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Laura Scott: “akeoff is absolutely transforming the grocery industry”

Grocery is a very interesting category, in that it has historically been much slower than other retail groups to transition online. Prior to the pandemic, we saw a trend where more retailers were beginning to invest in eCommerce strategies. But because grocery products are essential, when the pandemic hit, we saw a huge and sudden […]

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Grocery is a very interesting category, in that it has historically been much slower than other retail groups to transition online. Prior to the pandemic, we saw a trend where more retailers were beginning to invest in eCommerce strategies. But because grocery products are essential, when the pandemic hit, we saw a huge and sudden surge in demand. We’ve seen traditional brick & mortar retailers scramble to shift their strategies to keep up with the changing environment. From curbside pick up to fulfilling drop ship orders from the store, the retail space is experiencing an incredible pace of change. There have also been a number of acquisitions in the last mile delivery space. Takeoff’s micro-fulfillment solution is well positioned because it combines some key elements.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Scott, an entrepreneurial tech executive with a proven record of driving results in hyper-growth e-commerce companies. She holds a BA in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont, as well as an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Previously, she built a world class vendor direct supply chain, driving Wayfair from 250M dollars to 6B dollars in 8.5 years. Currently, she is the Chief Operating Officer of Takeoff Technologies, working to disrupt the 5 trillion dollars grocery industry.


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?

What I have loved about my career has been solving problems that no one has worked out how to solve before. At Wayfair, that was figuring out how to get 10,000 furniture suppliers to ship directly to customers fast, on-time, and without damage. At Takeoff, that means bringing automation to grocery stores to unlock lower-cost online grocery shopping for all.

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

So many stories! I think one of my favorite stories was when we started to tackle the issue of furniture arriving damaged to our customers at Wayfair. We started by looking at the data. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make any headway there, so I reached out to a Packaging Engineer that I knew from my days in manufacturing. This was the beginning of an amazing journey. First, we would learn where to get suppliers to ship us high damage items. Then we’d meet the Packaging Engineer at the warehouse and open up boxes to try to understand why things were getting broken and what we needed to do to fix the problem. That original damage team went on to do great things at Wayfair. Nothing can replace the experience diving into an area where you know nothing, and gaining real, hands-on experience!

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?

Early in my career I made a mistake I will never forget. I led a two-week training for a group of team leaders. On the last night, we celebrated with a campfire and some beers. The celebration went on too long and we ended up arriving to a client event the next morning without a lot of sleep and smelling like campfire. It was a terrible first impression for a group of young professionals to make in front of an older, more conservative client group. I learned two things from that experience: 1) the importance of making a good first impression and 2) owning up when you’ve made a mistake is always the best policy.

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

The work we are doing at Takeoff is absolutely transforming the grocery industry. Imagine being able to shop online for groceries and pay the same price as in the store, with no fees, and being confident that you will get 100% of your order with no substitutions. Before Covid-19, about 5% of Americans (3% of the world) were shopping for groceries online. This spring, that percentage tripled. While that figure has settled a bit, there is no question that online grocery is the wave of the future. Takeoff is using a blend of automation and software to make picking groceries for online orders faster, more consistent, and less expensive. Our solution fits into the back of a grocery store, meaning grocers can take advantage of their existing store space, and delivery costs are kept low because the store is so close to the shopper.

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

As problem solvers, it is easy to get lost in the weeds and lose perspective. I think the key to maintaining perspective is a) taking care of yourself first b) celebrating wins (including the little wins) along the way with your teams.

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 am eternally grateful to Dana Hearn, my manager at the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. She had the ability to give you straight, constructive feedback that left you grateful and motivated to improve. Not only did I learn a lot from her feedback, but I also became very comfortable giving direct, honest constructive feedback to others. Too many people avoid conflict because it is uncomfortable. I am so grateful to Dana for teaching me how to navigate conflict and what kind of rewards lie on the other side.

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

I am a firm believer in giving back to your community. I think one of the best ways to do that is to volunteer for a non-profit board. There are so many great organizations that are tackling worthy causes and almost all of them need fresh, energetic talent on their boards — especially women! I’ve been on non-profit boards since my late 20’s and it has always been an incredibly rewarding experience. Currently, I’m on the board of FamilyAid Boston, an organization that is helping homeless families get back on their feet through housing and holistic counseling services.

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?

Grocery is a very interesting category, in that it has historically been much slower than other retail groups to transition online. Prior to the pandemic, we saw a trend where more retailers were beginning to invest in eCommerce strategies. But because grocery products are essential, when the pandemic hit, we saw a huge and sudden surge in demand. We’ve seen traditional brick & mortar retailers scramble to shift their strategies to keep up with the changing environment. From curbside pick up to fulfilling drop ship orders from the store, the retail space is experiencing an incredible pace of change. There have also been a number of acquisitions in the last mile delivery space. Takeoff’s micro-fulfillment solution is well positioned because it combines some key elements.

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 don’t think physical retail spaces are going away in the next 10 years. At a minimum, I think the soft goods/fashion space has a ways to go before it gets to the point where people will happily shop online for most of their purchases. For the online retailers who have their fulfillment engine humming, the online shopping experience is still clumsy. For retailers & brands who have the right online shopping experience, many are still operating with 1 week+ delivery times. Consumers need and want both an excellent online shopping experience and fast, reliable delivery.

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?

If there is one thing I learned from my years at Wayfair and Takeoff, it is to stay laser focused on the needs of your customers and improve the experience for them. Staying on the forefront of customer experience means playing a long term game. I suspect the retailers who are doing well are reaping the benefits of long term investments made to meet customers’ needs.

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?

All businesses need to continue to innovate, but I don’t think that the retail wars will be won on price alone. Amazon has already seen a backlash from consumers due to shady players on their marketplace. Consumers want value, but they want quality as well. Successful companies will listen to what their customers want, and innovate in that direction while they tell their value story.

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’m a big believer in acting locally. What would happen if all companies gave all employees four days per month to volunteer at the local non-profit of their choice? Not only would you see an incredible uptick in engagement, but you would turn millions of people on to the impact they can make in their own communities within just a few days.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow me on my LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laura-scott-5767663/

And you can follow the Takeoff LinkedIn page here: https://www.linkedin.com/company/takeoff-technologies/

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


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