What do the movies, baby products, and one-for-one shoe sales have in common? They all played a part in the Los Angeles Chicago Conversations event that I had the pleasure to attend last week.
On Thursday evening at Sony Pictures, the Booth community came together for Chicago Conversations - Consumer Goods. With over 10,000 companies headquartered in LA, the city continues to showcase its robust presence as a national and international consumer goods business hub. This event brought alumni and industry professionals together for engaging and insightful conversation around the issues facing this industry.
The event was well-attended by those interested in consumer goods and also in learning more about Booth. I enjoyed the conversations I had with alumni, prospective students, and our panelists during networking over drinks. A highlight for me though was the chance to speak with Tom Watts from TOMS Shoes and hear more about the culture at TOMS, his overall career track, and his next steps. He mentioned that even being close to 30 years older than the founder of TOMS, he loved the energy and creativity that the pay-it-forward concept exuded.
After a welcome from Stacey Kole, Deputy Dean for the Full-Time MBA Program, the moderator Paul Zaffaroni, ’97, Director of Consumer and Business Services Investment Banking Group at ROTH Capital Partners kept the conversation going and facilitated the discussion among panelists representing the entertainment, infant and toddler products, and footwear segments: Gregory Economos, Senior Vice President , Global Consumer Products, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Margaret Hardin, ’96, President and COO, Munchkin, and Jeff Watts, ’76, Retired CFO, TOMS Shoes. A few of the topics they addressed included…
- Post-Recession Outlook: there is certainly a fear of the unknown and you can see retail is trying to prepare the best that they can (for instance the new Black Thursday, instead of Black Friday). Even in poor economic times, consumers don’t like waiting and, in most cases, are willing to spend and have a hard time not doing so. The mid-level (“better”) brands are getting pinched though, putting them in a challenging spot because consumers either buy in low categories or go straight to luxury if they can. Keep an eye on Latin America and Russia as they will provide a lot of growth opportunities.
- E-Commerce: how are retailers being affected by Amazon? In most cases the margins at retailers are taking a hit because consumers look/touch at a store and then purchase at a discounted rate online. Having an e-commerce presence certainly can help you build your brand.
- Branding & Social Media: talk to your consumers through social media and story-telling when you have the opportunity. And when done effectively, your customers will become part of the movement and provide a voice for you.
Having such a range of panelists discuss and debate these issues and more left the audience energized as alumni and guests reflect on issues their own organizations face. Part of my role at Booth is working with our corporate partners in admissions and so I have the pleasure to attend several Chicago Conversations events throughout the year. These events always leave me wanting more as I gain a greater perspective on what our applicants do now, and want to do after their MBAs.
Check out more Chicago Conversations coming to Miami, New York City and San Francisco to name a few. Hope to see you at a Conversations event in 2013.
I wish everyone healthy and safe holiday season!