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All retailers need is love? Leaders say yes


The topics of love and business don’t typically intersect. At least, not at conferences that bring together some of the biggest names in retail.

But that was exactly what happened Monday at the National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention and Expo in New York City (commonly referred to as “Retail’s big show”).

Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc., Howard Schultz, chairman, president and CEO of Starbucks and Kip Tindell, chairman and CEO of The Container Store made a case for compassionate capitalism during the “Conscious Leadership” session that, at times, could have been set to The Beatles’ “All you need is love.”

Robb (pictured below) argued it's time for companies “to act as role models” in their communities and to “step out into the world.”

For his company, that means lending a helping hand during crises, and exceeding customers’ expectations. Robb pointed to a manager at a New York City Whole Foods store, who was determined to help people struggling to find food during Hurricane Sandy.

Against all the odds, the manager brought generators into Manhattan during the October storm, and served food to her customers.

Toward the end of the session, at Tindell’s request, Robb also described how his company is tackling the issue of food deserts in the U.S. (A food desert is a community without access to a supermarket carrying healthy foods needed to maintain a healthy diet.)

According to Whole Food’s CEO, there are “thousands” of these deserts in the U.S. Because people in these communities are forced to rely on nutrient-deficient fast food, he says their life expectancy can be "cut by 10 years." So he and his company decided it was high time to step in and help out.

The grocery chain will be opening stores in select food deserts, starting in Detroit, which Robb cedes is “an unlikely place for Whole Foods.”

Starbucks' Schultz, for his part, argued that, in order to succeed, retailers must be “as relevant outside of the four walls of our store as we are inside.” And that means responding and adapting to consumer behaviour, including their interest in mobile.

Videos of the conference sessions at the NRF's convention can be found here.

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