I recently had the fortune of speaking with John Lucot, Former President and COO, Giant Eagle, who will present at the Xcelerate Retail Forum in Las Vegas.
Your bio mentions your passion for creating a “safety culture”; building customer-centric, high performing organizations; improving processes; developing employees and enhancing their performance through mentoring, and serving as a trusted advisor. Tell us a bit about that?
When we were setting direction for the company and the four constituents, we had, in this order: our team members, our customers, our communities and our shareholders. We believed that our people had to come first and we had to do the right thing every day in support of their efforts so that they could then be in a position of strength to delight our customers. We worked diligently on that. In addition, I always viewed my job as making certain that our organization was attracting and developing talent.
Related to talent, I had a Servant Leadership attitude, and I don’t think most people understand what that is, but it’s really a bond between a leader and others that says, “I am going to do my best to support you, develop you, give you the tools that you need to develop your own skills.” Most people really don’t recognize that it’s an agreement to say, “I’m going to give you very direct, respectful and honest feedback, and I’m going to do it on a very timely basis.” That’s very uncomfortable for most people; they like to rush through a once-a-year performance review. That doesn’t work.
Consistency is the other thing. Over the years, I’ve seen the Jekyll and Hyde personalities. You’ve got to walk the talk. You just can’t say things for the convenience of the moment, and not have the courage and the conviction to stand behind them. The only way to build trust is through honest, direct, consistent communication and action.
You’ve obviously seen a lot in your four decades plus in retail grocery. What’s the most surprising change for you over that time and why?
There are several things. First, it’s how the format of the supermarket, both in size and scope, has changed. Stores used to be very small, didn’t have a great assortment or variety of products. In the ‘80s, supermarkets began to develop destination stores that, essentially, collapsed the community strip mall under one roof – the florist, druggist, butcher, banker, all together. The store began to center around fresh meals and meal solutions.
Then there’s technology. In the ‘70s, electronic scanning on the front end came on scene and what followed was the removal of a series of non-value added costs in getting product from the back room to the shelf and then, ultimately, through the cash register. That was a big change in the business.
Then in the ‘80s, capturing and starting to understand data was a powerful asset to build loyalty and volume. Using that data, many supermarket operators launched their own proprietary customer card and it gave us significant leverage to interact with customers and households. Our data was a major tipping point for the industry and the ability to connect customers.
What’s your vision of the future?
When I think about the customer, I think that’s where the challenge is and always will be. Is there such a thing as “the customer”? The post-work shopper on Monday evening isn’t the same meandering shopper on a Saturday morning – it’s two different emotional states. In effect: two customers, two opportunities. That’s a challenge.
Then there’s data. There will be some players that are just about discounts and price. They may be the only ones who can survive with little data. But for the rest, their offerings involve service and other value-adds, they’re going to need data to survive and win. They must have sophisticated analytics and turn that into something compelling for the customer.
In addition, retailers are going to have to adapt and innovate around formats, around assortment. It’s all about adding categories. For example, I think there’s a whole health and wellness play within fresh that retail can own. Bottom line, I think it’s about innovation, around what’s really relevant to the customer in their everyday lives.
Finally, of course, there’s Amazon / Whole Foods and Walmart / Jet.com. That’s going to get extremely competitive. Many supermarkets could become collateral damage if they don’t figure out their own e-commerce approach; click-and-collect, home delivery. It’s key to figure out how they’ll fight back against this major force in the market.
That’s interesting. I never considered that we’re all different shoppers depending on when we go, mood, time we have etc. Monday eve vs. Saturday morning.
Yes, and having the data and technology to know that you’re in the store on a Monday night and your propensities enables us to market directly to you in that emotional state. Then on Saturday, when you’re doing a big shop, we can give you your own personal pricing and promotions. That’s really critical. That’s what Amazon and others are doing. Again, if you don’t have that technological connection, you don’t have that data, you’re really at a disadvantage.
Can you give attendees a sneak peek of a couple of the themes of your presentation?
I’m going to focus on what success looks like for supermarkets over the next three years. We’re going to talk a little bit about changing consumer behaviors and customer intimacy as well as a customer-centric approach.
John resides in Upper St. Clair, PA with his wife Teres and sons Andrew and Stephen.