PROFILE

Steve Dennis

President, Sageberry Consulting/Senior Forbes Contributor

Steve Dennis is a strategic growth advisor, international keynote speaker and writer on retail innovation and the future of shopping. He was recently named a top 5 global retail influencer by two leading organizations and is a Forbes senior contributor.

His first book — “Remarkable Retail: How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Amazon & Digital Disruption” —will be published in April 2020.

During a more than 30 year career as a senior executive at two Fortune 500 retailers and as a strategy consultant, Steve has worked with dozens of retail, luxury and social impact brands to inspire, catalyze and design their journey from boring to remarkable.

Steve has delivered keynote talks and led growth & innovation workshops on six continents. His industry and consumer insights are regularly featured in the media including Bloomberg/Business Week, CNBC, CNN, Fortune, the Harvard Business Review, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, among many others.

Steve is the President of SageBerry Consulting. Prior to founding SageBerry, Steve was the chief strategy officer and SVP, multichannel marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group. Earlier in his career he held senior leadership roles at Sears, including VP, multichannel integration and VP/General Manager of a $600MM operating division. He also serves on several advisory boards.

Steve is the President of SageBerry Consulting. Prior to founding SageBerry, Steve was the chief strategy officer and SVP, multichannel marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group. Earlier in his career he held senior leadership roles at Sears, including VP, multichannel integration and VP/General Manager of a $600MM operating division. He also serves on several advisory boards.

Steve received his MBA from Harvard and a BA from Tufts University.

Steve Dennis is a strategic advisor, keynote speaker and writer on retail innovation and the future of shopping. He has been named a top global retail influencer by multiple organizations and is a Forbes Senior Contributor. His best-selling book--"Remarkable Retail: How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption"--is available at all major book retailers. He also hosts the Remarkable Retail podcast. During a more than 30 year career as a senior executive at two Fortune 500 retailers and as a strategy consultant, Steve has worked with dozens of retail, luxury and social impact brands to inspire, catalyze and design their journey from boring to remarkable. Steve has delivered keynote talks and led growth & innovation workshops on six continents. His industry and consumer insights are regularly featured in the media including Bloomberg/Business Week, CNBC, CNN, Fortune, the Harvard Business Review, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, among many others. Steve is the President of SageBerry Consulting. Prior to founding SageBerry, Steve was the chief strategy officer and SVP, multichannel marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group. Steve received his MBA from Harvard and a BA from Tufts University.
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  • Posted on: 08/04/2022

    New stores are opening in malls, inflation or no

    At the center piece of my book ("Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption") is the observation that the middle of the market is collapsing and most of the non-top tier malls are either doomed or need to be massively repurposed. This is driven by "the great bifurcation" which has seen store growth at either end of the value spectrum. Most of the value concepts that are responsible for the bulk of the store openings don't open in malls. The high end will prove resilient, but aren't opening many stores. The significant unit growth on the part of DNVBs is very likely to stall. J.C. Penney (as well as Macy's) is very likely to close many stores in the next two years. Bottom line, the top 100 malls will likely sustain high occupancy. Occupancy everywhere else will decline, in some cases precipitously.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2022

    The Nordstrom tire return story is true

    People often buy the story before they buy the product. Or, as Seth Godin reminds us, "people like us, do things like this." Storytelling about brand promises is often what takes a retail relationship from transactional to emotional. Though it's always nice if the story is true.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2022

    Should Amazon ax its private labels to appease regulators?

    No. Fundamentally Amazon is not doing anything different than pretty much all its major competitors are doing. Private labels/brands are inherently part of the retail playbook and can deliver real customer value. But Amazon should do two things. One, it should do a much better job demonstrating to consumers, regulators and suppliers alike that is has processes in place to avoid any potential major conflicts of interests. Gaining more trust through transparency and guardrails is the goal here. Two, if Amazon retail is to be more than a loss leader for its advertising business, the company needs to get better at merchandising. The Bezos era was characterized by too much throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, and that's created some real challenges. A more focused and thoughtful "owned brand" assortment strategy is what is needed, which will necessarily result in some pruning--and may cool the jets of regulators.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2022

    What are retailers finding so tough about customer acquisition?

    This is probably going to seem obvious coming from me. The only answer is to be remarkable: to do something highly customer-relevant, truly unique and memorable that customers are willing to talk about. In a world of abundance and distraction if you aren't remarkable you're almost certain to be ignored. If you can't break through the noise in the first place you have no chance of meaningful engagement. Too much of today's marketing relies on interruption or bribery, which is expensive and typically doesn't actually create loyalty and remarkability. Plus the marketing toll-booth operators (Meta, Google, TikTok et al.) hold most of the cards. Good luck gaming that system.
  • Posted on: 06/09/2022

    Is Franchise Group’s plan for Kohl’s a retail disaster in the making?

    There is no point in an acquisition unless it adds value in the areas where Kohl's either fundamentally falls short or needs improvement to be truly remarkable. I don't see anything meaningful that Franchise Group brings to the table. Moreover, Kohl's is a great example of what I call the boring, unremarkable middle and there is every reason to believe that without radical change they will continue to lose market share. Adding more leverage to this scenario IS a recipe for disaster. The only merger partner that makes any sense that I can see is Amazon, as I discuss in a recent Forbes piece. But as I point out, this is far from a slam dunk. Sadly, I expect this to end badly for all involved.
  • Posted on: 04/26/2022

    Are JCPenney’s owners a good fit to take over Kohl’s?

    They would be better owners than most, if not all, private equity firms or hedge funds. But that's the wrong question. The right question is whether they bring the skills to address the challenges that have caused Kohl's to stagnate and JCPenney to tank. The answer to that is no -- or at least there is little evidence of that. Both brands have a remarkability problem, that is they are not sufficiently differentiated or customer relevant. Merging a retailer that is slightly better than mediocre with a terrible one might bring some economies of scale and scope but does precisely nothing to deal with the core issues.
  • Posted on: 03/24/2022

    Has Warby Parker reinvented its business model?

    I'm pretty skeptical that their stores are currently paying back in 20 months. I think their first tranche of stores may have achieved this, but their results during the past year seem so suggest many of their comping stores are a drag on profits. Either that or their marketing spending is totally out of control. Maybe both.
  • Posted on: 03/24/2022

    Has Warby Parker reinvented its business model?

    In theory, but their recent results don't suggest their store strategy is working at the scale they need.
  • Posted on: 03/24/2022

    Has Warby Parker reinvented its business model?

    Warby Parker has distinguished itself among the DNVB's in many respects (and I am a loyal customer). And it has always been obvious that most of these brands would needs stores, as I have been writing about for years. But as I wrote about in Forbes last week, their slowing sales growth and expanding losses suggest a few things, particularly since COVID created great tailwinds for these disruptors. First, their total addressable market may not be nearly as big as once imagined. Second, the LTV of the customers they've been adding needs to be seriously questioned. Third, we have to wonder whether the stores they've been opening most recently are contributing. Bottom line, their flow-through economics should be much better at this point. They have a lot of work to do to claim they are some how reinvented.
  • Posted on: 03/14/2022

    Lululemon joins the footwear race with new running shoes

    I see this as a logical evolution for the brand, but ultimately not one that will move the dial all that much. With a brand story as powerful as Lululemon's, they should avail themselves of all the reasonable opportunities to address a greater share of spend in adjacent categories. But two issues are paramount. First, this category is incredibly crowded with not only powerful, established brands (Nike, et al) but increasingly strong disruptors (like On, et al). Getting to meaningful, profitable scale is no small task. Second, the go-to-market strategy is made more complicated given that footwear is notoriously an inventory hog, owing to all the sizes, colors, etc. Being asset light in their brick-and-mortar locations can mitigate this, but in a category where fit is essential it could end up back firing.
  • Posted on: 03/03/2022

    Amazon is closing all its Books, 4-Star and pop-up stores

    Yes, but not because they represent a meaningful distraction or competition for resources. Amazon 4-star was wholly unremarkable and Amazon Books never got any meaningful traction. Sharpening the innovation habit and supporting a culture of experimentation means that failure is, in fact, an option. The Fire Phone could be seen as a failure, but Amazon gleaned many important learnings that led to Alexa and other more valuable initiatives. I hope Amazon has learned what made these niche concepts boring and uninspiring and applies them as they focus on concepts with far great value potential.
  • Posted on: 02/23/2022

    Has Macy’s become a different and better retailer?

    Better is not the same as good. And it certainly isn't the same as being remarkable. Moderate department stores have been losing relative market share for more than 20 years and while Macy's has done slightly better than average during that time it is largely because its most direct competition on the mall (Sears and Penney's) have closed more than 1,000 stores. The bounce in sales and margin is mostly about pandemic induced effects that will soon dissipate. Nothing has fundamentally changed in the sector or in Macy's strategy that suggests a reversal in long-term fortunes. A slightly better version of mediocre is not a winning strategy.
  • Posted on: 02/16/2022

    Has a new, hybrid shopper emerged out of the pandemic?

    The hybrid shopper has existed for a long time and has been steadily growing. I have written and spoken about this for many years now. And the retailers that embraced the blur of modern retail have done far better than those that haven't. The pandemic absolutely accelerated this phenomenon, but the real lesson for retailers is the need to pay closer attention to evolving customer behavior and be proactive, not react when it becomes painfully obvious and you find yourself playing catch-up.
  • Posted on: 01/20/2022

    NRF 2022: Nordstrom finds freedom in alternative wholesale pacts

    When consumers can get just about anything they want from just about anywhere they want just about anytime they want, it is paramount for multi-line retailers to offer products with exclusive (or near exclusive) products. Done with care, these partnerships can be a definite win/win. The retailer has another hook to win, grow and keep customers. The DTC brand gets greater awareness and the opportunity to acquire customers inexpensively.
  • Posted on: 01/19/2022

    Are retailers’ returns concerns coming to a holiday head?

    Returns and product exchanges have been a costly problem forever, but three things have raised the criticality of taming this beast. First, online return rates are generally in the 20 percent to 40 percent range, while in-store rates are typically well under 10 percent. As online sales penetration goes up, the overall profit hit to a retailer's P&L increases. Second, while some progress has been made at addressing some of the root causes of returns, the widespread adoption of free returns & exchanges over the years provides an on-going headwind, leading to the common practice of "bracketing," where the customer buys, say, three of the same item in different sizes, with plans to return the two that don't fit. Third, with escalating fulfillment costs (largely owing to postage costs but more recently escalating labor rates), the cost per return is steadily increasing. All this back and forth shipping and the associated packaging materials is also terrible for the environment. Retailers can continue to deploy new technologies aimed at root causes like helping the customer buy the right item and more intelligent handling of reverse flow logistics. But until the cost of wasteful spending is put back upon the consumer I'm not that optimistic about major progress.

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