UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Auction support for Noon Edition comes from: Smithville - fiber internet, streaming TV, home security and automation in southern Indiana - more information at Smithfield.com; and from the Herald Times featuring coverage of local news, entertainment and sports in print at HeraldTimesOnline.com and on your mobile device; and from the Bloomington Health Foundation partnering with local organizations and citizens to invest in programs that address our community's health needs. Bloomington Health Foundation - improving health and well-being takes a community. More at BloomHF.org.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: From the Melton Met studio in the radio TV building at Indiana University, welcome to Noon Edition. I'm Bob Zaltsberg from WFIU and WTIU along with Sara Wittmeyer, the news bureau chief of WFIU and WTIU. And this week we're talking about retail as the holiday season is sort of wrapping up. I guess we are, here on the 20th. So it's wrapping up the holiday shopping and how stores have adapted to the digital age. If you have a question or comment, you can call us on (812) 855-0811 or toll free at +1 (877) 285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at news@IndianaPublicMedia.rg and follow us on Twitter @noonedition. And if you do call us, you'll be talking with Sara and I and three guests. In the studio with us today is Jonlee Andrews who is a clinical professor of marketing at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, and Sandy Keller the executive director at My Sister's Closet, and joining us by phone from Fort Wayne is Daren Hull the chief customer officer for Vera Bradley. Well, thank you all for being here with us today. So I guess I wanted to sort of start by - let's just kind of hit the, I guess, the big overview picture. Jonlee, what's happening in the world of retail today? This - all the talk about everybody is going online, everybody is going online. Is that the big headline?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: I would say everyone is going online but not necessarily buying online. There's been huge, huge growth in online sales, but there are plenty of times when people just want to do with a treasure hunt or just want to get something quickly. So bricks and mortar is still there and strong, and, if we do things right, we'll continue for a long time.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Are there particular areas of the brick and mortar stores that are stronger or as strong today as they've always been?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Well, so you can talk about local retailers. You can talk about national retailers. In terms of local, if you're meaningfully unique and if you're - have good business practices and can get people's attention, you're going to do fine. The national ones have made a few mistakes over time. Forever 21, for instance, just bought too big of spaces filled with too much inventory, and you just can't sustain that. And there have been some mistakes along the way.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Well, let's - I want to turn to Daren Hull next who's the Chief Customer Officer for Vera Bradley, and most of you are familiar with Vera Bradley. It's one of Indiana's crown jewel companies based in Fort Wayne. What else can you tell us about Vera Bradley, Daren? Just your elevator speech.
>>DAREN HULL: I'd say it's a great story in entrepreneurship in Indiana. Founded by two friends while they were on a vacation and 500 bucks and a ping pong table, and it's grown into being a great business for Indiana. And if you have folks that get the Indiana University alumni magazine, Pat Miller, one of the founders, is featured in it in the winter edition, so you can read the full story. But really happy to represent business in Indiana, and it's an exciting time of year both in-store and online. And to Jonlee's point, on mobile as well.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. And I want to ask Sandy Keller to sort of introduce us to My Sister's Closet.
>>SANDY KELLER: All right. Well, My Sister's Closet is a nonprofit organization. We've been around since 1998. We've had over 2,400 women come through our organization. And one of the things that we're known for is to be able to move them forward using fashion. And that's a really important thing to build the confidence of a woman. Her outward appearance builds her self-confidence so that she's able to do things that she didn't think she was possibly able to do before. The majority of women that we serve are coming from extreme poverty. Many are homeless. Many have suffered things domestic violence or coming out of prison, that type of thing. So to get them into jobs that are sustainable jobs that are not lots of part-time temporary jobs at minimum wage, it's a really big push to make their family successful.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: I'm curious. How does a local nonprofit with a mission like My Sister's Closet work to differentiate yourselves from other retail stores to draw in business?
>>SANDY KELLER: Well, we're set up like a boutique which is very different from most thrift stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army, for example. We are set up so that when you walk in you can't tell that it's a nonprofit organization. So the women who actually donate there, shop there. And it is a reward for the women who are being sent to us from all these different agencies to come in there and get treated to this type of experience because it makes them feel like they are the same as everybody else going in for a job.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So I wanted to go back to Daren briefly. Daren, what kind of changes are you seeing, you know, in the landscape? And are you selling a higher percentage online than ever? Are you - do you still have strong presence in a lot of retail stores?
>>DAREN HULL: Yeah. We still have over 160 stores across the U.S. The closest to your listening area are Keystone mall in Indianapolis and Mall of St. Matthew's in Louisville. And really what we're seeing is it's about how the customer wants to shop and how they want to communicate, right? We are seeing a higher penetration moved online. We're also seeing people that are consuming media, interacting with us socially online. You know, the days of retail being about - you know, when I was a kid, I went to Marshall Field. I grew up in Chicago. And there was the day the window was open, and there was a lot of emotion around the season for holiday. And you did that in person. It was a lot of emotion, a lot of spirit, a lot of excitement. Now we have our Black Fridays and our Cyber Mondays. And, you know, that experience is very different for my daughter because we took a detour. You know, if you look in the retail industry and into this world of, you know, somewhat more homogeneous, big box, price-based selling. And now, you know, I think we see that pendulum coming back to who's, you know, who's able to differentiate themselves? Who's able to give you a personalized experience? And I think there are people who are doing that very well online, and we've certainly made our big efforts to provide that personalized service. But we still think there's a moment - something special about buying, you know, that gift for a teenager or a gift for your granddaughter or buying something for yourself that's really hard to replace in person. So we'll keep a balanced approach and let our customers lead us through where they want to transact, trying to make the best experience in every channel.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: I'm smiling because I remember as a kid going down to downtown Cincinnati where they set up elf workshops in the windows of Macy's, and it was such a big deal to go down. But that stuff really doesn't happen anymore. I'm curious, Jonlee, do the big box stores that have a website do as well as some online-only places, amazon aside?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: I think the new term, the latest term, is omnichannel. And the stores that are doing a good job of omnichannel where you've got a retail store, you've got a website and over time they've become almost interchangeable are the ones that are doing well, Nordstrom for instance. So you could order online, return to store, order online pickup at store. And I just saw a statistic for Wal-Mart. If you order online, pickup at the store, walk into the store, people tend to spend another $60 in the store. So really it's very beneficial.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: But do folks like Wal-Mart - can they compete against - I guess I will mention Amazon - against folks like Amazon? It seems like that would be somebody they would be in direct competition against.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Yeah. Amazon is a huge, huge competitor. The way that they are able to succeed, though, is through their Amazon Web Services which makes all the money and the retail part of it is really not making any money which means that...
>>SARA WITTMEYER: What does that mean exactly? I don't know the two different parts of it.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: It means that the retail part doesn't have to make money because the company is making money from the web services, the other part of the business. It's a service business for retailers...
>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: ...For companies.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Daren, it sounds like?
>>DAREN HULL: Yeah. Yeah, I was going to tag in on I think one of the things you're seeing is a separation of, you know, that relationship with the customer. So in the end, you know, my first job in retail was working in a pharmacy for a gentleman named Tony in downtown Chicago while Walgreens was coming in - right? - and his goal was to win by providing great services to his customers. And that was an exchange of value, right? So your loyalty in exchange for value, what are we giving you in personalized services? And you can peel Tony's model apart. You know, this was the early '80s in Chicago and he did same day delivery, right? He did - if you had a reoccurring medication, he kept index cards in his office so that he could do subscription services. We're just seeing that evolve over time. I think what you see is retailers that don't commit to that trust for customers, and don't commit to that loyalty, and don't create to that providing customer value are really struggling in this market. And that's because it's just so much easier for a customer, you know, to get upset and move somewhere else. It's easier to lose that trust, so I think companies like Vera Bradley that have always been about listening to the customers and trying to provide value and trying to earn a customer's loyalty, I think they're succeeding in this market as you move to omnichannel or unified commerce of people wanting to shop in different ways. I think people who have not fully committed - you know, you look at some of those big boxes, they were - that was a price sale. It was price-based selling. And I think that pendulum has swung back. So, you know, you mentioned Nordstrom. They've always been committed to the customer. You look at Vera Bradley, we've always been committed to the customer. And I think we're going to see, you know, the haves and the have nots continue to separate as time goes on.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Sandy, I think, you know, you can look at your organization, My Sister's Closet. You talk about being committed to the customer.
>>SANDY KELLER: (Laughter).
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I think that's kind of your number one goal, right?
>>SANDY KELLER: Yes, it is. Absolutely.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Can you talk a little bit about that? How do you build relationships?
>>SANDY KELLER: Well, women come from all over the county. And they're not only donating but they're shopping. And they're donating to help another woman succeed. And so they become part of the community solution to make that successful. But a woman that comes in that is shopping for herself, that is not one of our clients, for example, she is coming in possibly just to find a gift or to just have an experience. It's a place where she meets her friends and they hang out for hours. If she's looking for a job, she can ask us to help her with an image consultant, which is absolutely free. So about 35% of the women coming in are actually looking for professional clothing and 12 to 15% of them are asking for assistance. So it's really community wide. And then on days like this when you're coming in before the holidays, you're going to see cookies and coffee and, you know, you're going to have people running around in goofy hats and outfits. And they're happy that you're there. So we kind of celebrate the community every day that we're in there.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We're talking about changes in the retail world today on Noon Edition. If you have questions, give us a call at (812) 855-0811 in Bloomington or toll free at 1+ (877) 285-9348. You can also join the conversation by following us on Twitter @noonedition.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: And you just opened an online store.
>>SANDY KELLER: We did. We're very excited about it. It's an eBay store and the address is USR/MySister'sClosetMC.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK. Now how does that, you know, work along with in conjunction with your store?
>>SANDY KELLER: It's supposed to create another income stream so that we can keep our services in the community and so that we can pay for rent and brick and mortar expenses, salary. We are also in a situation where we may possibly lose our lease next October, so we're raising money for a relocation fund. And this is designed to help us do that.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: But your brick and mortar will always be really important or how do you think that might play out?
>>SANDY KELLER: It absolutely is because we - the women that are coming to us for assistance are coming to us on the bus line. They don't have these resources like computers or, you know, online access to be able to buy something. So we're actually taking them by the hand and walking them through.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK. We've got a question - are the eBay items - are those higher end items?
>>SANDY KELLER: Yes, they are.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK.
>>SANDY KELLER: Yes, they are. We are very blessed to have donations from people that are extremely generous and putting these items on the floor the average person wouldn't be able to purchase those. So putting them online creates a larger audience and allows us to fund our mission a little bit more.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So I want to talk a little bit about - just sort of go back a little bit. Our history, our combined history in this room - and Jonlee knows a lot about the history - but we're not that old. Mine is probably the oldest, and I grew up in a retail store family - retail family, big store on a downtown square. And I'm county seat town in Indiana. Then the malls came along and the mall sort of shut down the downtown stores. And now a lot of malls are suffering. So I guess I'd just want to go to the historical perspective of all this. So we, you know, are we always gonna be evolving in how people want to shop? Jonlee?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Sure. If you want to talk about theory, there's an old theory called the wheel of retailing. And, you know, you start out with mom and pop, and then it gets replaced by the supermarket, gets replaced by the department store, and things get bigger and bigger. And eventually it just comes right back down to the importance of mom and pop in your community, knowing what you want and giving, like Daren said, the service, the understanding of the consumer. And it's just always been evolving.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Daren, it seems like you're in a position to sort of see both sides of that because Vera Bradley is a very large company who tries to act a little bit like a mom and pop.
>>DAREN HULL: Yeah, and I think - well, I appreciate the comment. Yeah, I think that's what we're trying to do. But I want to come back to your downtown comment and malls. I think there is an important thread in there on the wheel of retail. I'll borrow that, Jonlee. I like that. Yeah, if you really think about where things used to be when I would go and I wanted to buy a suit when I was a kid, you'd go to a shopping district downtown. And there were areas and you selected from them. And you found what you wanted based on that service. Then it moved. You know, it did move to those big malls. And, again, more homogeneous, more price based. That was that a push in retail at the time. I think we've seen that pendulum really swing back. Like I mentioned before, if you look at - there are malls that are successful. And if you look at the malls that are successful, they're more lifestyle centers. But to me, that lifestyle center looks an awful lot like those downtown shopping strips from when we were younger. You know, it had the restaurants. It had - they have the entertainment. They have, you know, a place to shop with unique products and unique curation of products. And those are the people who are winning. So we've come all the way around on the wheel. Where I would say is the importance is the technologies that are available and the ability to personalize some of those messages and the fact that every single - not everyone - but most people are carrying a phone around in their pocket that's more powerful than a computer they had, you know, 10 years ago. Like, this allows you to try to give people that personalized experience, to give people a co-shopping experience, give people availability in their inventory, give people availability of choice and scale that personalized experience without getting bad. So we can give some of that - you know, we can give some of that price sensitivity and that inventory sensitivity but still give a great experience, still give you an experience for the family. So there are great malls that are doing it right. There are great stores that are doing it right. And for every Amazon that's out there and every Wal-Mart that's out there - and I worked at Amazon. If I need something in two days, they're great at it. If I need something on the way home, Wal-Mart's great at it. But if I'm going to find something with a great customer experience - you know, you can buy Vera Bradley at the Paper Store, Occasionally Yours, or Hallmark or Gracie Lane shops. Like, these are people who are in the neighborhoods, in the community, still giving a great message. So I think those messages are fewer and far between, but the people who are succeeding again are using technology to scale up and scale those experiences for their customers and get bigger without getting bad.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Jonlee, can you address that?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: I completely agree with everything Daren said. I think customer experience is everything. Personalization - if you think about the online retailers like Stitch Fix or Sephora is bricks and mortar online, very much personalized to the individual. And, you know, that can be done on the index card like Tony used to keep in his, you know, in his store. Or it can be done with big data. And that's definitely the wave of the future. And there's all kinds of amazing technology going on out there.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: This sort of fits into it. Marty Speckler (ph) called in and he was talking about the Barnes and Noble location here that recently closed in Bloomington. I know you just did a story about it, Bob.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Mmm hmm.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: He's saying he misses the store and says it was a store that was about more than just books and calendars. There was also coffee. It was a place to take the kids and he really misses Like it's - but I guess...
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Can I just say that we did a story on this because of Rick Morgenstern who ran a bookstore in Bloomington called Morgenstern's. Barnes and Noble moved on one side of him. Borders moved on the other side of him. Morgenstern's went out of business. So now Rick is back saying, can we recreate that kind of experience in a locally-owned store?
>>SARA WITTMEYER: It's exactly what you're talking about Jonlee.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: It is.
>>DAREN HULL: I wanted to tag on. I would highlight something Jonlee said about particularly Sephora. You know, if you think of malls back in the '80s, like they were inherently social events, right? The kids went to the mall, met at the mall. They did things at the mall. I think people yearn, and I think especially more so in an age where you communicate over your phone, you communicate over text message and (unintelligible) things like that, they yearn for that human connection. And what Sephora has done - a very good job. When Jonlee mentioned that - is that they blend iPads for doing education about how to use their products - you know, seminars led by famous makeup professionals. So they're able to build that community and that group that gets together and make that event social. And I think we're going to see that come back more and more. You know, that relevance, and I think that's why, you know, Sandy has a great message. What she's doing, you know, is very relevant to the customer that comes in, and using all different ways whether it's online or in store to make sure that she can service as many people as possible.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Right. And really when it comes right down to it, you're talking about building networks. There is a lot of isolation in our society right now and that's not really necessarily a healthy thing. If we create retail oases, so to speak, where people know that when they come in they're going to find the things that they're accustomed to but they're also going to find friends that are going to find people that recognize them, then there's some power to that.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. You're listening to Noon Edition. We're talking about retailing as we head into the end of the really strong retail season, the holiday season. We have three guests with us: Jonlee Andrews, clinical professor of marketing at IU's Kelley School of Business; Sandy Keller, executive director of My Sister's Closet; and Daren Hull, the chief customer officer for Vera Bradley. We'll be right back.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome back to Noon Edition. I'm Bob Zaltsberg along with Sara Wittmire. And we're talking with Jonlee Andrews from Marketing at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, Sandy Keller from My Sister's Closet, and Daren Hull from Vera Bradley today on a show that we have dedicated to retailing. If you have questions or comments, give us a call at (812) 855-0811 or toll free at +1 (877) 285-9348. And also you can follow us on Twitter at @noonedition. So I wanted to just ask - you know, we've talked a lot about experience. I love a good shopping experience. Well, everybody in the room here today does. But there are people out there that just say, hey, I just want to get in. I want to find a shirt that's stacked up on a shelf for 9.99 And it's all look clean, all look good. And I just want to leave. So, you know, where does this price sensitivity fit in with the need for an experience? How do you balance those? Jonlee?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: So I think the way to look at it is the world is made up of segments, and some people hate to shop, hate to go to a store. And they're gonna be the online customers no matter what, no matter how. And you've got people who are all about price. And if they can get it online for better, that's great. And if they can get it in the store for better, that's great. And then you've got people who love the treasure hunt. You've got people who like the social aspect, and they're just different groups of people.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Mmm hmm. Daren, how does Vera Bradley try to address all groups of people? Uh oh.
>>DAREN HULL: (Inaudible) talk about Vera Bradley is one of those brands that, you know, we're multigenerational. And we appeal to, you know, everywhere from somebody who's 8 to 80. And that's built through - Jonlee, I'll try to use your concept of networks - there are networks of people. So, you know, to the point of price sensitivity, you know, if we're in this holiday season, there are two types of holiday shoppers. There are those who are super organized and they get it done, you know, before Halloween even. And there's a group of people - and I fall into the second group of people - who, you know, I do it last minute. So if my family's listening, of course, I've already bought your Christmas present. But, you know, and so different needs at different times. What I would say is price is always going to be a sensitivity. And, you know, not everybody has millions of dollars in the bank. And what they're trying to do is get the best value at the best price so that they can give the best meaning to somebody. But on the flip side, I would look at no different than, you know, organic food movements in grocery stores or things like that. There's some wonderful things that are coming from that network, too. So we have a product we're launching in January. You know, Jonlee mentioned relevance and Sandy mentioned relevance to customers. You know, we're launching reactive products. That's our first big step into sustainability. You know, you have 91% of plastic is never recycled, right? And while our steps are small, it's not perfect, but it's progress. And we aim to take millions of plastic bottles that are recycled and turn them, you know, we can turn 45 recycled plastic bottles into a backpack. If I was just trying to sell that as price sensitivity, if I was just trying to sell that for somebody to, you know, get a quick cheap item, you know, that wouldn't work. But the Internet, the social media, the networks that we can create can allow us to do that at scale and make, you know, that small change, make a meaningful difference. And I want to say, you know, there are good things to what have happened. You know, my dad, who passed away a couple of years ago, he had a great way of saying nostalgia is remembering that things were better than they really were. You know, things have changed, but it's awfully nice to get stuff that shows up at your door in a day or be able to order something and pick it up on the way. But I just want us to keep our eye on those experiences where we're able to bring more sustainable products or these items start out at niche but they become big movements in the industry. And that's pretty amazing to watch the technology and the networks drive that as well.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: I really congratulate you on trying to reduce the carbon footprint through fashion. Fashion carbon footprint is tremendous. And, you know, we think - you know, we hear about the 5,000 gallons that went into making a shirt and a pair of jeans, but we often don't think about the toxic dyes and the waste products and all the different things that happen, like the cargo ships. There's 9,000 floating cargo ships in the world that take things from one country to another. And they use this low-end fuel. And this fuel is a thousand times dirtier than, you know, highway diesel fuel used in the trucking industry. So we have to be conscientious that this is our only planet that we've got. I really like the footprint of being able to resale which is what My Sister's Closet does because of that. Because our idea is that you have, you know, not only a first use but you have a second, third, fourth and fifth use if you tear something apart and use the textiles of (unintelligible) that item is to become something else. And it's really - I think the more we teach that, the more we teach people to shop locally if possible, that we try to educate everybody to be more conscientious of that. We actually teach that at My Sister's Closet. It's called the green side of pink.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: I was curious. Is it something your customers are talking about?
>>SANDY KELLER: Absolutely.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: Really?
>>SANDY KELLER: Yeah. There's a lot of people that come and shop in secondhand stores for the reason that they don't want to expend more resources, you know, on the planet. So they want to be able to buy something that has already been made and turn it into something else.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: How much of a factor do you see that playing in retail? Is it really changing things?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Pretty big. My students, for instance, love Rothy's shoes made out of plastic bottles. But I read something that resale is expected to double in the next five years. It's a huge, huge trend. And a lot of it is tied to sustainability.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So Daren, yeah, I just want to get your take on that.
>>DAREN HULL: Yeah, I think we're seeing a big change. You know, earlier in the conversation it was brought up, Forever 21. I think there are different trends you see in retail. And I think one that you're seeing now that's led by - you know, led by Gen Z and led by some people who have looked at that kind of faster fashion piece of the business and said, listen, like there's consequences to living like that. And, you know, do I need 15 pairs of shoes? Do I need, you know, a 22nd T-shirt? And they're coming out and saying there are things and products that we want to stand for. And I think that's important especially for us in a brand where we're making investment pieces. You know, you're talking about backpacks and handbags. Like, these are things that you buy and you're expecting value. You're expecting a long life out of it. And we're proud that we can provide quality, but what we're trying to do is say, hey, as one of the biggest handbag and accessory companies in the country, can we lead out there and say, you know, what seems like a small change, we can take millions of plastic models out of the environment. And can we solve - you know, can we solve the fuel problems? No. But I think we can help add momentum to that network. And I think that idea of stores standing for something, stores meaning something, when we go out and do blessings in a backpack during our back to school initiative which is a program - a great organization that helps provide food for students that are on those weekly lunch support - (unintelligible) get over the weekend. Our customers get involved, and they help us raise money together. And that's amazing to see that get into the communities, into the environment and make a difference. People like Patagonia have done great jobs and had a great press release last week about raising, I think, $10 million for local charities. I think making a difference in your community, that being on the retail wheel and coming full circle is really important. I think it's being led by, you know, the students in the next generation who are demanding more from their retailers. And I think that's really important. That's part of America and part of the voice that the consumer has with their dollars. And I think that's great.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: Sandy, I'd like you to talk a little about this ethics part of fashion and consumerism. But also can you fast fashion? That's a term that I had not even heard before we were prepping for this show. Can you explain what that is for us?
>>SANDY KELLER: Oh, fast fashion is actually something that was brought on by H&M. They are a Swiss company, and they had the idea that they would take things coming off the runway and instead of taking traditional orders each season for thousands of pieces of something and taking a bargain, a bet on it, that it would sell, they'd take a month's supply of something and say let's see how that goes. If it sells out, we'll buy more of them. But fast fashion is where you've obviously got 52 weeks in the year, you're literally putting out new looks every single week. And because fashion and shopping has kind of become a way of life, it's literally a passion that's become an addiction for some people. You do have people out there who can help you with a shopping addiction now because people will go through their life savings and spend all their money. So we have to bring in some reins with who we are and what we value and move people back to the basics of what's more important.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK. And can you talk a little bit about ethics? You know, Darren was talking about Patagonia. I know they donated a lot of money to the environment. It does seem like we're way more aware of the ownership of companies.
>>SANDY KELLER: Absolutely. Well, within our own community we have a program called Backpack Buddies through the community kitchen. And it is absolutely, you know, something that is - that shoppers and, you know, residents around our community help support. They put food in those backpacks and send them home with kids so that their families can eat during the week and on the weekends. But we - you know, what we are doing with, you know, our clothing and our throwaway items, we think that if we just take something to Goodwill or to another place it's not going to end up in the landfill. Maybe it's going to end up in a third world country where it's going to actually be burned. You know, we really need to be thinking about how the end item ends up. Does it end up ultimately getting burned at the top of a landfill? Is it at the bottom of the ocean floor? We have to decide how much we actually need. Our wants are different than what we need. Wouldn't you agree, Jonlee?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Absolutely. I will probably get this wrong but it may be H&M. One of the Scandinavian countries has burned all the excess inventory for fuel for heating because there's so much fabric out there, literally fabric just made into clothes or not.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: So I've heard some crazy statistics this week about holiday returns and how much of it ends up in a landfill. Is that primarily fashion that we're talking about? Or is that just unwanted trinkets and things that people just get so that they have a gift for someone under the tree?
>>SANDY KELLER: Well, I mean, there's all kinds of things that end up in the landfill. Diapers are one of the largest.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: Sure, sure.
>>SANDY KELLER: You know, and, I mean, it's the amount of things that we're buying. There are different ways to do the things that we do every day. You can have diapers like my mother had when I was a kid. She actually washed them in our washing machine, and it was good for the environment. So we - you know, when we're talking about what we are buying, we might think about what, well, buying it, who else can use it or how else can I use it if I don't need it anymore?
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Mmm hmm. All right. If you have a question or a comment, (812) 855-0811 in Bloomington or +1 (877) 285-9348 outside of the Bloomington area. You can also send us questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow us on Twitter at @noonedition. So, you know, related to this conversation we've been having, I want to ask Daren about - so, you know, Vera Bradley has a particular kind of look. I mean, if you - if people have ever bought Vera Bradley sort of can spot it from across the room. And even people that haven't probably recognize, hey, there's that company I've seen time and time again. How many products do you have out there? How many different things are you selling now? And how do you decide, you know, when you're going to try to create a new product? You just talked about these new backpacks that are going to be environmentally friendly. I mean, how often are you - how's that research and development I guess is?
>>DAREN HULL: Yeah, I mean, I'd start with an important thing. The brand has been around for 37 years. And it's been around for 37 years because it is one of those American iconic brands, and that's amazing. But we're definitely not just that cotton quilted bag that I think most people are introduced to inside of, you know, when they were in high school or when they were in grade school or college. A lot of the work that we've been focusing on is - one, how do we make things interesting, relevant? We've done a number of collaborations in the last year, you know, with Procter and Gamble, with Crocs, with Starbucks and things like that to try to get our patterns not just on the quilted bag but into other areas. And similar to what I've been talking about with reactive, you know, this is not your cotton quilted bag. This is where we're trying to make a difference and turn plastic bottles into great products for our customers. So Reacted is recycled active to help that move in a different direction. And that'll be available January 16th in our stores. So we've been going through and looking at, really, what is it our customers want? How ahead is our customer ball? No different than talking about where they - you know, where they want to shop. You know, retail is a moment in time. We need to continue to evolve. And, you know, we have everything from the classic, you know, iconic cotton quilted bag to we have a performance twill collection right now which is, you know, more water repellent and lighter weight and things that our customers are looking for that on-the-go. They want to - there used to be a you had a gym bag and you had the bag you took to work. Now you have the bag you take to work and you take to the gym. And those are the types of things we're really looking at what the customer is doing and how they're using our products. If you think about what backpacks look like, we talked about Marshall Field's windows, think about what a backpack looked like, you know, when you were a kid and had like one big giant pocket in the middle. And it had one big giant pocket on the front. Now Vera Bradley, I believe, we're the number three backpack seller in the United States. And we get there by having great functionality for holding your laptop, holding a change of clothes, holding your cosmetics, holding your water bottle. Like, all of that comes from really paying attention to what our customers want. No different than Reactive. Our customers want sustainability in the products and we're trying to make that step too. So a lot of this is just driven by understanding where we are at the cultural moment. What is it people want? Where do they want to invest their money and time? And what do they want out of that product? What's the value - and trying to help them get that.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Can I ask you a question?
>>DAREN HULL: Sure.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Because I think that while we were talking about carbon footprints I think there's a movement towards people wanting to get away from synthetic manmade fibers. Is Vera Bradley going to be using some of the new spider silk that's coming out on the market this year? I'd be lying to say that as Chief Customer Officer I work - we have an in-product development. We have a really incredible group of people who work on material development, and I'm happy to get you information after the phone call. But that's just me being honest and I'm not saying we're not doing it, I'm saying I'm not knowledgeable enough to answer it.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Just don't know, yeah.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: Yeah.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah, just don't know. Well, we appreciate that Daren.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: And I'm curious. This is a much shorter holiday shopping season. We almost lost a week because Thanksgiving was so late. I'm curious, Jonlee, how do you see that affecting overall sales?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: It looks like overall sales are up, but, you know, we may call it a shortened holiday shopping season. But retailers started so early this year, so much earlier than I think I've ever seen it. So for those who like to get their things done early, they might have been starting before Halloween.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: So do you think people really do, though? I mean, are they changing shoppers' behavior?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: That's a good question.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: In terms of - I mean, I remember seeing the sales and things online. But I don't know. It feels like it's supposed to start after Thanksgiving (laughter). I don't know.
>>DAREN HULL: Yeah.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: I suppose.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: (Laughter).
>>DAREN HULL: Yeah, I think you're just seeing right now you have that compression to that which was mentioned. There are six fewer days in the holiday. Very few people who don't work in retail planning what it feels like - looks like will probably notice that. The other thing you had was a shift of, you know, the main Christmas holiday landing on a Wednesday. So that makes this weekend's shopping - while it was really less in play last year. Last year was more of a travel holiday than it was a shopping holiday. I think you'll see a lot more shopping this weekend particularly with, you know, certainly through the Midwest. The weather is supposed to be nice. So it changes from year to year, and I think the most important thing, again, back to the customer is you have a couple groups of people. You have a group of people who are very organized and do it up front. And I was as shocked as everybody that, you know, we jump from Halloween into a holiday season of buying. And then there are the people who do it last minute. And I think that technology will kind of keep pushing those behaviors farther and farther apart.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: Well, then some of these days that we've come to identify as major shopping days, of course, Black Friday but then Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, are those even important anymore?
>>DAREN HULL: I will speak for us. I think Black Friday and Cyber Monday are big for our direct stores. And I think I mentioned before we - you know, Vera Bradley came up in the gifting channel which was, you know, at that time a cottage industry of thousands and thousands of small businesses around the country. And we're very proud that we still support our businesses on Small Business Saturday. I think I mentioned earlier we have the hallmarks and the paper stores, and those occasionally urge these people who are out there trying to make a difference. And I think different people shop in different ways. And it's important that you address all of them because if you really say you want to be - your customer is important, you have to meet them where they are. You can't just put a big beacon up and expect everybody is going to come follow you.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: I'm curious about Oprah used to have - it seemed like she would come out with our list of favorite things and it was so popular. And I saw she's doing it - I think it's on Amazon now, right? That she...
>>SANDY KELLER: It's in her magazine.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: It's in her magazine. I feel like I saw her on the Amazon website but maybe I'm wrong.
>>DAREN HULL: Yeah, we've done a number of - we've been on Oprah's favorite lists a number of times. And, you know, when we were part of it we definitely had product that was shipped to Amazon to fulfill.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: So does that - when you get those sort of celebrity endorsements, do you see a bump in sales?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Oh absolutely.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: Yeah?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Yeah.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: That's a big deal to get on her list or someone's list.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Or even, you know, these days with Instagram influencers just drive a lot of business.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So, yeah. I wanted to ask. I'm hesitant to bring this up but I'm going to. Politics - you know, we are in such a divisive world these days. Is this - these issues that we're seeing on the political landscape, are they having an impact in the retail world? And, you know, we did already talk about how, you know, sustainability - I mean, that's a much bigger issue than just going into what you're going to buy. I think, you know, I've always felt that people when they go out and buy something as a gift, in particular the holiday season, they should be thinking about, where am I spending my dollars? And what's the overall impact of how to spend my dollars (unintelligible)? So is this growing?
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: I haven't seen anything politics related. But, you know, with more people employed making a little bit more money, I think that's why we've seen an increase in sales in this current season, but not necessarily political.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: But are people thinking more today about how they're spending their dollars and whether they're going to be supporting local business vs. an online business, a sustainable business vs. a non-sustainable business?
>>SANDY KELLER: I think that with our own industry as far as resale goes, we've seen such an increase year to year. And the people that are coming in aren't left or right. They're not libertarian. They're not - I mean, people are complicated. You know, we have just as many Republicans coming in as Democrats. And they're also very concerned about the environment and supporting local businesses and shopping local. I think that people want to be able to, again, have those relationships where they are supporting their community.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: I want to say Marjorie Hershey (ph) called in a little bit ago offering a tip to folks who want to shop sustainably. She's reminding people about the Hoosier to Hoosier sale that's in late May and early August. It's a resale event for clothes and different things. So that's still a little way off but another one of those sustainable shopping opportunities.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Go ahead, Daren.
>>DAREN HULL: I was going to add, I - to the political climate, you know, I vote in my elections and I try to be as civically oriented as I possibly can be. But I think in a show where we're talking about the holidays, the one thing we really can control is our moments with our family. And, you know, we talked about the, you know, the Marshall Field's windows. But like if you're from Atlanta that was Riches, or Detroit it was Hudson, or Philadelphia - what was it? - Wanamaker's that you have these memories that you have when you do shop, when you get out, when you go to restaurants. And a lot of them are made this time of year. You know, one of the things about our brand is looking at what's fun and what's functional and lets you express yourself, you know, regardless of the political climate. You know, let's say whether it feels good to you or not good for you or the job situation is good for you or not good for you, we do have one of the few times where a lot of the holidays for each people are lining up this year and take the time with your family to make memories with them. You know, as I mentioned before, my father passed away recently and one of the things he said before he left was life breaks down into memories. You know, shopping is more meaningful. The time with your family is more meaningful. Just remember that in this busy time of year while everybody is traveling whether it's in a store, big or small or whatever, you know, make that connection with the people around you.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: What do you see as - this is for Jonlee - as the major opportunities and changes that are on the horizon for retail?
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We have about two minutes to go in the show.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: We don't have a lot of time, yeah.
>>DAREN HULL: I think the bigger push into unified commerce. I think we have crossed the tipping point of where, you know, nobody - there are people and there are products. And they want to be married together. They don't really care what your organizational chart is. They don't care what your physical footprint is. You know, people expect access to products. People have an expectation for shipping timeframes and things like that, so they want to be able to go in a store and get something. They want to be able to go online and get something. They want to be able to go on their phone and get something or shop from social media. And that'll continue to blend together. You know, back to we were talking about cosmetics. You know, one of the guys here who does a great job of running our store experiences says, you know, you can't try lipstick on online. You know, you can make a picture and there are lots of tools, you know, that'll help you, but it's hard to really experience that online. And maybe you do that in a physical store but you buy the replenishment, you buy the additional lipsticks online because you know you like the product. I think we're going to continue to see that blend more and more together.
>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK, Jon...
>>DAREN HULL: Groceries and these other things are a real leading way for that.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: Jonlee, go ahead.
>>JONLEE ANDREWS: OK. Well, to build on what he just said, the direct-to-consumer brands like Warby Parker and some of those others that were online only are going to move to bricks and mortar because basically, like you just said Daren, people like to try things on physically. And not - it won't apply to every kind of product, but that's happening a lot more. And going the other way, there are so many new mattress companies, for instance, it's overwhelming to select a mattress. I've done it recently. I got overwhelmed. But some of those are simply going to fail. You know, online is not everything. New brands coming out online are not everything. There's a lot to be said for the touch and feel and trying on of a product.
>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. We're out of time. I want to thank Jonlee Andrews from IU's Kelley School of Business, Sandy Keller from My Sister's Closet, and Daren Hull from Vera Bradley. For Sara Wittmeyer, our producer Bente Bouthier, and engineer Mike Paskash, I'm Bob Zaltsberg, thanks for listening.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)