There’s an old adage in tennis: to improve, play with those who are better than you. The same principle holds true in the supermarket business. Learn from those who are a few steps ahead on the career ladder or those who have excelled in specific areas.
We serve up some insights from three accomplished grocery executives made the cut for this year’s Progressive Grocer‘s Top Women in Grocery list. Implement them to improve your game.
- Susan Morris, EVP and Chief Operations Officer, Albertsons Companies.
- Jacqueline Ross, VP Innovation, Ahold Delhaize
- Amy Simeri McClellan, SVP Martin’s Super Markets | SpartanNash
All three offered valuable insight on what it takes to succeed in the industry, regardless of gender.
Here are our favorite takeaways from our interviews with them, on subjects ranging from the future of food retail, the role supermarket technology will play, and why it’s vital for women to have a seat at the table.
Stretch beyond your comfort zone.
Morris suggests being bold in asking for what you want: “You just might get it,” she said. She also notes that there’s nothing wrong with being uncomfortable. “Don’t be afraid to take risks.”
Speaking of risks, Ross said she tries to avoid saying no. “I’ve taken every opportunity I’ve been offered,” she said. “Take it as an opportunity to learn.”
Invest in mentors and peers.
Relationships are paramount, both in moving up the ladder and in extending a hand to those a few rungs behind.
Ross admits she wouldn’t be where she is without “having mentors and peers along the way. They are still in my network.” She refers to them as her own personal executive board. “It’s a group of individuals, and they change as boards and companies do, but having those people around me is really important. To have someone that can be your devil’s advocate. Somebody who can be your nurturer. Someone who is going to be your supporter. Someone who will be your challenger. Know who those people are and leverage that.”
McClellan sees the same value—and recognizes that others truly do want to help “more than we realize.”
Sharing the spotlight—and making sure that others are valued—is as important as learning from mentors, Morris said. “When someone raises that hand, we need to be ready to take their hand, pull them up and help them achieve their goals. If somebody is asking to do more and they’ve got talent and drive and passion, we have to be right there to pull them up.”
Use disadvantages to a benefit.
While men are shopping for their families more, women still make up the majority of a supermarket’s customer base. Yet the majority of the industry leadership is male.
That can create a “dichotomy when customer experiences don’t align with life experiences,” Morris said.
That creates opportunities for female decision-makers, McClellan said. “We think about things from the consumer’s point of view. Because we’re living it every day in the stores shopping for ourselves or our families.”
Enjoy a well-rounded career.
Understanding the complexity of today’s supermarket can create opportunities to expand. Ross notes the many facets of a grocer: products, locations, and methods of delivery. “I don’t think you would ever be bored because there’s always something else. There are other areas to expand your knowledge or your working experience.”
Sometimes that means showcasing industry careers to others who may not understand how dynamic the work can be, Morris said. “It doesn’t seem sexy to bag groceries. The challenge is helping people understand the fun and diverse environment that we have in terms of the different opportunities that are available.”
Capitalize on supermarket technology.
Supermarket technology is changing every facet of today’s store operations. Ross notes how supply chain optimization is bringing “products to the store faster and more efficiently. Technology is critical in all different areas: not just in communication with the consumer, but also with suppliers and vendors.”
Technology’s greatest role is in helping “us understand the decisions we’re making,” McClellan said. “How effective are they? And let’s back that up with data before we make another decision.”
Morris sees a role for continued innovation by using the latest technology to “get out there in front of our customers and meet them and serve them in a way that they want to be met and served.”
Look for supermarket technology that aligns with corporate goals and consumer demands.
Ross said she is “constantly” looking for technologies that allow manufacturers to make products healthier.
But technology for technology’s sake is money wasted. “You can go fully tech, but if you can’t bring your consumers with you, if it’s too complex or doesn’t make their life easier, than it’s not a good use of technology,” Ross said.
Customers ultimately may not see the technology investments—even though they feel the downstream impact of greater efficiencies and insight. “We’ve got bots that can now build a pallet in minutes,” Morris said. “That’s creating a lot of efficiencies, reducing risks of accidents, taking up less space. There are so many efficiencies that come from that one thing. Same thing applies to our manufacturing plants. Every day we’re working on becoming more automated and using technology to make our plants safer, more efficient, and to help us reduce waste.”
Know your customers—and talk to them like you do.
Personalization is important, McClellan said, in ensuring that you’re delivering “the right messages to the right people.” Technology can play a role in ensuring that message gets there—but not on its own. The human touch and the regular interaction set groceries apart from other types of retail.
“The personal experience you get in a grocery store still matters to people,” McClellan said. “And especially for grocers that are doing that well. That can be a huge advantage.
“Blending the art of people who know this industry and understand consumer behavior and interactions, and then the science that technology can bring with data is ultimately a great combination for success,” McClellan said. “Technology is certainly not going away. It’s all about how you use it.”
These women are at the top of their careers, but they’re not focused on looking back. Instead, they are exploring what the future holds and how supermarket technology can deliver a competitive advantage.
“Technology… will multiply exponentially when you consider the impact on grocery and retail,” Morris said. “There’s something about our brick-and-mortar stores and the way that they build community connections that I think will lead to a new way to thrive.”
Embracing that technology is also what will keep these women—and their companies—ahead of the pack. “Technology is never going to stop,” McClellan said. “If we don’t keep up and innovate, then somebody will certainly pass us by. Effective use of resources and effective use of technology is ultimately what’s going to keep the successful companies moving ahead.”
Check out CB4’s full report to read more from these inspiring leaders. Then, learn how CB4’s proprietary machine learning algorithms and supermarket technology app helps grocers including Heinen’s, Associated Food Stores, and Best Market rise to the increasingly complex demands of shoppers at each store in their chain.