The View from Inside: Q&A with Cathy Hotka

Cathy Hotka has been a fixture in the retail industry for more than 20 years. With stints at both NRF and RILA (Retail Industry Leaders Association), Cathy has been on her own for the last 10 years serving as a conduit for executives to network and learn from one another through dinners and executive gatherings. RIS News publisher Dave Weinand recently caught up with her to find out where she sees the industry going:

Q: If there was one thing you could change about how retailers do business, what would it be?

CATHY HOTKA: I'd suggest that retailers pay their associates more, and provide them with more training. Too many times, retail companies formulate sophisticated customer engagement strategies, only to see them executed half-heartedly by sales associates who turn over too soon, and who are making too little. Companies that do invest more in team members, like Starbucks and The Container Store, have experienced phenomenal results. This is an opportunity that the Store Operations Council will be talking about in 2013.

Q: What would you like to see at this year's NRF?

HOTKA: The big story at this year's NRF will be customer engagement in all its forms – through mobility, new payment options, social strategies, and in-store interaction. I'm really looking forward to seeing what retailers are doing to change the store-as-display paradigm and embrace an exciting new partnership with customers. I'm also looking forward to the best booths at the show. Some of the standouts last year included Intel, Cisco, Motorola, and AirWatch. And for insights into where retailers are going it's tough to beat the all-star lineup at the Retail Orphan Initiative SuperSaturday event.

Q: What's the "stealth" trend you see for 2013?

HOTKA: It's the growing importance of store operations professionals. They understand the experiential nature of the store, and they've been unleashed to create some notable innovations. There are all kinds of hybrid models being explored, many of which leverage new technologies to draw consumers in. Think of tasting stations in grocery stores, stores like Sephora with experts waiting to help you, lots of new in-store video applications, and the amazing engagement stations at the newest Build-A-Bear stores. This is the kind of work that will make showrooming obsolete.

Q: What do you attribute to the long standing success of 'The Retail Insider's Party' at NRF?

HOTKA: Wow, what an event. The Retail Insiders Party is the one place where the senior decision-makers who come to the show can see one another and compare notes before the show begins. It's a real who's who of retail IT, marketing, and store ops. And the abundant cocktails and big swag bag don't hurt either. For the first time, the party will be three hours long instead of two. We'll see how it goes.

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