Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Heidi Sax, product marketing manager at artificial intelligence retail technology firm CB4, explains the takeaways for apparel from grocery’s Covid adaptations and why assortment planning should be a priority.
Name: Heidi Sax
Title: product marketing manager
Which other industry has the best handle on the retail experience? What can apparel learn?
Grocery had been slow to advance digital initiatives because people still preferred to handpick their apples and point to their own salmon filets—until the pandemic. Since March, grocers have been amazingly resourceful, experimenting with cutting-edge tech to make contactless grocery happen. The fact that they’re “essential” and could stay open while others were closed meant grocers found ways to reward their store teams and keep shoppers safe in the darkest days of Covid. Apparel sellers watching the grocer sector see that retail is now truly channel agnostic and they need to meaningfully connect with shoppers regardless of touchpoint. And all store personnel deserve to be recognized and taken care of. I hope that sticks across all retail verticals. It’s a big upfront cost, but it pays off in retention and customer satisfaction.
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
I’m high reward but have high expectations. If I love you, I’ll shop with you again and again, tell all my friends and my friends’ friends, and ask to talk to the powers that be to share how amazing my experience was. But at the same time, I know what’s operationally efficient, what the competition is doing, and have a strong sense of due north when it comes to customer experience. So if you’re not meeting my expectations, you might hear about that, too.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
I like brands that give their people a lot of autonomy in how they serve their customers and really train them on their processes and products. I have endless choices as a consumer, so I like brands that don’t treat me like a number. I stick with brands that have happy employees and that keep surprising me while remaining true to themselves.
What’s your typical uniform?
Coco Chanel said before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off—but that’s just not me. I’m obsessed with chic but casual looks with a twist. I like to mix high and low, vintage and new, neutrals and pops of color. Think Frame jeans, a simple tank, Nicholas Kirkwood flats, and a stack of mixed vintage cuffs and hoop—or otherwise large and in charge— earrings.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
It’s a tie between the ’70s and the ’90s. I love a good granny dress paired with giant shades or a high-waisted bell bottom with an Edwardian prairie blouse. At the same time, nothing would make me happier than finding a Delia’s catalog in my mailbox tomorrow. And I’ll always geek out over chokers, oversize plaid shirts, baby tees and Doc Martens or Birks. The only thing I’ll leave in the ’90s is the brows.
Who’s your style icon?
The Olsen twins
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
CB4 was incredibly quick to pivot in the pandemic. We really challenged ourselves to think about what our customers and prospects were dealing with in the moment and how to connect with them, while keeping in mind the crisis they were dealt. We had to sort of start from scratch and totally reimagine our value prop, but it was necessary and we’re better for it.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
My favorite of CB4’s company values are “speak your mind” and “be human.” I love that an AI solutions provider values what makes us people. It can be hard to speak up and challenge the status quo at work, but so important for the health of the business. And empathy, humility, and kindness always have a place in the office.
What can companies learn from Covid-19?
You can’t wait to advance until something like Covid-19 smacks you in the face. Companies that were already testing concepts, rolling out new initiatives and learning from them before the pandemic—like Lululemon and Nike—are the ones that are winning post-pandemic. Flexing that muscle allowed them to react quickly when the business needed to change.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
Retailers need to focus on their assortments right now. Removing excess inventory and culling their offerings so that they can go to market with a clear point of view and that their shoppers can understand and rely on.
What keeps you up at night?
When my house is quiet, I have some of my greatest insights about my work. I could be trying to solve some marketing riddle all day and keep drawing a blank. Then suddenly I wake up at 5 a.m. by a strike of idea lightning. And it keeps me up.
What makes you most optimistic?
I’m pretty optimistic right now. 2020 has been a rough one. But I feel those who spent the last few months challenging themselves to be and do better, to learn in quiet moments—as few or as many as those moments may be—and to plan for the future will come out stronger than ever. My friends, my colleagues, and my family pick me up every single day.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction/service:
CB4 is on a mission to help brick-and-mortar companies live up to their full potential. That means helping them inspire collaboration, get things done, boost motivation, and know what’s working and act on what’s not. We entered the market with our cornerstone product, an AI engine that helps store managers capture selling opportunities they’d otherwise lose. Now we’re adding new functionality to increase collaboration with field and executive leadership. Next, we’ll roll out a platform to help them glean more insights from basic POS data and get more done every day.