’ problems.
PRIMA has served numerous clients in various industries and markets with services ranging from interim executives to talent acquisition and retention; all whose foundations are based on execution achieved through clarity, KPI measurement and single point accountability.

The New Reality: Part 3 – Resistance Is Futile

The New Reality of retail has dramatic implications on the operating model for brick-and-mortar locations. As industry differentiators of convenience and selection become irrelevant, stores must be repurposed to support the omnichannel experience. This means that the role of the store and the associates must change, and the management techniques, including metrics and incentives, must be similarly adapted.

Product is King

In the New Reality created by the emergence of omnichannel shopping, product is king for retailers. Specifically, the physical shopping experience needs to be about showcasing product in a way that illustrates the integration of that product into the life of the consumer. It is no longer sufficient to show product features and benefits. It must be assumed that the hyper-educated shopper already knows the specifications of the product, or has them at their fingertips with a click of their smartphone. Differentiation must occur by illustrating how a product enhances the life of the end-user.

The product must be at the heart of the experience in stores…

This grants physical retailers the opportunity to showcase a suite of products that integrate, in a way that may be more difficult online. Successful retailers will not only allow these ancillary products to be purchased online while in the store but will also facilitate it. The role of the front of the store as a showcase is inevitable. However, it must be in done a manner to delight and entice customers through creating a memorable experience.
Another role for physical stores is as a fulfillment center for local deliveries or as a pick-up point for online orders. This means that inventory must be integrated across the network rather than ending at receipt in the stores. Associates must be able to find, pick and ship/pack the product efficiently to facilitate the customer experience. Companies like Manhattan Associates and JDA are integrating their warehouse systems to manage inventories across the entire network, allowing optimal customer fulfillment experience and visibility to product no matter where it sits.. As pure online competitors find more and more ways to offer same-day delivery, retailers with a physical presence must leverage their assets to get there first.

New Metrics and Expectations

As the new reality takes hold, and the role of physical stores and online fronts redefine themselves; it is crucial that retailers adapt their metrics. It is no longer desirable to segregate online and physical data. Retailers must integrate this data into one set that understands the relationship between online and in-store behaviors. This involves numerous changes in how we study traffic.

Nature of Traffic

In the past, traffic was defined as a person passing through the doors of a store or as a click on a website. They were generally tracked separately and treated as mutually exclusive. In the New Reality, companies will need to bridge this gap to understand and optimize the buying cycle. Meaningful loyalty programs help to track behavior between channels because they provide a marker that can be used to track a single customer, but very few companies are effectively using this to measure the customer lifecycle.
Furthermore, traffic was used as the basis for conversion calculation; in most cases all traffic in one of the channels was equally considered. As noted before, one of the biggest challenges for brick-and-mortar retailers is the decline in “browsing” and “pre-purchase” traffic. Even though the Conversion and Average Transaction metrics were lower for these customers, they were still incremental to the core “destination” traffic. We will cover this more in the Conversion chapter of this blog.

Interior Analytics

Traffic in brick-and-mortar has traditionally started and stopped at the entrance. While valuable, there is a treasure trove of insight available inside the store. Understanding how customers behave inside stores can inform on associate locations, plan-o-gram effectiveness, display interaction, store layout, fitting room configuration and many other factors.
This is an emerging space in terms of measurement technology, with companies like Retail Next and Shoppertrak pioneering new technologies. The IoT (Internet of Things) enables much of this. WIFI tracking, Bluetooth tracking, pressure sensitive floor mats, cameras with facial recognition and infrared readers are all available for companies to gather interior data. Companies who master not only the collection of this data, but the analysis required to develop insights from it will have a competitive advantage in integrating the omnichannel experience.

Integration with CRM

Integrating omnichannel traffic (both web and physical) for a single customer over the lifecycle of that customer will be necessary to truly understand the effectiveness of marketing efforts in the New Reality. Without looking at the entire ecosystem it is easy to sub optimize one channel at the expense of the other. Being able to translate (and predict) the click on a homepage to the anticipated purchase behavior in-store will yield significant advantages to the company who masters the traffic data of the New Reality.

Customer Service in the “New Reality”

Customer Service has traditionally been measured in terms of Customer Satisfaction. Companies have assumed that a “satisfied” customer will be more likely to re-purchase or recommend the store. This is expressed in the pre-eminence of the “Net Promoter Score” as the premier customer satisfaction gauge. The limitation with this is that it measures satisfaction with the current environment, and is thus limited to asking a customer about what they’ve seen and is focused on the absence of inhibitors rather than the presence of “delighters”. It also focuses on customers who made a purchase, and ignores the non-converted shopper.

Delight vs Satisfy

In the New Reality, satisfaction will not be enough to attract traffic to stores..
Customers will always have a need to experience the tactile, and thus brick-and-mortar will always have a (limited) role in the retail experience. This will not, however, make up for the decline in physical traffic caused by the loss of “pre-purchase” and “browsing” traffic. To attract “non-destination” traffic, stores must focus on providing a reason for shoppers to come to the store beyond making a purchase. There are three broad categories that stores can leverage to make this happen:


This was historically one of the big attractions for malls. The food court was the place where people could congregate, mingle and interact. The millennial generation is comfortable doing this virtually, and that is one of the reasons that malls have suffered from traffic decline; especially in terms of “browsers.” Retailers who understand how to leverage virtual platforms to attract people to physical locations will have a large advantage. This goes beyond “checking in” when you enter the store.


The gamification of retail is one of the largest emerging trends in the industry. Kate Prohorchik writes about this brilliantly in her blog at Iflexion. This is one way of attracting non-destination shoppers to your company. Another means that has been mastered over time by Disney is the element of integrating entertainment into the shopping experience. Any Disney outlet at their parks has a theme and something to discover for the shopper. Shoppers often enter their outlets for no other reason than to see what they are all about. The concept of “merchantainment” is another example of delighting versus satisfying customers.

Discovery/ Proprietary Product

One of the most enduring realities of retail is the concept of the “treasure hunt.” Shoppers love to find a bargain, an unexpected product, or something new. Hence the “off price” retail industry has been less impacted by the emergence of Amazon. TJX, Gabriel Brothers, Burlington, Ross and their ilk offer something that has yet to be replicated online; the ability to find an unadvertised discovery amidst piles of other product that have little interest to the shopper. This is also true at warehouse outlets like Costco and BJ’s. They rotate product frequently so that there is always a fresh value to be found that would not have been a normal component of the shopping basket. Finally, companies can delight shoppers when they have a strong private label that is known for delighting customers. Fashion retailers have traditionally led in this space, and in recent years this has been dominated by companies like Zara who can turn their private label fashions most quickly. A cautionary note is that a strong portfolio of private labels is preferential, but not sufficient. No company has had a stronger portfolio of brands than Sears, but taking your eye off staying relevant to the shopper will still kill a store faster than loyalty to private brands.

Beyond the Associate

One of the largest components in measuring customer satisfaction has always been the interaction with associates in the store…
While it is true that relationships matter, this is predominantly focused on destination shoppers who make repeat visits. Maintaining strong relationships is helpful, but not enough to offset the loss of non-destination shoppers. People will come back for a delightful associate, but they will not come to the store for a non-purchase interaction with one.
Retailers must find a way to entertain customers in a way that is about the experience…
Associates are a necessary, but not crucial component of the experience A great example is the Burberry flagship store in London. Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s CEO, says “Walking through the doors is just like walking into our website. It is Burberry World Live.” Christopher Parr writes an excellent description of the flagship experience in his article at Pursuitist.

Measuring Customer Delight

The measurement of customer delight versus customer satisfaction is still in its infancy. It can be cumbersome and expensive to measure non-purchase behavior. It requires retailers to understand not just what happens, but why.

Dynamic measures focus on technology to gather data, and this is good to monitor trends…but to truly understand the customer journey, retailers should consider regular supplemental studies to validate and discover the reasons behind quantitative outputs. This should include a calibration of quantitative measures, such as customer journey mapping, with qualitative data gathered from customer intercept interviews and exit interviews that include both purchasing and non-purchasing customers. A duplicate survey of random shoppers through the website can help to cross-reference data.

Resistance is Futile!

These changes can be overwhelming to retailers who have focused on traditional measures throughout their existence. Unfortunately, the choice is to embrace the New Reality and adapt retail operations to match it, or go the way of Toys R Us, Radio Shack, Circuit City and so many others who did not recognize the need for fundamental change until it was too late.
Like Alan Deutschman writes in Change or Die, 90% of people who have coronary-artery bypass grafting fail to change the lifestyle that brought on the need for the procedure within two years. Companies are no different. Clinging to past behaviors and measures is the retail equivalent of fast food and no exercise. The question is, are you able to make the change that will ensure your future health?

The New Retail Reality: Part 2 – Disruption

Over the past several years, the Retail industry has undergone significant disruption.

The retail industry cannot continue to operate as if it has separate channels. Customers no longer find value in shopping that way and will avoid retailers who persist in forcing them to shop “the way it’s always been done.”

The integration of online shopping into the buying cycle has introduced numerous factors that must be reconsidered for retailers to prosper. Four of the most significant are:

• The hyper-educated consumer
• The death of “browsing”
• The inability to differentiate on convenience
• The dominance of showrooming in physical retail

The Hyper-Educated Consumer

In the traditional retail model, shoppers came to specialty stores for advice from knowledgeable associates and to have a broader and deeper merchandise set to consider. For larger purchases this might have involved numerous visits to multiple physical locations to develop the consideration set, to cross-reference the knowledge imparted by sales people, and to allow for time to discuss with friends and family. These factors would contribute to a rise in traffic numbers…
As retailers became aware of the nature of the buying cycle, shelves and queue lines began to feature smaller, inexpensive “impulse” items that might capture dollars during a “non-purchase” visit. As online retail evolves, it offers a wider and deeper set for consideration, with instant price comparisons, deep product knowledge and reviews from other shoppers that cannot be matched by the physical store alone. By the time a shopper enters a store for any destination purchase, they are either at the “Purchase” point and are ready to satisfy their need, or they need to experience the tangible element of the “Research” step and are in the store for a very specific reason. Often, by the time the consumer arrives at the store they are far more knowledgeable about the product than the associates in the store and know the lowest price for which the product can be bought. This makes it very difficult for physical retailers to differentiate based on expertise or offering.

The Death of “Browsing”

A secondary impact of the ability for consumers to complete nearly all the first three stages of the buying cycle without leaving their homes is the death of “browsing”.
As the need for multiple visits to develop a consideration set and research alternatives evaporates, the number of physical visits required to make a purchase shrink. This means that the ancillary smaller purchases that might have occurred on these “pre-purchase” visits also diminish. There are fewer shoppers that are just “browsing”. This erosion of smaller purchases might show a false positive in the retail equation. Conversion and Average Transaction might increase with the decline in traffic, but the health of the physical location erodes as traffic declines. It is important for retailers to understand the lower-level dynamics as they evaluate the business. Not just how many are shopping, but WHO the shoppers are.

Convenience Is No Longer a Differentiator

As mentioned before, the traditional retail model relied on convenience to attract shoppers to physical locations. Department stores collected a wide breadth of product into a single location. Specialty stores added depth of assortment and expert knowledge previously unavailable. Malls added to the availability and convenience of the shopping experience by congregating multiple retailers under one roof, eventually adding a social aspect. Lifestyle centers further expanded on the social aspect, making an experience that moved shopping to a secondary position, but still included shopping in the mix. The introduction of online shopping has diminished all these factors for retailers. As Chris Anderson writes in his book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (2006), online offers infinitely more depth and breadth of product than any single physical location could ever offer. The role of the store in terms of the traditional offering is obsolete. Retailers must redefine the role of the physical outlet to survive.

Showrooming is King

The role of the store must consider that it is not a part of the “Consideration” or, to a large part, the “Research” cycles. Again, Best Buy is a great example of a company who recognized the permanent shift in buying dynamics and adapted its stores accordingly. Consumers will continue to have a tangible need to touch, feel and see product, especially product that is new or cutting edge. While fulfilling this need physical retailers also have an opportunity to showcase product in an environment where the integration or supplementation of other product may enhance the customer experience in ways that were not considered during the online shopping “Research” phase. This is the new reality of selling. It is no longer about product features and benefits, but rather about lifestyle integration. To that end, associates have a new role in the selling cycle. Their knowledge can no longer be about individual products, but rather must be about the broader integration of that product into the life of the consumer.
The new reality may seem daunting, and the challenge is very real. Transitioning is difficult for large, public companies, but transition is required for survival. In the omnichannel world stores have a primary function to support the online purchase, not the other way around. While subtle, the difference is a significant departure from the traditional mindset for most retailers. This has direct implications to the operating model of physical retailers, but resistance is futile. Change is necessary for survival in the new reality.

Connors Group Launches LaborPro™ SOFTWARE – Engineered Labor Standards System

Connors Group Announces the Release of LaborPro™ Software Platform


Pittsburgh, PA – Connors Group is pleased to announce the release of LaborPro™, a powerful, feature rich, Engineered Labor Standards software system built for Retail, Grocery, Distribution, Manufacturing and Service Industries.

Connors Group designed and developed LaborPro™ by drawing upon years of industry work across multiple systems and input from an advisory board of clients and industry practitioners.
LaborPro™ is an easy-to-use, fast and reliable cloud-based system, that gives users the ability to manage large, dynamic, and complex labor models.

Features and benefits:

• The platform is preconfigured with master standards for Retail, Grocery, Distribution, Manufacturing and Service Industries
• It’s powerful, easy to use and flexible location profiling simplifies location-specific standards
• Users can quickly apply labor standards to an entire organization or network
• A statistical approach ensures an accurate labor model by focusing on the work content that truly matters
• The software is highly scalable and deployable with minimal IT support required
• Offers the ability to manage large, dynamic, and complex labor models or simpler but ever-changing models

“The reception to LaborPro™ has been tremendous,” stated Jeff Peretin, President of Connors Group. “Many of our clients, including Lululemon™ and Buffalo Wild Wings™ are seeing a fast return on their investment. The ease-of-use, and out-of-the-box features has resulted in immediate bottom-line results.”

About Connors Group

Connors Group was formed in 2008 with the mission of helping companies achieve real, measurable, and sustainable operational improvement through Industrial Engineering and Lean business practices.

Traffic – The Ultimate Measure: A Free Whitepaper

Traffic is the ultimate measure of long-term success for any retailer. It's simple, are people coming to the store or not?  No amount of cost-cutting, productivity increases, or margin plays can compensate for a long-term decline in traffic to the store.

The Retail Equation: A Free Whitepaper

Retail is one of the most volatile econospheres in the world right now. Over the course of the next several weeks, we will be publishing a series of Whitepapers that explores this and other aspects of the retail environment.