Vicki Cantrell Joins Aptos as Retail Transformation Officer
Challenges are not obstacles for Vicki Cantrell, the former SVP of communities for NRF and executive director of Shop.Org. They are opportunities to learn and grow. Cantrell has taken on a new challenge as Retail Transformation Officer for Aptos where she will find numerous opportunities to learn and grow with the fast-moving, end-to-end retail software provider.
I learned about Cantrell’s appointment in an evening call on Thursday with Noel Goggin, CEO and Culture Leader at Aptos. Goggin was excited about announcing the news and told me he needed a few days to make the news public.
Goggin said he believes Cantrell is uniquely qualified for the position in three ways: she has a proven background in retail and technology, she is a forward-thinker who fits the mission expressed in the Aptos mantra “engaging customers differently,” and she is a change-agent who can successfully push the culture of the company to reach ambitious goals.
The next day I spoke to Cantrell as we were both heading into Labor Day weekend plans. Cantrell, who was recently inducted into the RIS Hall of Fame for her industry-wide influence as a retail visionary, is an articulate and strategic thinker. She noted she will be assuming a position that currently does not exist at Aptos (or at most other companies) and a big part of her newly minted job will be to build a team and communicate its mission.
Here is an overview of our wide-ranging conversation, which covers details about Aptos’ future, Cantrell’s personal vision, and why technology vendors need to become customer-centric to succeed.
RIS News: It has been six months since you left your position with the NRF. What did you do during that time?
Cantrell: Actually, October 1 will mark the one-year anniversary. During the last year, I had a chance to look around the industry and see what’s next. I also had the good fortune to spend time with my family. As I looked around the industry and met with key people, I saw everything was changing. Retailers today are all about transformation. Change is happening everywhere except in the go-to-market strategy of technology vendors. I felt this relationship was ripe to change and I could help get it done.
RIS News: Why Aptos?
Cantrell: I have four reasons. The first is that Noel Goggin is a great leader who understands that people and relationships are going to win the day in the end. He has a long-term view. He is authentic, honest and transparent, which is critical to building trust and that is what we will do. The second is that Aptos is a culture-first company intent on advancing the mission every single day by communicating constantly, which is critical to building and maintaining a great corporate culture. The third reason is that Aptos’ product and heritage is well positioned to transition to a holistic commerce and unified approach being adopted by retailers. Also, Aptos is well positioned to support the resurgence of the store in the customer journey. No one understands the store better than Aptos. Finally, Aptos has a learning mentality and a willingness to change. I want to bring in more of a customer intelligence approach and engage clients differently by becoming more customer-centric. That is a different approach for a technology vendor. It involves creating a brand new customer service group and deep Net Promoter Score work, which has already begun. These are my passions and I have a lot of background in them.
RIS News: Retailers by nature are customer-centric. Vendors that sell technology to retailers, on the other hand, are usually not. I have always felt this gap needs to close.
Cantrell: Retailers are making many changes to become more customer-centric, but now I think is the time to change the relationship between vendors and retailers, to create a collaborative approach between partners. I have experience in communities, value engineering, and building relationships. I want retailers to be able to recognize the value in a partnership, which in some ways will be a consultative service.
RIS News: I have been following Aptos since it launched. (“Aptos Asks: ‘How Am I Doin’”) The shift to a more customer-centric relationship you are talking about seems to fit Aptos' emphasis on closely listening to retailers and displaying more empathy.
Cantrell: I definitely connect with the mission of empathy. When I say engage customers differently, to me that means you look through the lens of the customer with empathy. This is a key tenet of connection to the customer. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a key element of success. For me everything is about people. You can sell software all day, but when push comes to shove, it’s your ability to count on each other that matters to your business and your partners.
RIS News: As sensible as this approach sounds, it also sounds experimental. Maybe even risky.
Cantrell: I believe in what Aptos is trying to do. The last three places I worked I have been involved in risky and experimental approaches. I am a change agent. This is what is appealing to me about this role. I am comfortable with experimentation and risk, I believe I can see where we are going and can make the necessary changes along the way. Whenever you are executing a long-term vision, the things you do alters the pathway to get there. Many of the steps you take are not what you thought they would be. Aptos has a willingness to change. We talk a lot about building the flywheel, which is a major theme in Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great.” We are all about defining our flywheel and making sure everyone is on the same page.
RIS News: What does the future hold for Aptos?
Cantrell: Aptos is experiencing tremendous success in its early history and they have a number of critical initiatives currently in play that are driving our growth plans for the future. (Ed Note: One big initiative is completing the acquisition of TXT Retail, a global provider of end-to-end merchandise management solutions, which is expected to become final in September.) Of course, Aptos Labs plays a big part. And we are currently winning some big deals. Overall, our success will be built on three things: technology, customer-centricity, and relationships. Pay attention to these three things, especially your customer and not your competition. This is an approach that has always served me well.