Workforce Development

The Shape of Retail

June 5, 2019  • Institute Staff

From the demise of Sears to the proliferation of self-checkout, the retail sector is undergoing a generational shift. Automation, e-commerce, and corporate consolidation impact 16 million US retail workers. Since 2016, the Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program has focused on the changing retail landscape through its Reimagine Retail initiative. Supported by the Walmart Foundation, the project focuses on improving economic mobility for retail workers and in turn strengthening employee retention and business performance.

One of the ways brick-and-mortar stores can differentiate themselves is through exceptional customer service and positive in-store experiences. A growing number of retailers now see that making an investment in people can be a competitive advantage. Oakland-based Reimagine Retail partner Pacific Community Ventures, which provides loans and advice to small businesses in underinvested areas, created the Good Jobs, Good Business Toolkit to help business leaders improve employment practices in ways that improve their bottom lines. Jen Musty, the owner of San Francisco’s Batter Bakery, which makes baked goods from local, seasonal ingredients and sells them at two shops and online, recently piloted the tool kit. “One of my goals was to translate my knowledge to staff, including execution, production, and passion,” says Musty. She developed seasonal product tastings, trainings, and “open-book” sessions on company financials that improved motivation and customer service. She rewarded staff for meeting sales targets, leading to a $22,000 increase in retail sales over three months. Musty also improved the bakery’s benefits and increased wages. “Staff are on the front lines with customers and communicate what’s special about our products,” Musty says. “It’s important they feel they are learning and can grow within the company.”

Reimagine Retail shows what’s possible when community-based organizations and retailers design local solutions that improve workers’ lives and business resilience.