At the NRF BIG Show, I had the opportunity to sit down with Chuck Albrecht, President and COO, Northern Tool and Equipment Company to ask him the best advice he’s ever been given (more on that later), his thoughts on the craziest innovations he saw at the show, and Northern Tool’s plans for the future.
“We’re currently exploring a new POS [point of sale] system for our retail stores,” said Chuck. “We have catalogs, e-commerce and retail stores that are on different platforms. Our customers can order online and take delivery at the store, or order at the store and take delivery at home, and so on, but our systems don’t talk to each other, so it’s not easy for the customer to a product in-store that they ordered online.”
“A new POS system would also help us do better tracking on our coupons and direct mail pieces being redeemed in-store. Our current system doesn’t do that, and we need that information to determine what’s working, and what’s not with our marketing.”
Northern Tool prides itself on offering customers an “endless aisle,” meaning that if the product isn’t in the store, it can be ordered in-store and delivered directly from the vendor or the warehouse. But Chuck wants to follow the Apple model: “If we gave our associates iPads, we could take the customer’s credit card, swipe it right on the iPad, e-mail the receipt to the customer and the transaction is done.”
The advantages? “Then there’s no danger of that customer walking out of the store, customers don’t have to stand in line, we capture their e-mail addresses -- and we could get rid of our cash registers, freeing up 1500 sq. feet per store for merchandise,” says Chuck.
“The biggest challenge retailers are facing is speed of information -- to the stores, to the customers – to make sure that you’re keeping up with what’s happening in real-time,” says Chuck. “The more data you have at your fingertips, the better you’re able to take care of your customers.” Chuck also pointed out the dangers of getting too carried away with technology trends: “Retailers need to be careful to know their customers and interact with them the way that is most comfortable for them. For example, our demographic is a 44-year old male, blue collar, and they might not be comfortable if we required them to use self-service in-store kiosks to place orders. So you need to know the wants and needs of your customers, and you need analytics to look at your customer information and predict what that individual customer needs.”
When asked about the most interesting new technology he’s seen, Chuck shared the example of POS innovations in South Korea: “In the subways in South Korea, they have a virtual grocery store where commuters who don’t have time to grocery shop can scan QR phones on their phones to order products and have them delivered to their homes. The line between fantasy and reality is getting closer and closer – pretty amazing stuff.”
And it’s a perfect example of what can happen when you follow the best piece of advice Chuck said his boss ever gave him: “Don’t be afraid to dream big.”