interview dan, chain store age

Getting the Inside Scoop With Dan Berthiaume, Retail Expert and Senior Editor of Technology

I think we can all agree that the retail tech industry is extremely lucky to have so many wonderful experts and content creators!

You may recall that I recently sat down with our friend Barbara Thau to get her take on industry trends and tips for PR folks.

For my next chat, I sat down with Dan Berthiaume, senior editor of technology for Chain Store Age to discuss all things AI, why he loves retail tech and his love of music.

Following are some excerpts from our conversation. Enjoy!

Tell me about your path to retail tech journalism.

I was an English major in college and knew that I wanted to do something that involved writing. I got my start as a small town reporter, working for a few weekly newspapers in the Metro West Boston area.

After a few years I felt like I’d taken small town journalism as far as I could, so I started looking around and found Retail Systems Alert Group, which was one of the biggest retail tech publishers at the time.

I joined as associate editor for the newsletter, and, as it turns out, joined at an interesting time for the retail industry! We were literally writing articles about why you should sell products online. At that point, the big “buzzword” was cannibalization – specifically around the concern that a sale made online was a sale taken away from a store.

In those years, I rose through the ranks and saw an enormous amount of change: the early days and struggles of Amazon, ecommerce turning into omni-channel, the rise of RFID, and of course mobile commerce.

After Retail Systems Alert Group closed its doors, I spent time as a freelance editor before joining Chain Store Age 2013 as their technology editor. I left Chain Store Age for a few years to work for a retail industry software company but rejoined the team at Chain Store Age again in 2019.

What is it about this industry that you enjoy so much?

Well to start, it is a very exciting place to be! To outsiders, you might think retail is just putting stuff on the “shelf” and selling it. But there is so much that goes into selling products.

There are things like merchandising, marketing, and managing the supply chain that come into play. It’s such a complicated process for what seems like a simple thing to the customer.

As well, there’s so much innovation in retail, and I think a lot of the top tech people, who wouldn’t have thought about working for a retailer 20 years ago, are now working in retail. It’s impressive how far the industry has come.

And it’s not just general retail that is innovating, the CPG side of things has really come into its own, too. When I started out in the industry in the late 90s, if a CPG company had their own promotion, they wouldn’t even tell the retailer about it. The backend communication just wasn’t there.

Now, technology is enabling real-time communication between all the partners in the extended supply chain. Overall collaboration has improved, thanks in large part to technology.

As retail journalist, what do you use an inspiration for writing your stories? How do you stay up-to-date on latest trends?

I’m very active online, so I’m always checking the news wires, different retailer websites and the leading business news sites. I also receive a ton of pitches from PR professionals like you all at Ketner Group!

Of course, industry events like NRF give me a good sense of what’s happening and what the big trends are. I also conduct a lot of Q&As with industry experts and retail practitioners, which I love doing.

The thing that is most important to me is to focus on writing content that I find interesting and exciting, because it is my hope that the reader will also find it equally as interesting!

I also try to take inspiration from my past writing as a sportswriter as well as my published short fiction writing to make my retail tech articles as lively as possible.

What retail technologies are you most excited about right now?

Well clearly AI has stolen the show!

The last time I saw a technology so overwhelmingly dominate the landscape was probably the emergence of smartphones. And before that, in the early 2000s, when suddenly people realized e-commerce was a necessary component to their retail strategy.

AI is the most dominant technology I’ve seen in the last 15 years. It will be an important component in every technology system and every part of the enterprise, and like mobile and omnichannel commerce, it will be a constant feature (not just in retail) and will just be assumed. 

Aside from AI, we are still waiting to see what is going to happen with blockchain and the Metaverse. We are also still waiting to see how social media will develop as a retail channel, and how AI will affect that. As I just said, AI is inevitable and is bound to play a major role in how retailers promote and sell products on their social media platforms.

Looking into your crystal ball – what do you think retailers will be focused on in 2024?

I think that the global supply chain is still heavily disrupted from the lingering effects of the pandemic, an increase in severe weather events and sadly from the instability in different parts of the world.

AI can provide a lot of assistance in the backend when it comes to trying to predict what are inherently unpredictable events. With machine learning, retailers can take data from all these disruptive events and have a better sense of how to react both in the moment and longer term. Additionally, they can use AI and machine learning to get a better sense of how to find alternate routes in the supply chain.  

I also think that retailers will be applying AI to help with labor issues, as there are just not enough associates in the store. What’s interesting is that retailers can use AI not simply to save money on labor or to reallocate labor, but literally to fill in the gaps where their employees just aren’t there. This could include implementing technology like inventory tracking robots and RFID-based product tracking.

What are you reading or listening to right now?

The last book I read was not a retail tech book at all! It’s a memoir called, “Searching for the Sound” by Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead.

If I read off hours, I sometimes like to read something that just reflects my personal interest. I love The Grateful Dead and I love music in general. I have been a freelance music journalist, so I’m always interested in the stories, lifestyles and the “behind the scenes” of musicians.

Because I read so much about retail tech during the day, I often like to read something different at night!

pr readiness blog

A Frank Question: Are You REALLY Ready for PR?

As a PR professional with almost 25 years of experience creating and executing successful communications strategies for my clients, I do feel it is my duty to address a big elephant in the room. Some of you may just not be ready for PR. And that is ok! 

As with anything in life, just because you think you might be ready to do something–it does not mean that you should do it.

Let’s start with what PR is and what it is not. PR should be a critical component to your overall marketing mix, not just something that operates in a separate silo. You can not turn PR off and on at any time. This approach will not get you the results you want.

The right PR plan with the right financial investment and executive support can yield tremendous results for your company. But, if you don’t have these things in place, you’ll be wasting precious time and money. 

Before you make the decision to include PR into your marketing strategy, I urge you to consider the following: 

What are your PR goals?

Just like any part of your business, if you decide you want to focus on PR, it is critical to know what you want from your PR program.

Questions to consider include:

  • What are your overarching PR goals? And how do they fit into your overall marketing strategy?
  • Are you looking to secure your next round of funding? How will that contribute to your PR strategy?
  • Do you want to promote your CEO as a thought leader and go-to resource? Or does your company need more overall brand awareness? 

Whatever the answers are, PR always works best with clearly defined goals.

As a PR agency, we find that having clear goals allows us to recommend the best tactics – such as bylined articles, speaking engagements or rapid response pitching – to get your company in front of key stakeholders and influencers.

Without goals, your PR program will not be set up for long-term success. 

Are you prepared to give your PR program the time it needs?

In a fast-paced world, we are all accustomed to getting the things we want immediately. (Thanks, Amazon!) But I’m here to tell you, if you don’t know already, PR does not and has never worked that way. Anyone that tells you differently is just selling you a bill of goods. 

The benefits of PR accrue over time. Enhancing your company’s reputation doesn’t happen overnight.

When we first engage with a client, we always work to secure initial quick wins by leveraging our industry expertise and media relationships. But we are always upfront and transparent with our clients, especially when it comes to landing bigger top-tier stories. 

You must trust in the process and know that with the right strategy and tactics in place, the stories will land, and you’ll be glad that you let PR do its job!

Is your ENTIRE team ready to commit to PR?

This might be the most important thing to consider when thinking about investing in PR. We look at PR as a team effort! If there are only one or two people in your organization that care and pay attention to the PR program, it is likely to be doomed from the start. 

You need an internal champion for PR and a committed executive team.

I am a firm believer that a successful communications program requires buy-in from the executive level on down. When it comes to PR, your key executive spokespersons should have an understanding of what is expected of them.

BONUS TIP: I would also highly recommend involving your sales team as SME experts for your PR team. The more buy-in on you have from the right members of your organization, the more successful your PR efforts will be!

PR is worth the investment if you are ready and committed!

I’m not just drinking the PR Kool-Aid when I say that PR is most certainly worth the investment!

I’ve seen dozens and dozens of our clients utilize their PR programs with us in the right way, and it has landed them the end-results they were seeking. We’ve also talked to a ton of other companies, who we would have loved to work with, but ultimately recommended to them that a PR program is not a fit at that time. 

When a company takes the time to “do the work” when it comes to PR, the ROI will make the marketing team look like heroes and will give your company the recognition and attention it deserves.

If you’re looking to build a high-impact, comprehensive PR program, the Ketner Group team would love connect! Download our Retail Tech PR Handbook to learn more about our best-practice approach to retail technology PR or schedule some time with us!

barbara thau co-

Talking Shop with Barbara Thau, Retail Influencer and Editorial Director of Features

In a fast-paced news world, journalists continue to rely on reputable and interesting story resources from PR professionals. That is why it is important to know and understand as much about the media we are working with as we can.

Over the years, the Ketner Group team has been lucky to work with so many talented media professionals in the retail and consumer technology space.

One of those is Barbara Thau, editorial director of features for CO— by U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Barbara has more than 25 years of experience covering the retail and consumer industries and is consistently named as a top retail influencer.

I recently had a chance to visit with Barbara about her take on the latest retail trends, how she selects her stories and her tips for PR professionals.

Following are some excerpts from our conversation. Enjoy!

Tell me about your path to retail and consumer journalism. What is it about these industries that you enjoy so much?

To be honest, I stumbled into the world of retail and consumer journalism.

I answered an ad in the New York Times for a research assistant for a publication called Housewares Executive. I had been writing prior to the job, but it gave me the opportunity to cover the big brands and retailers in the housewares industry. As well, it was an introduction to the world of trade publication reporting, which was so interesting to me!  I really enjoyed covering business from the consumer economy standpoint.

Years later I realized that my boss and the publisher there, Gerry Vander Schauw, was a key mentor to me: His keen, no-marketing-spin-allowed expertise on the retail industry was from both the retail and supplier perspectives. Absorbing that foundation of knowledge starting out covering retail proved invaluable to me. He was super tough, but he also believed in me.

Retail is so fascinating because it’s not just about the store and the products, but it’s about how we live, how we shop, how we work, how we think, and all the things that play into that. I like how retail is at the intersection of beauty, fashion, consumer electronics, hospitality, and even mental health.

Retail is a business that is rich and ever-changing. There’s always the through line between the consumer and the larger macro, socio-economic trends. What’s not to love about it?

As a retail journalist, what do you use an inspiration for writing your stories and how do you stay up-to-date on the latest trends?

Even though I’m the editorial director of features at CO—, I still write as often as I can. In terms of inspiration, conversations with people in the industry is at the top of my list. There’s nothing that can replace it. I make a point to go to industry conferences to meet with people and attend sessions to get the information I need on the larger business trends.

Of course, I read a ton, too. A few of the sources that stand out to me include CB Insights and eMarketer. As well, I spend a lot of time reading the old school trade publications and newsletters such as Women’s Wear Daily and the Industry Dive publications, and top business publications like the Wall Street Journal. 

I also like to spend time with companies before we even talk about doing a story. I like to ask what’s top of mind for them these days, what’s being over-reported and what’s keeping them up at night.

There is so much power in questions and these conversations often give me inspiration for future stories.

I know you write, assign and edit a lot of articles focused on retail executives – what do you look for when deciding on who to spotlight for these pieces?

At CO—, our sweet spot for the feature coverage are the startups that are scaling meaningfully and making an impact in the market, as well as the legacy Fortune 500 companies. We are always looking to cover the disruptors and the disrupted.

For example, we recently covered Sharon Chuter, the founder of UOMA Beauty. Sharon has made a quietly important move into the beauty space. As we reported it, “Chuter’s commitment, 20-hour workdays and a no-time-for-performative-diversity ethos” landed the startup as the most inclusive Black-owned beauty brand. UOMA is now on the shelves at Walmart, Ulta and Nordstrom.

I also look at the trends, and what companies are meaningfully changing shopping behavior. For example, there is a huge trend in the buy-now-pay-later space, so companies like Klarna, Afterpay and Affirm are interesting to me.

What I look for are the executives behind technology companies, brands and retailers who are really moving the needle.

What retail and/or consumer technologies are you most excited about or interested in these days?

I have to say that in terms of the tech that excites me, it is less so about the bells and whistles and more about the new platforms that democratize the playing field.

What we are seeing now is an overarching trend of emerging platforms, like Walmart Business and Google for Small Business that allow smaller companies to scale.

I am also excited about the potential for generative AI right now, especially for small retail and consumer businesses. It is going to allow them to use the technology to quickly and cost-effectively create content that is akin to what a large marketing team would do in bigger company.

And even for big retail brands, generative AI brings a new level of convenience to help with content creation for ad copy and more. It will be very interesting to see where the technology is going to go. There is obviously going to be some fascinating level of a playing field, but time will only tell.

Can you share how PR professionals like our team at Ketner Group can provide you the information you need to generate stories?

My answer is not going to sound very glamorous, but it is really all about the basics.

I appreciate when the PR person really knows their client’s business and knows how that specific company ties into bigger industry trends. I get a lot of generative AI pitches these days. It is clear which PR professionals understand our coverage and the “je ne sais quoi” of our publication and how this specific technology applies, and which ones that don’t.

I love when PR pitches clearly communicate their sweet spot and then match that up with a unique fact or forward-thinking insight. Pitches that include meaningless and glittering generalities don’t land very well.

I also can’t overly communicate the importance of couching pitches within the larger consumer or retail context of the landscape and why that trend is important. And I appreciate when I clearly understand what the return on investment is to the consumer or the retailer from a company’s strategy. To me, those are the best pitches. 

What are you reading right now?

I love that question!

I am reading a book called “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg and I love it! It is focused on the renowned editor, Max Perkins, who shepherded the editorial growth of Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams and many more. He was the one that brought so many famous books to life. It is a wonderful time capsule into the world of editing.

I highly recommend it for PR professionals, too!

domain diaries

Domain Diaries: My Day With In-Store Technologies

In her latest audio blog, our president and CEO recaps some of the cool in-store technologies at the Domain shopping center in Austin, TX.


Transcript of “Domain Diaries” audio blog:

It’s times like this that I really love my job. In preparation for this audio blog, I recently spent some time cruising around the Domain, the landmark mixed-use retail development and current home to the Ketner Group Austin offices, to find the latest and greatest in-store technologies and experiences. I may have done a bit of retail therapy, too.

You may remember our founder, Jeff Ketner’s, blog about the Domain last April. So, we thought it would be fun to revisit our favorite shopping digs in the ATX to see the impact that technology has on the shopping experience. 

I’m happy to say that the Domain did not disappoint! 

While we could certainly write an eBook on the growing innovation with in-store technologies, as there are so many to choose from, today we take quick look at three different experiences:

1. Amazon/Whole Foods palm payment

First introduced in 2020 and expanded to over 60 locations in 2022, the Amazon “One” palm scanner payment technology offers a contactless way for Whole Foods shoppers to checkout and pay faster. And all via a shopper’s palm.

I had not signed up for the service but was able to do so in less than a minute at one of the store’s checkout lanes. All I had to do was provide the form of payment I wanted to use for the purchase. Then, as Amazon describes, “using a process of proprietary imaging and computer vision algorithms” the palm reader was able to quickly capture and encrypt the images of both of my palms. 

Now, any time I make a purchase at Whole Foods, all I need to do is hover my hand over the scanner to complete the transaction. Very convenient.

But, as you can imagine, the in-store technology is not without controversy. More convenient shopping often means giving up more personal data, which means more privacy concerns. 

Back in 2021, a group of U.S. senators had concerns about the palm-scanning technology. In an open letter to Amazon chief executive Andy Jassy, the senators said, “In contrast with biometric systems like Apple’s Face ID and Touch ID or Samsung Pass, which store biometric information on a user’s device, Amazon One reportedly uploads biometric information to the cloud, raising unique security risks.”

Of note, more retailers and restaurants are making the move to contactless palm payments, including Panera Bread and Starbucks

2. Reformation magic fitting rooms

I must admit, this was my first time shopping at a Reformation store, and I’m definitely a fan now.

The shop is a showroom concept, with one of each item on the floor and touchscreens available to find my size.

As I mentioned in my subscription box blog, I am a big fan of apparel stores with curated, easy-to-find items, as opposed to going through racks and racks of clothes. I was in heaven.

On this visit, the store wasn’t busy at all, so one of the staff members was able to help me right away. I picked out two dresses to try on and within a few minutes, my two dresses in the right size were ready in the magic fitting room in the magic wardrobe. 

This is where the fun began!

The Reformation dressing room comes with a touchscreen iPad, allowing me to search and request another size or style. Once I did that, a new item magically appears in the wardrobe! The dressing room also has customizable lighting, ranging from cool to hot. 

As Reformation describes it, the showroom concept allows them to “gather customer insights, and therefore better forecast inventory and plan based on what is actually desired. This allows us to deliver exactly what customers want on a localized level.”

What’s more, it also allows the retailer’s in-store staff to have a “strong direct connection with our shoppers” and “build a more tailored relationship with them, delivering only insights that feel most relevant.”

3. Kiehl’s healthy skin consultation

I rounded out my in-store technologies walkabout at the Kiehl’s store, which I have shopped at frequently, but had never taken advantage of its in-store skin consultations. 

I was on the hunt for a new skin serum. After looking through a few options, the store associate (aka Skin Pro) offered to do a hydration test using the retailer’s skin reader technology via a sleek wand.

Within seconds, she could tell me the hydration levels and firmness of my skin. This helped me to find the perfect skin serum. I also found a better moisturizer to complement my new serum.

Kiehl’s does offer more in-depth skin analysis that helps customers identify areas of strength and concerns to target such as fine lines and wrinkles, visible pores, and eye area concerns.

I will be back to take advantage of that when I have more time. Until then, my customized serum is working like magic!

Shopping with a technology twist

I know I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to in-store technologies, and I plan to dig in and find more as time (and my credit card) allows.

I’d love to hear about any cool in-store tech you’ve seen recently! 

The Ketner Group team loves to talk retail! Give us a shout to learn how our retail expertise can help elevate brand awareness and support your marketing goals.

subscription box trend

Subscription Boxes – In or Out?

As I type this, the weather is a beautiful 83 degrees in Austin, TX. This means that I’m wearing one of my favorite Spring dresses from last year. It’s yellow with blue flowers, has the perfect size and cut of spaghetti straps, with an empire waist that “slims” me in all the right places. In fact, when taking my son to the orthodontist today, I received two compliments! 

It’s days and outfits like this that put a little extra spring in my step! 

So where did I get this dress, you ask? It came from my latest shopping obsession over the last few years – the subscription box.

My path to personalized shopping – the subscription box

Confession time. I subscribe to two different subscription boxes once a month – the tried-and-true StitchFix and Daily Look.

For years, I avoided these services because I didn’t want to commit myself to recurring charges. Plus, I was a little unsure of having someone else do the shopping for me. 

It wasn’t until my very good friend starting raving about her subscription services, and how much fun it was, that I slowly started coming around to the idea. 

If I’m being honest, the real reason I moved towards subscription boxes was because I had become extremely stressed and overwhelmed by the whole shopping experience.

As a working mom of two, time is a luxury. I wasn’t thrilled about spending hours helplessly combing through racks and racks of clothes, only to end up empty-handed. Which is exactly what was happening. I found myself not enjoying the retail experience at my favorite apparel stores like I used to. There were far too many options and none of them seemed just right for me.

But not all was lost. 

(Quick sidenote, in addition to jumping on the subscription box bandwagon, I started spending more and more time, and money, at a local Austin-area apparel boutique, Grit & Grace, co-owned by a college friend. The concept of her shop, and many others, is simple and brilliant. A smaller, curated selection of beautiful and trendy clothes and only offering one to two of each size per item. With this approach, I knew it was highly unlikely that I would be wearing the same outfit as other people in my town. I was also supporting a local business. Perfect!)

The joy of the box!

After doing my research and comparing the styles, prices, and customer reviews at the wide variety of subscription box options, I took a chance and subscribed to the aforementioned StitchFix and Daily Look.

For me, this new approach to shopping has been a gamechanger, as it has for millions of other subscribers. Each month, my “personal stylist” sends me curated apparel and footwear items to select from. Then, I send back the items I don’t want to keep. Easy!

Even though I typically know what is going to be in my boxes, due to the preview feature that both companies offer, it still feels a little bit like Christmas morning every time a box is delivered to my front porch. It’s made shopping fun again.

What’s more, I’m excited now about the items in my wardrobe, and I love the compliments. I only wish I had started the service sooner.

Challenges ahead for subscription box companies

As much as I have raved about my experiences so far, there have been a few bumps in the road. For each service, it took a good six months and a few personal stylist changes to get things right.

For example, I have short legs, so I am very particular about the length of my jeans and shorts. I must remind my stylist from time to time about this and other preferences that I have. Some boxes have missed the mark completely and I have to send everything back. 

Even with all of this, the time I’ve gained back and the quality of clothes I’ve accumulated over the past few years more than outweighs any mistakes or misses in my service.

But there are challenges ahead for these services.

Research shows that the subscription ecommerce market is projected to reach over $450 billion by 2025, up from $15 billion in 2019. Impressive numbers, but can they be sustained?

According to CNBCs Lauren Thomas, “Not that long ago, major retailers were scrambling to get in on the subscription craze sweeping the apparel industry. But then the pandemic upended daily routines and made shopping behaviors far less predictable. Now, some analysts and investors are questioning the appeal of these types of businesses and their ability to hold onto customers, who often sign up during a big life change but eventually lose interest.”

Battling subscription box fatigue

While this hasn’t been the case for me, the stats do show that many shoppers are experiencing box fatigue. Many are rethinking their investments in subscriptions in general:

  • Over the last year, Stitch Fix has lost 95% of its value as the company’s attempts to expand beyond subscriptions have floundered.
  • M Science, an analytics firm, says new customers account for a predominant share of sales at Stitch Fix, but their spending generally drops off over time. Roughly 40% of Stitch Fix’s revenue has been generated by new customers since its fiscal first quarter of 2020, the firm found.
  • Data from Kearney shows that 40% of consumers think they have too many subscriptions. The survey indicated that the most spending is on streaming plans, followed by music and video subscriptions, gaming, food memberships, and beverage boxes. Shopping subscriptions, which includes fashion, came after all of those categories.

What does the future hold for subscription boxes?

Time will only tell how things will shake out with these services, but things look a bit bleak right now.

As recently reported in RetailWireBlue Apron and Rent The Runway announced layoffs last year while restructuring. Birchbox announced in November it was considering bankruptcy. 

The Atlantic reported last year that “the subscription space was undergoing a shakeout.” Columnist Amanda Mull wrote, “As more markets become oversaturated with these kinds of services, more buyers will get bored of the concept entirely, and investors will eventually become weary of waiting for profit.”

As a new fan of subscription boxes, I am saddened to hear this. But if the business model doesn’t work or excite shoppers, then their long-term viability is at risk. 

In my own personal experience, it hasn’t always been perfect. But as far as I’m concerned, it sure beats the alternative. And have I mentioned the compliments I receive when wearing one of my new subscription box outfits? 

All kidding aside, I hope that these companies continue to evolve and adapt to ever-changing consumer behavior. It won’t be easy. I’ll leave that part to the experts, save one suggestion: be sure to keep the “joy” of personalized shopping with a monthly or quarterly box of new apparel items at the center of every decision. That’s what brought me here in the first place, and what will, hopefully keep me sticking around.

If you have any comments or insights on subscription boxes, our crew would like to hear from you! The Ketner Group team loves to talk retail! Give us a shout to learn how our retail expertise can help elevate brand awareness and support your marketing goals.

interview-jackie-trebilcock-nyftl

A Passion for Fashion Tech: Speaking with Jackie Trebilcock with the NY Fashion Tech Lab

I don’t know about y’all, but after spending months at home during COVID, I was thrilled to be back in “real clothes” and out of lounge wear. Fashion retailers were ready to have us back, too, and technology played a significant role in driving consumers back to their favorite brands. 

In fact, according to McKinsey & Company’s 2022 State of Fashion Tech Report, fashion companies invested between 1.6 and 1.8% of their revenues in technology in 2021. That figure is expected to rise to between 3.0 and 3.5% by 2030.

There are so may innovative things happening in fashion tech, and specifically, with women-led tech startups. I just had to go directly to the source of this innovation and learn more, again!

I spoke with Jackie Trebilcock, managing director for the New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTL) back in 2020. We recently had a chance to catch up with her again, and what a treat that was!

Founded in 2014, the Lab connects a cohort of women-led B2B, fashion and retail-focused technology companies that are fostering iteration, validation and acceleration of technologies to advance the industry.

I had a blast learning even more about the Lab and what Jackie and her team are doing to support women-owned tech companies. Enjoy our conversation!

For those readers who don’t know you, can tell us a little bit about you and your journey to the Lab?

I joined the New York Fashion Tech Lab at the end of 2014. They were looking for someone to run the cohort that was launching for 2015.

I’ve worked in fashion for over 20 years, and I’ve been an entrepreneur myself, so I understand both sides of it, which is why I was so excited when I had reached out to the Lab’s parent company, Springboard Enterprises. I just thought what they were doing was so cool and I wanted to learn more. And here I am, many years later.

What was the catalyst for the creation of the Lab, and why the focus on women-led companies?

Founded in 2000, Springboard Enterprises is a nonprofit organization specifically focusing on women-led companies. Springboard runs a myriad of programs (i.e., bootcamps, accelerators, etc.) in a wide variety of sectors such as life science, biotech, women’s health, general tech and ad tech. 

In 2014, when they were looking to expand into different sectors. They realized that the fashion and retail industries were a bit behind some of the advancements they were seeing in technology in those other industries. That’s when the NYFTL was born!

I describe Springboard as a venture catalyst because their main mission is to help give women resources to raise money and grow and scale their companies. The Lab does that too, but we are more of a business catalyst. We are in partnership with leading retailers and brands that are looking to keep their finger on the pulse of new technologies that address pain points or take out an area of friction for them.

I would love to hear your insights on innovation and the changes that you’ve seen in the fashion tech industry since you’ve been with the NYFTL.

It has been exciting to see the progress that’s been made within the industry over the past eight years. In the beginning, we were mostly engaging with CTOs and CIOs because that’s where technology really sat at some of these larger retailer and brand partners.

Now, there are so many different points of contact within these retailers and brands. We often engage with CMOs, innovation leads, digital strategy, or eCommerce. It’s really everyone’s job to know what’s out there from a technology standpoint. Tech is everywhere and in everything!

We’ve become another way for fashion retailers to keep their finger on the pulse and to do it together. It’s important that they feel like they are not doing it in a silo, but as an industry.

I would imagine that all this work and the things that you’re doing at the Lab inspires you every day!

Yes! I think I have the coolest job in the world as I kind of get to sit in the middle of being in contact with retailers and brands, understanding what’s happening there, and getting the opportunity to meet inspiring women creating these awesome and needed solutions for this industry.

My personal mission with all of this is to be a connector for our retail and brand partners, the alumni companies, the companies in the Lab, and for the industry in general. It’s exciting to see what can happen when you make that connection.

Can you provide a few examples of how the Lab has helped to propel women in fashion tech forward?

We’ve had 69 companies go through the program since its inception. We’ll be onboarding another group of Lab companies for 2023. What we have seen and what we track with the Lab companies are the partnerships and pilots that come from the program, which happens all the time.

There is also so much that can come from candid feedback from the retail executives as part of this program, which can save the startups so much time as they continue to build and iterate on their product. We also have another network of 80 industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors that they get to connect with and get feedback from, and of course opportunity for investment.

The Lab is an ongoing community that is part of the companies’ entrepreneurial journey – whether they are looking to hire, pivot, get acquired or fundraise.

As you look ahead in your crystal ball, what are you most excited about with regards to the fashion tech industry?

On our website, we have this whole list of “areas of interest” and it’s something that we are constantly adding, removing and refining. What excites me most are the things that we don’t even know exist!

If you think about the very buzzy tech trends, like NFTs and Web3, they didn’t exist before a few years ago. I know there will be other new innovations and advancements like that. It’s exciting to think that we are going to get to uncover them, spend time learning about them with the retail and brand partners and make them part of our areas of focus.

I agree you do have the coolest job in the world! As we wrap up, what opportunities are available for anyone interested in becoming more involved with NYFTL?

Application for our 2023 program has already closed, but if you are an entrepreneur interested in applying for the Lab for next year, I recommend getting in touch with us as soon as possible. We start connecting with and tracking companies very early.

If you’re a retailer or brand that wants to learn more about becoming involved, it’s a great time now to potentially join us for 2023, or we can do sessions with you so you can meet some of the alumni.

We also have an active expert network made up of industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors that connect in with the Lab companies as part of the program.

How can we learn more?

To learn more about the NYFTL, email info@nyftlab or visit https://nyftlab.com/.

Retail Sustainability Is So Hot Right Now

Sustainability has been a huge topic in retail for more than five years now. But the trend keeps on evolving, a reality Catherine Seeds explores in her latest video. Listen to her thoughts in our latest video, or read the transcript below to learn more!

Catherine Seeds presents: retail sustainability

Hi y’all! I’m Catherine Seeds, president of Ketner Group, coming live to you from beautiful Austin, Texas!

If you’ve been listening in to my KG ABs (audio blogs) I appreciate you coming back for another go-round.

In my latest AB installment, we dug into the shopping habits of Gen Z with my daughter Madeline and, most recently, tried to peel back the initial layers of the metaverse.

Sustainability is what the people want

Today, we are going to dive into something very hot right now in retail – sustainability. For anyone listening who thinks this is just a fad, let me back up this statement with some truth bombs.

According to a recent survey by Capgemini, almost 80% of retailers believe that their sustainability work increases customer loyalty. Couple this stat with insights from a recent Sensormatic consumer survey that indicate that American consumers consider sustainability when making at least some purchases, and the sustainability trend becomes even more evident.

In that same survey, research shows that 80% of nearly half of those surveyed believe the responsibility to be more sustainable falls on retail organizations. What’s more, 70% said they would change their shopping habits if they discovered that a store or brand was not operating sustainable. 

Think of that for a minute!

Now more than ever, a significant number of shoppers are taking a “stand” by showing their support at the checkout for more sustainable retail practices.

Consumers, young and old, continue to be conscious of how their lifestyle and shopping habits can affect Mother Earth, and they are putting their money where their mouths are to ensure that retailers are also stepping up to the plate when it comes to sustainable practices. 

As with anything, if you want to make big changes happen, you must often take baby steps. Here are a few examples of what some retailers are currently doing to galvanize their own sustainability practices.

B Corporations for the win 

For retailers who looking to get the jump on becoming “official” when it comes to sustainability, B Corp status is the way to go. Organizations who are designated B Corp, “are leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy.”

According to the B Corp website, B Lab assessment measures a company’s entire social and environmental impact.

Examples of B Corp Certified retailers include Toms Shoes, The Body Shop and Allbirds. These and over 4000 retailers in over 70 countries are, as our friends at Business Insider describe, helping drive a global movement that uses businesses as a force for good.

What’s old is new again in fashion

As I discussed with my 17-year old Gen Z daughter a few months ago, thrifting is all the rage, and it is only gaining in popularity. According to my cost conscience youngling, thrifting allows her to double down on her own unique style at a lower cost.

According to BYU professor Michelle Hyde, “I believe thrifting is a huge trend that will continue to grow, particularly pushed by the younger generations that are environmentally conscious. Never have young adults been so in-tune and so environmentally aware of the negative impact of conspicuous consumption.”

In an interesting twist to the thrifting trend, retailers have adopted their own resell programs. Examples include Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” program and Ikea’s Buy Back and Resell program.

Online marketplaces for resale luxury goods, as Ketner Group’s Jeff Ketner talked about in a recent blog, are also doing their part to drive the circular economy.

Saving the Earth one store at a time

Although the business and popularity of digital commerce continues to grow, shoppers like me are creatures of habit and still enjoy doing business in person, in a good old-fashioned store. The store will always be the gathering place in modern society, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need an Earth-friendly facelift.

Sustainable US women’s fashion brand, Reformation, has implemented several strategies to save energy, improve water efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions in their stores. This includes incorporating materials like LED fixtures, rammed earth, and recycled fabric insulation in its buildings, and offsetting its construction footprint and electricity usage.

Not to be outdone, fashion designer Stella McCartney’s flagship store in London has sustainable sourced furnishings, biodegradable mannequins and an air conditioning system that cleans the air using nano-carbon technology. 

If sustainability were easy, everyone would do it

Sustainability is top of mind for retail CEOs, which is certainly a good thing.

At this year’s NRF Big Show, the big guns at several of the top retailers made this topic front at center. From Walmart’s John Furner who discussed concerns about climate change and the importance of diversity and inclusion, to Pepsi CEO Steven Williams who talked about sustainability as it relates to the value chains of products from farm fields to packaging composability. 

On the flip side, being a “sustainable retailer” is not an easy gig, and according to Home Depot CEO Ron Jarvis, there’s really no such thing as an environmentally friendly company. According to Jarvis, “Unless you’re an organic garden grower that has your garden by the river, and you deliver all your products in a wagon and a buggy, then you’re not environmentally friendly. 

Jarvis goes on to say that everything that retailers do has an environmental impact. Retailers have the burden of looking at all the factors and deciding which ones are acceptable risk, which ones could hurt the greater good, and which ones could hurt society.

We want your thoughts on retail sustainability

When it comes to sustainability in retail and all that entails, I’ve only just scratched the surface on this topic. There is so much more we could dish about, including Earth-friendly packaging, rental business models, incentivized recycling, eco-energy delivery options and more. More to talk about on another day!

If you have any comments or insights on this topic, our crew would like to hear from you! The Ketner Group team loves to talk retail, give us a shout to learn how our retail expertise can help elevate brand awareness and support your marketing goals.

direct to avatar

Direct-to-Avatar (D2A): Retailers, Are You Ready for It?

According to our president Catherine Seeds, one of the best parts of her job is learning “the next big thing” happening within the retail industry. Her latest video discusses the latest trend: Direct-to-Avatar.

Prefer to read a transcript of her video? We’ve included one below!

Catherine Seeds presents: Direct-to-Avatar

The best part of my job is learning and researching “the next big thing” happening within the retail industry. For more than 20 years, I have had a front seat for hundreds of game-changing innovations. It’s always exciting to see what’s coming next.

Hi, I’m Catherine Seeds, president of Ketner Group – thanks for listening in.

Right now, there is a huge momentum shift for brands to create strategies around direct to consumer (DTC). We all know that the customer experience is everything.

This means it is critical for brands to figure out how to create closer connections with their customers. Whether that means bypassing the more traditional retail model or even opening retail concept stores. Our very own Jeff Ketner talked about this trend in his most recent blog. 

When it comes to creating closer consumer connections, the “next big thing” on the retail horizon is a step beyond the DTC trend. To be more accurate, it’s a step into the vast virtual world of avatars.

Direct-to-Avatar: changing the digital economy game

The Direct-to-Avatar term, or D2A, refers to the business model of selling products directly to shoppers’ avatars. The model sidesteps the management and logistics of sending an actual physical product to a consumer. 

It was described in a recent Decode_M article, as this, “The DTC business model forever changed how we shop, cutting out the middleman. The next evolution of sales channels (D2A) will bypass humans completely, selling straight to our avatars instead.”

This might sound like a trend for only future generations. Wrong! Direct-to-Avatar is here and now. According to Crucible, Direct-to-Avatar expects to be the largest digital economy in history, topping $1 trillion during this decade. 

Need further proof? 

According to Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president of global business group at Meta, “Within the next decade, the metaverse will reach one billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce and support jobs for millions of creators and developers.” 

The complete potential of the Direct-to-Avatar business model has yet to be realized. The fashion and luxury industries, however, have certainly already taken full advantage of this movement. More on that later!

Roblox and Gen Z: a match made for the metaverse

If you are familiar with the Direct-to-Avatar trend, then you have most certainly heard of Roblox. As the biggest player in the metaverse, Roblox has more than 50 million daily active users with nearly 10 million developers on the platform.

67% of Roblox users are under the age of 16, also known as Gen Z. For fashion brands, Roblox is a perfect gateway to Gen Z – a generation whose disposable income has reached an estimated $360 billion, according to Gen Z Planet. 

Brands dipping their toes into the metaverse should also be paying attention to Generation Alpha, those born after 2010. These young consumers influence $500 billion in purchases per year. 

As Christina Wootton, VP of global brand partnerships at Roblox says in NYLON, “Self-expression is a huge part of any shared experiences, be it in real life or in the metaverse. The Roblox community, over half of which is over 13 years old, is very engaged, spending billions of hours on the platform every month, and digital fashion plays a hugely important role in our community’s creative self-expression.” 

According to Wootton, 25 million virtual items were created by the Roblox community in 2021 alone, and over 5.8 billion virtual items (both free and paid) were acquired on the platform.

Becoming fashion-forward with D2A

Given their proclivity to all things digital, it’s easy to understand why the Direct-to-Avatar model is so attractive to younger consumers. This is especially true for the fashion industry. It creates an easy way to access and engage with younger demographics. It also provides a more impactful way for companies to connect with their shoppers beyond digital ads and content.

Here are a just a few examples of fashion brands releasing D2A digital collections, as featured in a recent Wunderman Thompson blog:

  • Ralph Lauren released a 50-piece digital clothing collection in August 2021, available for purchase in social networking app Zepeto. 
  • American Eagle announced a digital clothing collection for Bitmoji avatars in July 2021. 
  • Gucci and The North Face released a joint collection for avatars on Pokémon Go in January 2021. 
  • In March 2021 Gucci released virtual sneakers that can only be worn with AR, using technology developed by Wanna. 
  • Digital fashion house The Fabricant has partnered with brands like Adidas, Puma, and Tommy Hilfiger to virtualize their garments.

Most recently, youth retailer Pacsun, announced its first dedicated experience on Roblox called PACWORLDa fantasy interactive mall experience where players are the owner and operators of a new mall. Their objective is to make the mall as profitable and popular as possible.

Is Direct-to-Avatar the future of shopping?

Time will tell if the Direct-to-Avatar movement will stick. Looking at the stats, however, the odds are certainly in its favor. Digging into this topic has encouraged me to borrow my son’s Oculus headset and journey into the world of the metaverse.

The Ketner Group team will be keeping an eye on this trend as it continues to develop. For brands, Direct-to-Avatar brings endless financial and customer loyalty possibilities.

As WGSN Insight’s Cassandra Napoli said recently at NRF 2022, “The possibilities are truly endless for brands in this avatar economy, as avatars will extend the scope of storytelling for brands. And while digital fashion is not a new concept, it’s gaining momentum. It provides brands with a potentially more sustainable and inclusive — not to mention lucrative—way to reach consumers.”

Thanks for joining me today. Let’s keep the conversation going! 

Get in touch today to find out how our retail expertise can help drive brand awareness and support your marketing goals. 

Gen Z Madeline Q&A Blog

Dishing With My Daughter: Interviewing “Gen Z” About Shopping Habits

Today we are digging into a topic that I find incredibly interesting – Generation Z and their shopping habits. Gen Z, the group of 72 million youngsters born between 1997 and 2012, can’t remember a time before the internet and widespread digital technology. According to McKinsey, Gen Z has a greater interest in human rights, race and ethnicity issues, LGBTQ+ equality, and feminism than generations before them.

Gen Z has never known a country not at war. As well, most have seen first-hand the financial struggles of their Gen X parents. In my opinion, they are old souls always searching to find their unique identities but are grounded in fiscal and social responsibility.

And I should know – I have two! 

I recently sat down with the oldest of my two Gen Z’ers, Madeline. Born in 2005, Madeline is a high school junior busy with her various school and volunteer activities. She also holds down a part-time job at a local pizza restaurant. But just like any high school teen, she loves hanging with her friends and, of course, shopping.

I was able to pull Madeline away from her very busy life to have a conversation with me – her Gen X mom who still doesn’t understand exactly how Snapchat works – to spill the tea on her likes and dislikes when it comes to retail shopping. 

What I found was not surprising at all. Madeline’s habits match up to the general characteristics of Gen Z. She is digitally connected all the time, but fiscally aware when it comes to spending her hard-earned money.

Check out our full conversation in the video or transcript below!


Transcript from “Dishing with my Daughter”

Tell me a little bit about what you like about shopping in the store and what you don’t like.

I like being able to see all the clothes in person and being able to know what kind of material is really used, because different styles and materials all fit differently.

I like knowing exactly how everything will fit. What I don’t like about in-person shopping is all the other people around me. As well, in my experience, retail workers are sometimes rude.

Gen Z Madeline In Person Shopping

When shopping in store, do you like having the help of a retail worker?

Sometimes. But I mainly do things by myself because they (the retail worker) are not in my head. They don’t know what I really want. I could tell them what I want, but I would rather not. 

I know you do a lot of online shopping! I’m curious, what do you love about online shopping and what is maybe frustrating about shopping online?

I like it because there are more options–in terms of sizes and other options. You could find something you like in-person, but they might not have your size or the color you want. With online shopping, they’re more likely to have your size. It’s easier to find things online because you can just search the style you are looking for. It also seems more organized to shop online than in the store.

Gen Z Madeline Online Shopping

Tell me a bit about the brands that you like to shop at online and why you keep going back to those shops?

I really like Shein because they have so many options. As soon as you think you’ve found all their options or you got to the bottom of the list, there are always hundreds of more items to view. And it’s also very cheap, for the most part. I don’t think I’ve ever spent over $15 or $17 on one thing at that store.

With online shopping, you can take as long as you want, instead of feeling like you’ve been in one store too long. I feel like the retail workers are thinking, “What is this girl doing here for so long? Is she lost or something?” 

I’ve spent almost two hours just on one website making sure I got all the colors in, the size and the style. I spend my own money when I shop, so I want to make sure I’m getting exactly what I want.

Gen Z Madeline Online Shopping

Let’s talk about social media shopping – very popular with Gen Z. Can you give us an example of how you use this?

I find a lot of the things that I’m interested in on Instagram and Facebook the most. Because of the algorithms, I think they (the social media channels) consider what pages I follow and what things I like on Explore pages. I really like a lot of Western, 60s, 70s and early 2000 styles, so I follow a lot of people and small boutiques that carry those styles. 

As I’m going through my feed, I’ll see a pair of jeans or a cute blouse in the styles that I like, so that’s helped me a lot when I’m shopping. It’s helped me expand and learn about new stores, and it’s also helpful for smaller boutiques too. Tiny boutiques will pop up on my feed that I’ve never seen before, so I often end up buying things from them, too. In that way, I feel like I’m doing my part to help small brands. 

My thing is that I come up with my own style in my head, but I don’t always know how to search for what I’m looking for on an online site. For example, I was trying to find my prom dress online last month. I was looking for a dress on Lulus and I knew exactly what style and theme I wanted for my dress – an icy platinum look. But on so many online sites, you can’t really look up icy platinum in their little search engine. So, I went to Pinterest to find what I was looking for.

With Pinterest, I literally typed in icy platinum prom dress! So many options came up and I was able to find some dresses that I liked. From there I looked at the names of the dresses, did a Pinterest search again and ended up finding the exact icy platinum dress I wanted! 

Gen Z Social Media Shopping

Let’s talk about thrift shopping! Tell us a little bit about why you like thrift shopping and how that’s helped you with your style.

I like thrifting, and feel like I’ve been thrifting before it was a trend! I like it because the clothes are super cheap there. I’m also a big fan of early 2000 styles. There are a ton of options in terms of clothes and accessories items from that decade at stores like Goodwill. And, like I said before, it’s also cheap. My friends and I can walk in there with $50 to spend and can buy probably close to that number of shirts! How could you not want to go there?

Side note: After speaking with my Gen Z’er for this blog, I took a closer look at the thrift shopping trend. According to according to a report from GlobalData and the online thrift store ThredUp, the secondhand market is projected to reach $77 billion by 2025 and is growing at a whopping 11 times the rate of the broader retail clothing sector. The drivers of the growth are younger consumers who are drawn to thrifting for its sustainability and eclectic and cool styles.

Gen Z Thrift Shopping

As a Gen Z’er, what else helps influences how you shop, either on social media or online or in a store?

A big part of my influence in what I like to shop for and wear is honestly music. I love older music, like Fleetwood Mac and Lynyrd Skynyrd – mostly bands from the 60s and 70s. I like the styles from that era. Sharon Tate is another style icon of mine. I would say she a big influence on the clothes and accessories that I buy.   

Gen Z Shopping Music Influence

Let’s talk retail!

At Ketner Group, we love digging into all things retail – even with our kids! Get in touch today to find out how our retail expertise can help drive brand awareness and supporting your marketing goals. 

relationships with reporters

Top Four Ways for Building a Long-Term Relationship With a Reporter

Our president Catherine Seeds has worked in public relations for many years and one of her favorite parts of the job is building long-term relationships with reporters. Those looking to build their own long-term relationships should check out her latest audio clip, which shares top tips for media relations. Can’t catch the video or prefer to read? We’ve included a transcription of her recommendations below.


Build long-term relationships with reporters:

If you are in PR, then you know how hard it can be, especially in today’s media landscape, to get in front of key media contacts in a meaningful way. Hi, I’m Catherine Seeds, president of Ketner Group Communications and I’m so glad you are listening in. Today, we are going to talk about building long-term relationships with reporters.

Let’s get to it!

So, I like to think of relationships with reporters as a marriage. What do the best marriages consist of you ask? Well, a lot, lol! Relationships are not always easy and they take work, but when you and your partner get it right – it can result in something extremely special. The same goes with your relationships with journalists!

Let’s talk four easy things you can do to create a lasting rapport with a reporter:

1. Be a good listener (aka research!):

This is one of the first things we all learn as PR practitioners. When we think about listening to journalists, this means really understanding what topics they are most interested in and what is going to get their attention. Listening is all about doing your homework on the journalist, reading their previous articles, knowing how they prefer to be contacted and understanding their passions as writers. You can’t possibly expect to build a relationship with an editor or reporter if you don’t LISTEN to the things that are important to them.

Listening and identifying what will make a journalist think “this PR person gets me” could be, as Humphrey Bogart says in the movie classic Casablanca, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

be-patient-with-reporter

2. Be patient:

Once you’ve done your homework, listened and established a connection with a journalist – that does not mean you or your client will grace the top fold of the Wall Street Journal right away. Patience, especially in today’s very competitive media landscape, is critical to long-term PR success. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “To lose patience is to lose the battle.” But that does not mean you have to sit back and wait for things to happen.

As our friends at Muckrack recently wrote, as a PR professional, you need to remember that you are planting seeds – not shot-gunning beers. Having a quality relationship with a reporter does not mean only reaching out to them when you need something – it means putting in the work and planning for the long game to achieve optimum results.

Make it a practice each week or month to simply engage with those reporters that are most important to you. Send them a nice note about a recent article they’ve written, give them a shout out on social media or offer to meet them for coffee to catch up. They key here is to keep developing that relationship while also staying top of mind with the reporter the next time they write about a topic that could be a fit for your client.

be-relevant-for-journalist

3. Be relevant:

As PR pros, it is our job to stay on top of breaking news, relevant topics and differentiated points of view. In short, you need to do what you can to make a journalist’s life a little bit easier!

When pitching a journalist, it is important to bring fresh ideas to the table! In Cision’s “2021 Global State of the Media” report, one of the important key takeaways is to be a trendsetter. In the report, Cision reminds us that “journalists are looking for stories that speak to what’s happening in the world right now, so the better you are at delivering stories with timely narratives, the more of an asset you will be. Sage advice indeed!

Once you’ve secured an interview, make sure you or your client continues to bring their A game to the table with valuable information, such as:

  • What does this news mean for your customers and the industry, and why should the journalist’s audience care?
  • What is one key thing that (your customer or industry watchers) should consider or think about as they are digesting this news?
  • How can you or your company provide further analysis and a point of view for this news? Do you have unique data to highlight the story, or can you point to outliers or differentiators in the story?

In short, think like a journalist would, and not just what is important to you or your client.

be-human-to-reporter

4. Be human:

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that journalists are people, too. They have the same worries, fears, joys, anger, wants and needs as we do.

Journalists are pressed for time more than ever before, and they do not need PR people following up repeatedly on a pitch, especially, if it is not something they are interested in. (Remember, be a good listener!) According to the same Cision report I cited earlier, nearly three in 10 journalists say they never want follow up at all, while many want at least two days to look over a pitch first.

No one appreciates getting annoying emails that are not relevant to us, and journalists are no different. Be human, be kind and be thoughtful when it comes to communication with the media – it will be a win-win for everyone if you do!

There are many other ways to develop long-term relationships with journalists, but the most important thing to remember is approaching it like you would any other relationship. Build trust, create thoughtful communication and above all, be helpful.

Keep the conversation going:

For more tips and advice on building relationships with the media, please visit our blog. Are you Interested in doing more with your media relations strategy? We’d love to see how we can help jump-start your activities and support you for the long-haul. Email us at [email protected]

Until next time, work hard – play hard – and be nice to people!