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Meet The TRE: Bob Phibbs

Get to know RETHINK Retail’s Top Retail Experts through the “Meet the TRE” Q&A series! Dive in to learn about a member of the thought leader community and follow their work and insights across our content and their social channels.

Bob Phibbs is CEO of the Retail Doctor

  • Name, Full Title, and/or Company
    • Bob Phibbs, CEO of the Retail Doctor
  • Tell us about your background
    • I earned my degree in conducting from Chapman University, with a minor in business. To put myself through college, I sold shoes and later built a national chain of western stores. When I achieved the highest sales increase at South Coast Plaza, the #1 mall in the world, I knew I could replicate this success for others. I took on a small coffee roaster who faced stiff competition from a second Starbucks just 100 feet from his door. Within a year, his sales were up 50%, and the following year, they rose another 40%. I called the business editor at The New York Times and pitched a story about how the little guy beat the big guy. They were interested, and on October 29, 1997, I walked into the lobby of the NY Hilton to see a color picture of me and my client in the Sunday paper. The business section headline read, “Meet the category killer-killer.”
    • From there, I took a startup coffee franchise to 133 locations before dedicating myself solely to the Retail Doctor. My goal has always been to help large brands who value training their employees to open their hearts and sell merchandise. After 30 years, my client list stands as evidence of the trust and results I’ve delivered, including brands such as Google, Lego, Yamaha, and many more. In addition to being a motivational speaker, I’ve written three books, have created an online retail sales training platform used by some of the best retailers in the world, have two podcasts and about 400K followers.
  • Brief description of your current role and your space in the industry
    • CEO of the Retail Doctor. I help stores create a store that customers love and where merchandise is sold, not clerked.
  • What challenges/opportunities are currently facing retailers?
    • How to balance the demands of investors to innovation and disruption at the expense of the in-store experience.
    • The opportunities to build their own bench by a clear path to more money via more learning and training opportunity. No one knows the store better than the front-line workers. That needs to be respected and harvested rather than trying to be chasing the elusive DTC profit-losing initiatives.
  • What hot topics or trends have you been seeing in the retail space?
    • My 350K followers are contacting me for work and looking to take what they’ve read from me to another level in their retail sales training.
    • How do you support these hot topics?
      • I completely refilmed and expanded my online retail sales training program SalesRX to include the latest opportunities for engaging shoppers.
  • How has the retail industry changed in the past 5 years?
    • We lost about ½ hospitality and retail workers during the pandemic, and only about half of them have returned. Everyone is short-staffed but not making the smart moves to close stores or limit hours, so the experience has become more “Please wait” rather than “Welcome in.”
  • What do you predict will happen in the next 5 to 10 years?
    • We are going to be in a talent shortage for the next decade. We will never go back to minimum wage in retail or hospitality and that will require a major re-shift in thinking how employees are expendable. Even with training, they will need new challenges and pathways to success. I don’t believe the Middle Class is going anywhere and the smart retailers we see now will be the smart retailers of 2034.
  • Do you have any interesting projects coming up?
    • We are doing a rollout to 75 stores in the next few weeks, my speaking engagements are recovering from the last few years, and I was a Bentley influencer driving their newest Flying Spur Speed for a week.  
  • Which resources do you use to keep up with industry news?
    • LinkedIn is my number one choice along with the New York Times. Ad Age is there as well as SmartBrief and Retail Brew
  • What is the greatest challenge the industry is facing?
    • How to integrate online and in-person shopping while acknowledging they are distinct channels of buying.
  • How do you continue to grow and develop as an influencer of the retail industry?
    • Speaking with attendees and clients of course but also looking at what is going on with younger generations, leasing information, and sales reports.
  • What are the most critical changes that we must make to face the future effectively?
    • Realize the game of retail is always about being brilliant on the basics. Yes, there are new technologies. Yes, there are a lot of tools you can use. But is it making your customer experience more rat to the cheese to avoid people or is it helping your people, the very face of your brand, to be able to execute at a higher level. Right now, many employees are expected to be order packers and merchandise finders, all while trying to fend off thieves and be free to be themselves. Unless retailers focus on the people working on the floor, the experience will devolve, and the bet merchandise will sit. We’ll pretty much be left with “Let’s Make A Deal” retail.
  • Who is making the greatest advancements in the industry, and what are they doing?
    • Wayfair opened eyes with their new Chicago showroom showing how DTC has realized they must have stores. Starbucks still is the envy of most for mobile apps due to simplicity and uptake. Walmart’s push to reward managers – up to 500K a year shows they understand the need for a pathway for all employees to aspire to.
  • What has helped you get to where you are, and what advice would you have for others who want to take a similar approach?
    • It’s a great life if you don’t weaken. We have so much doom and gloom thrown at us daily – often from pundits and analysts. The thing to remember is you are hired for hope, not doom. I was lucky when I started my brand 30 years ago that after a huge success with a retailer, I could call the Business Editor of the NYT which ended up in a profile. But the story’s point is you have to hit it out of the park as a consultant. Otherwise, you’re just someone with an opinion.
  • What is the best resource for people who want to dive in deeper?
    • Connect with me on LinkedIn or visit my site RetailDoc.com to learn about my speaking, consulting, and online retail sales training program SalesRX.