Digitize: Evolving a brand into a digital landscape is absolutely critical today. As a consumer, I want to be able to virtually see a garment in every variation there is, and even see what it looks like on me without physically trying it on. Then I want to have the ability to virtually create a garment at home and ship it to a store. Having a digital component to every physical component of the retail experience is what will keep consumers coming back.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Moskovciak.
As SML’s Senior VP of the Americas, Gary Moskovciak is responsible for the company’s commercial and operational business units in that region. During his 20 years in retail and apparel, he has held various senior-management positions within the industry, in the areas of finance, business and strategic development, and operations.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Prior to joining SML Group, I actually began my career in finance and accounting, with a focus on technology and business operations. Learning the financial side of business early on definitely helped me build a foundation and allowed me to see things through an analytical lens as I became responsible for bigger and bigger decisions. My career has always been centered around leadership, transformation and business change, and when I joined SML Group back in 2004, I was lucky enough to find a place where I could bring that expertise into my new role.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
There’s one funny story from my first ever job, let’s call it the “post-it note wars.” It really was a lesson in personal development with my manager. At the time my boss started the whole thing as a joke to see how much we could get done without physically communicating verbally. Soon it became a tit for tat situation, where I took it upon myself to communicate back via the post-its because I thought that’s what he wanted and what would grow our relationship. It’s such a small thing, but looking back, it taught me that everyone’s communication style is different and you don’t have to change how you communicate best just to match how someone else does. Success is about how effectively you can communicate as an individual, and everyone needs to find their own best way. It amazes me how technology has changed our means of communication so drastically — and now there are so many more ways to communicate than there were in the post-it era.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I really do believe that I’ve learned something valuable from everyone that I’ve had a chance to work with throughout my career at each and every level, but I’m particularly grateful for the mentorship from the leaders at SML Group. After spending such a long time with this company, I can honestly say that the leadership I’ve seen is thoughtful and inspiring. Our Chairman Ronny Ho has been a central figure in my leadership journey ever since I started in 2004. He taught me about following a pragmatic approach and looking at the big picture from the start. K.C Lau, our CEO, was another influential person early in my career, and he continues to show me how SML can effectively bridge technology into leadership, across our organization, and with our customers. That said, both leaders have taught me that it takes dedication and focus to transform vision into successful execution.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Yes, aside from reading I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my drive to the office. There are many books that I have enjoy but 3 stand out as great references throughout my career. The first is the business school classic Good to Great by Jim Collins, I keep referring to getting the right people on board, the second is 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney focusing on lead measures and getting out of the whirlwind, and last is Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore speaking to the adoption curve of disruptive technology.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
SML provides best-in-class branding and item-level RFID solutions for the world’s biggest and most iconic brands and businesses. We’re one of the most trusted and agile tag providers and the number one item-level RFID software provider in the world, and our expansive solutions, software and professional services portfolio, ensures that brand owners and retailers define brand identity and enhance visibility all the way from supply chain to the end consumer. As part of this, we share a strong commitment to sustainability. It’s become so critical to the health of the world we live in now and the world that future generations will experience, and SML recognizes the power and responsibility we hold in contributing to these efforts.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Aside from balancing your state of mind by taking time for yourself such as a walk or learn a new skill, I would suggest focus on what you can control. Once you focus on the things you can control, your confidence and success will help influence others.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. 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?
Something that I think a lot of retailers can benefit from is the focus factor: retailers need to take a good look at themselves from the perspective of their core businesses, and ask “what are we good at that only we can control?” If I’m a sailor of a boat, I can’t change the way that the wind will blow, but I can change my approach to controlling the sails. In terms of sales, we can’t always change the consumers decisions, but we can change the way the sale will be pitched. Retailers that are successful today are focused on their internal efficiencies first, and act as well-oiled machines when rolling out their sales plans. Companies need to perfect their brand positioning and focus on their core strengths — by learning what you’re good at selling and where your weaknesses are, you can get rid of whatever is holding you back from becoming the authority of your craft.
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 retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Amazon has become so successful because they have perfected their supply chain efficiencies and become experts at catering to the modern consumer. Convenience is their greatest strength and they’ve also aligned with all of their suppliers by giving them a platform to sell anything on. Other retailers can also further improve their strategies and drive greater efficiencies too, but many are intimidated by the success of their competition and don’t always realize a resource they can use to get there: data. Consumers today aren’t static, and don’t all want the same thing, and having greater access to and analysis of data can help deepen their understanding of who consumers are, what they demand and expectations, and how to best reach them.
Data isn’t the only tool in retail’s arsenal — supplier relationships are another often undermined aspect of business success today. Consider the old ways of doing business when there was the convenience aspect of selling — you didn’t need to work too hard because consumers needed your product, and they would physically come to you to get it. Today, consumers are constantly shopping around from their fingertips — and they won’t even consider coming to you physically if they don’t think you can compare to online prices, especially under COVID restrictions. Retailers can no longer survive on the “we have the best product” mentality — they need to identify their suppliers as partners as Amazon has done and demand reciprocal visibility from them. At the end of the day, a retailer’s partners are their entire supply chain and enabling trusted partnerships between the two is the most important thing to take away from Amazon’s success.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
We see it often; some CEOs get stuck in the not knowing quadrant and therefore set unrealistic expectations. Along the way they lose focus on delivering the objective and getting to their intended ROI fast. For example, if I were to tell you that there is technology out there than can get you from point A to point C but is not proven or cost prohibitive based on the objective, would you support taking that on? Most likely not, but we have seen it time and time again where the expectations outweigh the ROI resulting in unnecessary cost and waste of internal resources. So, our advice is to figure out your primary use case, build your solution around getting there first, and attaining you ROI quickly. From there you have built a platform to build from.
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
Among all of the reasons we’ve seen retailers go bankrupt in the past few years, relevancy has been the number one fatal flaw. Companies go under for more reasons that just financial. When a company can’t deliver what consumers need — an incredible, exciting and event addictive experience — they fade from memory, and it’s very tough for a sales or marketing campaign to revive them once it’s happened. Limited transformational change within organizations can lead to outdated customer services that fail to deliver value to consumers. Keeping a pulse on top trends in the industry and even the services of competitors can help drive the great customer experience that keep businesses thriving today.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
Retail owners become too comfortable with consumer behavior, and with endless options online, they’re up against a lot of competition. This goes back to the transformational capabilities of a business and maintaining relevancy in an environment that is changing rapidly. Often you hear people saying it’s easier to see things from the outside looking in, retail brand owners need to do exactly that. Look from the eyes of the consumer and market changes. Consumers are changing faster than the industry can keep up. Anyone can pull out a retail playbook on how to attract customers — with sales, promotions, etc., but those won’t connect with your customer. Providing an experience — and making sure that your business has the digital capabilities to make that experience memorable both in-store and online, is the core of great customer service.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
While there are many we could share across all facets of our business, many of our customers have benefited from our RFID technology solutions — or radio frequency systems that can be used to track apparel or other items through the factory, in the store and even once an item leaves the store for faster and more accurate processing. This technology has given them concrete data to streamline their supply chains and focus in on their business objectives.
One customer in particular comes to mind in this scenario. Before implementing RFID technology in their stores, they didn’t realize just how bad their loss prevention was. By using RFID, they discovered they had an internal shrink issue, and that their employees were the key reason that apparel was going missing from the sales floor and they were losing revenue. Being able to not only track internal inventory, but inventory throughout the supply chain has been a game changer for some customers like this one.
Another that comes to mind was a customer who was able to get such accurate inventory data that they reduced their inventory sent to clearance and achieved full suggested list price (MSRP) on most items in their stores. By reducing their stock and focusing in on the items they needed to have, they successfully adjusted their sourcing model and became more streamlined and therefore much more profitable. RFID technology has also proven to be helpful in our customers buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) offerings because of the technology’s ability to pinpoint whether or not an item is really available for same day pickup. This keeps an open line of communication between retailers and customers, while also delivering the behind the scenes excellence of brands.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Yes, by leveraging the technology (RFID) they realized their entire business was about to transform. Having the ability to know what they had, shift sourcing models, and ability to sell to the last unit changed the game. From there it was about organizational change impacting nearly every aspect of their business; how they shipped goods, to how much staff were needed in the DC, shift to BOPIS fulfillment, enhanced engagement of the customer creating an experience, powered by technology.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Availability: It allows opportunity and without it, nothing else matters. If you don’t have something within your system or know where it is in your supply chain, the consumer is going to find it somewhere else. RFID technology is a key tool that retailers can use to make sure that an item’s availability status is always accurate.
- Personalization: We all want to feel special and unique. Personalization enables inclusion in society no matter who you are or what you look like, and it’s a huge driver of consumer behavior. When retailers personalize their products and experiences, they invite consumers to become included in their brand — and making them feel like they’re part of something bigger will lead to them coming back.
- Immersive Experience: If someone is going into a store today, they’re looking for more than just a transaction. Making sure that your customers feel part of something when they walk into your store is critical. Lululemon is a great example of a retailer doing this — they include everything from in-store yoga classes to smart-mirror workouts, enabling customers to literally see themselves living their brand.
- Digitize: Evolving a brand into a digital landscape is absolutely critical today. As a consumer, I want to be able to virtually see a garment in every variation there is, and even see what it looks like on me without physically trying it on. Then I want to have the ability to virtually create a garment at home and ship it to a store. Having a digital component to every physical component of the retail experience is what will keep consumers coming back.
- Transformation: This goes to the core of every retail business and includes everything from your employees and brand positioning to your mission and how you approach the consumer mindset. Staying agile and being ready to pivot at any moment is truly critical to making it in today’s environment.
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. 🙂
There are lot of brands that promote social responsibility and ethical sourcing. It’s a great start but we need to align all brands (regardless of the industry) to pressure governments in sourcing regions to set aside funding for education. Regardless of gender, race, religion, etc., no child or young adult should be without an education. Brands can designate facilities that provide basic education as well as specialty skills and can help fund the initiative as well. I’d love to see a program where a customer returns a used garment, and that garment is placed for sale as a used product at that site. The proceeds from the sale of that garment are then used to help fund the project. Two great things happen from this — it helps to fund the initiative, and it saves the garment from ending up in a landfill or going through a recycling process that emits additional carbon to the atmosphere. Educating our planet for the future is so important to me!
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find me on LinkedIn!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!