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COVID-19 & The Consumer Industry

What’s working for retail brands and why?

First and most importantly, we hope this finds you safe and healthy. It goes without saying that we are living in unprecedented times, and many of us have never experienced something that is having such a profound effect on every facet of our lives.

At Herbert Mines Associates, we serve retail and consumer clients broadly. This gives us a unique vantage point in seeing the impact that COVID-19 is having across a wide range of industries, including: grocery; home, apparel and other retail; restaurants, hotels and other hospitality; digital pureplay; fitness and other consumer services; and consumer package goods and beauty. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been asked by our clients and candidates alike, “What is everyone else doing?”. While each organization has a different approach and leaders are making independent decisions in the best interest of their company, we wanted to share some high level themes we have been seeing over the past few weeks:

1.      Leadership = Communication – Great leadership is needed now more than ever, and we believe that adversity is a true test of exceptional leadership. Specific to this time, what we are seeing from great leaders is communication. Given how much is unknown and uncertain, great leaders are communicating “early and often” to their corporate and field teams and to their customers. In the absence of communication people will often create their own narratives.  As a leader, this is a time to speak with clarity and consistency to your internal and external constituents. State the facts and find a way to authentically connect to your audience. It’s also important to recognize that leadership does not solely come from the CEO – this is a tremendous learning opportunity and a chance for anyone to demonstrate leadership acumen, whether you lead a team of 10 or 10,000.

2.      Enhancing E-Commerce – As non-essential stores have closed across the country, we are seeing organizations quickly shift to prioritizing their e-commerce strategy. Great e-commerce leaders, especially in the last decade, have become increasingly in-demand.  Now more than ever is the time for excellence in e-commerce. More specifically, as organizations shift to having e-commerce as their lead revenue channel, e-commerce leaders are collaborating with their cross-functional peers more than ever, specifically in IT, marketing, merchandising and supply chain, to create consistency and efficiency. E-commerce leaders are also using this time to bolster capabilities, with many investing in additional technology, adding support to their teams or adding new enhancements – if there was ever a time for the “e-commerce ask” that time is now. Finally, e-commerce leaders are getting creative, whether it is through promotional deals on products & shipping, pre-launching capsules or virtually sharing content; this is a great time to test & learn.

3.      Strategic Human Resources – Human Resources executives are on the front line during this crisis.  More than ever before, this is the time for HR to truly serve as a strategic partner to the CEO, the senior leadership team and the organization at large. During our conversations with a variety of HR leaders, we are seeing that every functional facet of HR is being put to the test. HR leaders are driving decisions regarding compensation and benefits, making the difficult decisions on layoffs, establishing and communicating general HR policies, and upholding the overall firm’s culture and employee engagement. The Human Resources function has undergone a dramatic evolution in the past several years and current events have accelerated the need for Human Resources to be a strategic, thoughtful and proactive partner.

4.      Time for Creativity & Risk Taking – We’ve heard from several of our clients that this circumstance allows for many companies to take risks and employ creative thinking around business solutions. Whether it is accelerating new product launches, testing new categories of business, shifting to e-commerce or trying out virtual/live communication, knowing that sales will be down this year has given organizations the freedom to innovate for the future.

5.      Customer & Employee Engagement – While most people are sheltering in place, astute organizations are thinking about how to continue engagement with their customers, clients and internal constituents despite the lack of “face to face” interaction. Innovative companies are strategically using technology to enable virtual contact, produce relevant content and create online communities that allow people to stay connected and engaged, despite being physically apart.

We are all being challenged by the magnitude of these circumstances and we recognize that the retail, hospitality, consumer services and consumer products industries may be witness to the most profound effects of this virus. That being said, this is a time for great leadership to emerge and a potential opportunity to enhance communication, capabilities and connectivity at every level of the organization. At the risk of being cliché, as Herb Brooks said, “Great moments are born from great opportunity” and we believe that this time can be used to create positive opportunities for our companies, our people, and ourselves.

From your team at Herbert Mines Associates, we hope you continue to be safe, healthy and remain positive.

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