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Here’s Where Future-Forward, Experiential Retailers Will Find New Talent

When Aldo Bensadoun’s family foundation donated $25 million to create the Bensadoun School of Retail Management (BSRM) at Canada’s McGill University last fall, it was a tacit acknowledgement that something in the traditional approach to training retail leaders simply wasn’t working.

As the founder of global shoe empire Aldo, Bensadoun long has had a view into what people want to buy and how they want to shop.

“We are living through a period of tremendous change in retail and to succeed, future industry leaders will need to fundamentally understand consumers’ changing behaviours and expectations,” he said in a statement at the new program’s launch.

There’s plenty of evidence supporting the need to think outside of the box when it comes sourcing and developing the talent that retail needs to survive in an experience-driven future. Mirroring current industry trends, Bensadoun noted that the BSRM curricula will augment standard areas of study like accounting and finance with new foci on sustainability, neuroscience, psychology and artificial intelligence.

As retail puts aside its inventory-obsessed roots in favor of embracing a kind of “performance art,” says GPShopper co-founder and CMO Maya Mikhailov, the brands and chains that will maintain any sort of relevance going forward will need to hire the best and the brightest, irrespective of their retail pedigree.

Direct-to-consumers brands like Outdoor Voices, Thinx, Lunya and Caspar understandably garner plaudits for creating memorable pop-up shops and engaging, experience-driven stores. But even legacy retailers like Bass Pro Shops, the fishing-oriented chain, seem to have cracked the code on encouraging customers to linger and return, creating an “adult wonderland” where the average store visit hovers at the two-hour mark, Mikhailov says.

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The newly opened Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards on New York City’s west side represents the future of retail and A malls, Mikhailov adds, giving the retail complex high marks for blending established retailers like Neiman Marcus with compelling young brands that usually only live online and mixing in quality restaurants (in lieu of the tired food court) and Instagram-ready public art and architecture. Hudson Yards has created not a shopping center, but a community center, she said.

“If you look at the spaces that are being built, it’s impossible to say that that’s just a building planner,” Mikhailov says of the new generation of malls and stores cropping up nationwide. “There’s more than just an architect involved here.”

With the “stack ‘em high and let ‘em fly” approach to retail seemingly falling by the wayside, merchants will need to scout talent from what previously would be considered unlikely places. Mikhailov believes tomorrow’s talent could come from the high-drama theatre world or have cut their teeth in set design. People who’ve designed new space for amusement and theme parks are being courted left and right because “they know how to create these walkable spaces that are immersive, and they know how to build these worlds,” she added.

Retailers understandably might find themselves outside their comfort zone until the dust settles on the new consumer paradigm. “You’re seeing more retailers grab those types of folks,” Mikhailov said of retailers hiring professionals beyond sourcing and supply chains. “I think that’s a bit of a new skill for traditional retailers who haven’t really thought of things that way.”