Leaders from The Vitamin Shoppe, WW and Walmart on lessons learned from 2020

NRF 2021 – Chapter 1: CEOs talk about the importance of partnership and hope to succeed in turbulent times
Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor
January 27, 2021

In the midst of a pandemic, mobilization of resources can mean taking full advantage of processes and initiatives already underway — in addition to forming strategic partnerships for mutual benefit. 

The two-part keynote session, “Power Lunch: Mobilizing and Succeeding in Volatile Times,” taking place during NRF 2021: Retail's Big Show - Chapter 1, included Mindy Grossman, president and CEO of WW International Inc.; Sharon Leite, CEO of The Vitamin Shoppe; and Judith McKenna, president and CEO of Walmart International. The talks were moderated by Glenda McNeal, president, enterprise strategic partnerships with American Express.

Leite began with the notion that consumers are still looking for trusted brands and resources.

Retail resiliency

Learn more about the ways retail remained resilient and overcame challenges in 2020 here.

“Our customers rely on us for quality products, expertise and industry-leading innovation to support lifelong wellness, and these brand pillars certainly have served us well as we’ve moved through the pandemic in 2020,” Leite said.

Immune categories, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and the like all have been strong, she said, but people have increasingly sought wellness across physical, mental and emotional health. That includes stress, sleep, foundational health, sports nutrition, weight management, detox and CBD.

A company poll showed that 56 percent of consumers were looking for “new ways to unwind and find balance,” Leite said. The Vitamin Shoppe launched a proprietary brand of CBD in November; the overall goal has been to meet consumers wherever they are, physically and otherwise.

Digital ROI

Grossman, meanwhile, said if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that health is more important than ever. WW entered last year with “incredible momentum” with the launch of myWW and a nine-city tour with Oprah Winfrey. “And then the world changed,” Grossman said.

Past investments in digital transformation have continued to serve the company well; the pandemic acted as an accelerant, and the WW pillars of fitness, mindset, nutrition and sleep — all built on the power of community — stand.

Within six days, WW was able to transition its in-person workshops to completely virtual in 12 markets and train 15,000 coaches. More recently, the company launched myWW+, which incorporates artificial intelligence and machine learning for a customized and holistic experience, as well as a new membership vertical, Digital 360. WW also is expanding its audience by naming James Corden as spokesperson and extending 100,000 free memberships to those with financial hardship.

In early January, The Vitamin Shoppe and WW announced a strategic partnership, including co-branded nutritional supplements and availability of WW membership, snacks and protein boosters at The Vitamin Shoppe.

The companies are so aligned in their missions of empowerment and support that “it was fascinating the first time we brought our teams together, to see the connectivity,” Leite said. “It was almost like we were finishing each other’s sentences.”

Maintaining connections

In introducing Walmart’s McKenna, McNeal said that company’s strategic partnership with American Express dated back to 1995.

McKenna spoke of the unique privilege of having a “window on the world” over the past year, due to the number of countries Walmart operates in. “What’s remarkable is just how much is similar, rather than it is different,” she said. That includes telehealth, virtual education, scientific advances, impact on small business and working from home.

“We set out very clearly to take care of associates, first and foremost. Because if you don’t take care of your associates, you can’t take care of your customers.”

Judith McKenna, president and CEO of Walmart International

She said she has found the last year personally challenging, but has been buoyed by five “very simple principles” in the way the company works. “We set out very clearly to take care of associates, first and foremost,” McKenna said. “Because if you don’t take care of your associates, you can’t take care of your customers.”

In terms of caring for customers, the company thought carefully about how to provide safety and security in stores, as well as how to deliver small acts of kindness and humanity. In the United Kingdom, for example, delivery drivers wear badges that say “Happy to chat” in case customers are in need of connection. Third, Walmart has focused on taking care of communities, she said, including suppliers.

As for the remaining two principles, McKenna said, they involve focus on the daily here and now, but also on the longer term.

“I am hopeful that ’21 will be a brighter future,” McKenna said. “But mostly because of the lessons we learned in ’20.”

Preparing for the future

McKenna also addressed global digital payment advances, conscious consumerism and the rise in ecommerce and delivery options. Moving forward, she said, there are two clear schools of thought: that there will be far fewer jobs, or many more. As an optimist, McKenna sits in the latter camp.

Preparing workers for the future, she said, includes providing opportunities for advancement through the organization; most Walmart management started as hourly staff, she said, and that’s true globally.

But companies like Walmart can also help people develop skills beyond just retail, she said, providing “a strong foundation” for whatever people want to do — and whatever jobs arise in the future. McKenna currently oversees more than 700,000 associates in 6,000 stores in 25 countries, and was quick to credit the leadership in each country for their “utterly remarkable job” over the last year.

All countries were connected in a first-time-ever town hall, she said, and there’s been emphasis on creating greater community, inspiration and hope.

“I never thought I’d be talking about how to create hope for people,” McKenna said. “I didn’t think it was a leadership trait. But actually, I’m coming to believe that it is.”

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