Michael Cairnes, COO, Kirkland’s
The mere thought of transforming the in-store experience is enough to overwhelm even the most seasoned retail executive. During the 2019 Retail Innovation Conference, executives representing several retail verticals revealed how they overcame organizational inhibitors and challenges to successfully innovate within their businesses.
Kirkland’s COO Michael Cairnes, for instance, revealed how the specialty retailer successfully transformed its in-store environment by partnering with the innovation division of redpepper. Together, Cairnes and redpepper Founder and CEO Tim McMullen revealed key elements of the retailer’s success:
- Pick your testing ground: For their project, Kirkland’s and redpepper wanted to focus their efforts on a single test store. The store had to be close to each of their offices so that they could frequently visit the space and go back to work with their teams quickly and efficiently. They selected a store in Nashville, Tenn., for this very reason.
- Give the creative process the space and time it requires: Once the test store was identified, the Kirkland’s and redpepper teams got to work. With the goal of streamlining the shopping experience and better engaging the Millennial consumer, the companies shut the store down for four weeks to ideate and conjure up a new store concept.
- Embrace a “fail fast” mentality: A common mantra in the innovation world is “don’t be afraid to fail fast.” This case is no different, as Cairnes explained how a “very dynamic testing and experimenting process” drove the success of the project. For instance, the retailer rolled out a “Creation Space” that consisted of white furniture and a plain rug, so customers could test different pillows and home accessories and see which colors and patterns meshed. Rather than seeing shoppers engage with the space, they mainly saw tired husbands congregate on the couches. The concept was quickly “thrown out” and the space was repurposed.
- Get everyone in the same “sandbox”: McMullen noted that the reason why so many retail organizations struggle with innovation is because “companies are made of people and people struggle with change. We’re a product of our own environment.” Kirkland’s encouraged a cultural and creative shift by breaking down barriers across the organization and getting everyone “in one sandbox.” McMullen added that stakeholders must also get involved so everyone understands the value of a particular initiative.
- Put your customer at the center of the entire process: Cairnes noted that customer input is “where the magic is,” adding, “getting into their head is really where you get the key insights.” That is why executives did extensive consumer research prior to rolling out the new store concept, and consistently interviewed customers before, during and after they visited the store. These qualitative insights allowed the Kirkland’s team to gauge whether the store changes had a positive effect on brand perception, engagement and more.
- Make sure employees feel heard: Although the customer should be at the center of all experience strategies, employees in stores and at headquarters also play a critical role in making innovation a reality. “You can’t outsource evolution and change for your company,” McMullen said. “There’s a big difference between taxing people for their time and tapping them for their expertise.” He added that leaders should approach employees, noting that their honest input and experiences will help inform the project and ultimately drive positive change for the business. This will ultimately excite and encourage more people to participate.
There’s a common belief that in order to innovate, organizations must completely throw away their current business structure and the way their teams work. However, McMullen noted that innovation shouldn’t compete with the current corporate state; it should enhance it. By blending expertise from Kirkland’s employees and the redpepper team, the companies were able to refine internal processes, implement creative problem-solving techniques and, most of all, renew passion and energy within the Kirkland’s business.