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David Poirier of The Poirier Group: “Build trust with customers and maintain it”

The pandemic has caused accelerated change beyond what many of us could have imagined 8 months ago. Retailers have had to embrace and accelerate innovation to continue to serve their customers safely and stay afloat. One of the biggest changes has been buying online and picking up in-store (BOPIS) which existed prior but was significantly accelerated […]

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The pandemic has caused accelerated change beyond what many of us could have imagined 8 months ago. Retailers have had to embrace and accelerate innovation to continue to serve their customers safely and stay afloat.

One of the biggest changes has been buying online and picking up in-store (BOPIS) which existed prior but was significantly accelerated and evolved to curbside pickup as a result of the pandemic. Retailers such as Walmart and Home Depot moved quickly to serve their customers safely.

Retailers such as Ikea and Burberry are also creating more virtual reality and exciting interactive opportunities with products so people can have as close to a sense of being there and holding the item in their hands as possible virtually.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Poirier, Founder and CEO of The Poirier Group. He is an accomplished leader who progressed early in his career to hold Senior executive and C-suite roles in major retail, health, supply chain and manufacturing organizations. David creates and translates strategic roadmaps into actionable goals that influence organizations. He thrives at running multiple global divisions in a complex and ever-changing business environment and effecting positive cultural shifts that impact bottom-line performance.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me, I’m delighted to be here. I worked in corporate for a long time at several global retailers and health companies and had experienced great leadership and mentorship there. In my last role, we were implementing a heavy restructuring and business transformation and I learned that I enjoyed that work. I got to a point in my career that I wanted to continue implementing and developing change in an organization. I didn’t want to sit in a role that became routine or maintenance in any way. Having success in corporate life, I wanted to take on the additional challenge of running my own company and seeing if I could make an impact in organizations as an independent, so I started TPG.

At first, I wasn’t sure what the company would look like, but I knew that I wanted to see how I could help organizations. In the early days, I started working on small projects with individual subcontractors who I had met over my career who could help me do the work. I remember standing in our first empty office with a modem in one hand and an ethernet cable in the other, not knowing what I was doing because there had always been an IT department to help with that. I found myself asking questions I never had to before including “do we have any pencils?” It was a steep learning curve, but I always enjoyed it.

It started small at first, and we got involved in a German company for about 3 years. Then, after we got tired of the travel, we started to focus more on North American clients. Over the years, I tried to expand into the entrepreneurial space with start-ups but ultimately realized that consulting and performance improvement was the best path for me to follow.

When we were hired for our first big North American project, we hired additional people to fill in the roles we needed. However, at that time, 100% of our staff was working on the current project, which meant that we did not have time to sell. So, we came out of that first project without any prospects and quickly learned that we had to prioritize and invest in business development. We steadily grew from there until about 2017 when we decided to put additional effort into growing the business and making it bigger. That following year, we grew by 240% and got us to a new plateau. We have since grown the business beyond what I ever thought it would be.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I am going to tell three mini-stories in one because these three perspectives fostered my original interest in the cultural and leadership aspects of the business, making me realize how much leadership styles affected the performance of the organization.

In my first executive role at a national retailer, we had phenomenal success in the last 5 years I was there. When the senior management team started, we were number 5 in grocery retail in the country and after 5 years, we reached number one. We never wanted to go back to the way we were before, so it kept us well-grounded and focused. The leadership team was very open, transparent and values-oriented which trickled down to the rest of the organization and encouraged growth. However, this organization became so accustomed to success that when they faced adversity down the road, they didn’t know how to handle it.

Then, the next large retailer I worked at was a very challenging and interesting experience. When I looked around the leadership table, most of the executive team had been involved in a bankruptcy or organization that didn’t do well. I realized that their view of success, the bar was so much lower than in my previous role. I further realized that their skillset was focused on surviving, not thriving. This permeated throughout the organization and into how they operated, which Is why they struggled in performance.

Then, I went to a health and life sciences organization, which was vastly different than retail. Most of the original founders were still running the organization. The leadership team there would solve problems behind closed doors and come out of the room as an aligned front. However, all the rest of the organization saw was that the senior management team always got along. The emulation of everyone being nice and polite while not necessarily being in alignment with one another held the organization back. It caused the management to be passive-resistant to change because they never saw the fighting over how to get things done.

When I look at these three organizations, the thing that stood out to me was the difference in management style. The leadership teams had a dramatic effect on the performance and culture of the organization. And it’s not just what the leadership team did, but what the rest of the organization interpreted them to do. It’s a different lens on the organizational success that most people don’t talk about.

These perspectives got me interested in working with leaders to build new capabilities, train management styles and integrate a strong culture into organizations to make them successful. This has now become one of TPG’s main offerings and areas of focus.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

One mistake I made was being naïve about how to resolve things. I had the idea in mind that smart people could muddle their way through anything. We had smart people, so we took on a lot of work early on that we weren’t experts on, but we thought we could figure it out. That often took a lot longer took and a tremendous amount more energy and effort to do it than it otherwise could have if we had those experts in place. The lesson being, to look for experts and resources who can help you get things done more efficiently, even if it hurts your ego.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

As a consulting firm, we are forced to stay abreast of new trends and challenges that organizations are facing to help them effectively. We have a few exciting new offerings we are working on.

We have always worked in strategy execution, process optimization and performance improvement. In the last 5 years or so, organizations have required more attention on their culture and the leadership of the organization to make their results sustainable. This led to us developing an offering around that and it has become a substantial piece of our work now. We help businesses understand how they interact as a management team, build accountability, and create a shared vision and understanding of the journey they are on. This has become a critical element for extending the sustainability of our solutions and speeding up the improvements. In the age of COVID-19, we have transitioned this offering into a virtual format which has been a challenge but has been in high demand as companies are struggling to manage culture and maintain team alignment in a virtual setting.

We have recently partnered with a company to expand our analytics, projection and forecasting capabilities. The consulting world is changing rapidly. Technology will be playing a bigger role in forecasting and enablement in our clients’ organizations in the future. At TPG, our role is to be the front line and the integrators within organizations which enables us to build trust and work collaboratively with our clients to create the solutions. So, we need to stay abreast of new technology changes and opportunities and partner with organizations that are creating these new technologies that enable our clients to do things faster with fewer errors. As a result of our existing relationships, our clients then trust us to pick the right solution for them and get it implemented quickly and with less risk than if they were to do the research and make the decisions themselves.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

First, love what you are doing. Make sure your work serves your life plan and career goals. I love to meet great people and challenging businesses and provide real value-added to organizations. I can look at the work I have done and feel a real sense of satisfaction, pride and fulfillment. While there will still be stressful times, knowing you are making a meaningful difference decreases stress and keeps you aligned to a vision.

Second, ask for help early and often — you will never be the smartest person in every room you are in and you can know everything, so surround yourself with people who have diverse areas of expertise and lean on them to come up with the best solution vs. struggling through a problem yourself to save your ego

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors who were supportive and influential in my life — many of whom are past bosses. Dave Williams, a leader at Loblaws showed me the importance of caring for people and living your values to make a business successful. This is tough for someone with an engineering education. Technology and engineering don’t typically have people focusing on people and values naturally. But Dave Williams cared about people. He led with his hearts and cared about every person in the organization. He taught me that you can have great strategies and plans AND you can have great values. They can not only create synergy, but you can create phenomenal results.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We have used our services to touch and help out thousands of people, both paying clients and our in-kind services which I will touch on a little bit later, many of whom reach out years later and tell us about the success they have had as a result of the improvements we made and tools we provided. We have helped organizations improve their cultures and create a values-driven organization that improves the day-to-day lives of their employees. People are more connected to their organizations and as a result, loyal to those organizations.

In 2018, our organization started an initiative called Purpose Beyond Profit where we commit to donate a percentage of billable hours not committed to projects helping non-profit organizations make internal improvements to make the company operate better. Our initiative eliminates the financial barrier to accessing consulting services, providing them with the services they need but often don’t have access to.

As we improve the effectiveness and strategic decision making of not-for-profit organizations, we redirect a greater percentage of their annual donations from administrative and overhead costs to the actual causes they serve. We use our core skills and offerings to create value in organizations that far exceed what we would be able to write a cheque for and touch more people than we could otherwise. We have since worked with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Youth Without Shelter and the Toronto Humane Society.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

The pandemic has caused accelerated change beyond what many of us could have imagined 8 months ago. Retailers have had to embrace and accelerate innovation to continue to serve their customers safely and stay afloat.

One of the biggest changes has been buying online and picking up in-store (BOPIS) which existed prior but was significantly accelerated and evolved to curbside pickup as a result of the pandemic. Retailers such as Walmart and Home Depot moved quickly to serve their customers safely.

Retailers such as Ikea and Burberry are also creating more virtual reality and exciting interactive opportunities with products so people can have as close to a sense of being there and holding the item in their hands as possible virtually.

More specifically, there have been many retailers who have implemented strategic changes across their organization which I believe will serve them well as we come into the holiday season and in the future.

Lululemon acquired Mirror to bring their in-store personable experience online. This was a retailer known for the in-store experience and customer service. With this acquisition, they can maintain their value proposition and provide a custom experience to their customers. It was a smart way to extend the relevance of Lululemon into the homes of their customers.

Sobeys launched Voila using a standalone facility for fulfillment and robots. Its relatively limited presence in that market gives it a dynamic tool to build market share, particularly leveraged with Farm Boy.

Loblaws is piloting Canada’s first micro-fulfilment centre (MFC) to meet consumer demands of same-day fulfillment. With customers’ preferences increasingly favouring shorter wait times, this will allow the grocery retailer to maintain their market share and maintain customer satisfaction.

Aritzia has been a front runner in capitalizing on e-commerce to reach new customer demographics. They started to think about online as its own channel, and not bound by the limitations of what fits in stores. This opens up possibilities for sizes, colours and new categories that may not have fit in one store.

Nike and other retailers are putting greater focus on direct to consumer. Nike is making leadership changes as part of its focus on its direct-to-consumer strategy and digital transformation. This will help them align and simplify the consumer experience across the company’s owned and partner ecosystem, as well as unify its tech investments. It is set to improve consumer targeting, while also enhancing inventory pricing and supply management solutions.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

I do think physical retail will continue to exist. We are all struggling right now to find a human connection as we are going back into the second phase, many of us are back working from home and avoiding outside experiences. Human nature craves those things. I think what we’ll see is the mundane shopping like groceries and essentials will still be online, but retailers will have to make it more experiential for in-store shopping. To the extend retailers can create them, they can draw people in and have a wonderful hybrid model.

There is a role for creating a good hybrid model in organizations. Technology companies like Apple and Microsoft who opened stores, not because they couldn’t sell online, but because they wanted to have the presence and experience for consumers to come in and talk to experts and play with products and feel that human interaction.

If you look at Costco, it is doing phenomenally well, and it’s not just because of its online platform. The main reason people shop at Costco is because it’s a treasure hunt. People love looking for deals and cool products. This experience cannot be translated online.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

The main lesson would be to be able to adapt to disruptive events quickly and to embrace innovation. We’ve seen more changes in retail in the last 6 months than we have in the previous 6 years. The organizations that are thriving are those who have embraced innovations, understood their strengths and focused on those strengths and innovative ways of providing those strengths to consumers in a way that keeps them relevant and provides a compelling offering to them.

Retailers like Kroger, Lululemon and Costco were able to pivot quickly and think about business differently. As I mentioned earlier, Lululemon found a smart way to extend its relevance into the homes of its customers with the acquisition of Mirror and the launch of its subscription platform.

Best Buy is another retailer that has been doing well. Before the pandemic, they were hurting, but with many people transitioning to working from home or being stuck at home for longer periods, there was a greater need for new computers or larger TVs. Further, Best Buy transitioned very quickly to curbside pickup. That process, for a retailer of that size and scale, would typically take several months of piloting to stand up and get the kinks out. But they had a high-quality, effective, customer-friendly solution available in a weekend.

Consumers are less loyal to brands now, they are more likely to switch brands and products if they are not accessible where and how they need them. This creates a greater argument for why retailers need to offer a unique experience when consumers interact with their brand both online and in-store

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

It’s going to be tough. I don’t know a retailer with a standalone online fulfillment operation that makes money. Longo’s has had Grocery Gateway for years. You would think in a time like this, they would have expanded it, but they don’t because it’s not profitable. I don’t think retailers, in general, have figured out how to make money online.

With respect to Chinese fulfillment centres, one advantage North American retailers have is fulfillment time. Consumers are becoming more impatient and cycle times for delivery are getting reduced by leading retailers as a result of that.

So, I think the real challenge is if retailers build a profitable online business that can do fulfillment to their customers and meet expectations of turnaround time.

Prices are also higher online. Stores like Costco are raising prices online, in part to improve those margins but also to discourage people from buying online. I recently saw some negative comments about Costco ripping people off, but that’s completely against their brand. So, as retailers attempt to find ways to find online shopping profitable, particularly in grocery, it will be a challenge to maintain credibility and trust from the customer.

So, my advice would be to be relevant to the customer. If you are selling a commodity that is available everywhere, why would someone buy from you if you’re not the lowest price? If the price is the only driver then it’s just a race to the bottom. Unless you’re extremely large and can buy in massive quantities, you will not win on that front because of economies of scale. So, you have to increase your relevance. People have to experience you differently than the bigger organizations and provide additional value to the customer other than cost.

Second, it has to be a great experience for the customer. The experience will keep you top of mind. For example, in customer service, brands who deal with problems appropriately with their customers are perceived better and increase loyalty than brands who do not have problems at all. That customer experience is really important. Exemplifying strong values works on both the customer and employees. To the extent that you are a values-driven organization, you will attract those employees who respect and are attracted to those values and will go above and beyond to give the customer a great experience. So, if you have those individuals, customers will feel that. People feel the values through interactions with your associates and they will be attracted to your organization more than the competitors. So that is something, while intangible, is huge value-add and will make you competitive.

And finally, build trust with customers and maintain it. All of the above leads to trust. People generally go to organizations they trust over ones they don’t trust even if there is a price difference.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I introduced our initiative called Purpose Beyond Profit earlier. We provide value and make positive sustainable changes to organizations in the community by doing what we do best. The services that non-profit and charitable organizations provide to vulnerable populations is so important, so we help them help others.

If other organizations can take that on, using their skill sets and core offerings in a way that provides greater value, they can be more efficient and more sustainable and help a lot more people as a result. This is how you touch lives and give back to your community. Our organization loves doing this work and I would encourage every organization to start a similar initiative!

How can our readers further follow your work?

Our latest updates, events and free resources are shared frequently on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-poirier-group/

For more retail trends: https://www.thepoiriergroup.com/industries/retail-and-grocery/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thanks for having me!


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