By Peter Giannetti
I was greeted upon my arrival at the International Housewares Association in March with the opportunity to participate in the inaugural IHA Connect SPRING virtual event.
The event’s array of keynotes, sessions and virtual product demonstrations delivered compelling insight into how developments of the past year have recalibrated practices and products for serving the home + housewares marketplace.
One entry on the Connect SPRING agenda especially caught my attention: the Fireside Chat with The NPD Group’s chief retail advisor Marshal Cohen and Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Mark Tritton. I was curious, as certainly many were, about how open Tritton would be regarding the progress of the retailer’s transformation.
In what must have been an encouraging revelation to an industry craving a revitalized Bed Bath & Beyond, Tritton delivered a candid, forthcoming assessment of the retailer’s previous shortcomings and its recommitment to a customer-aligned purpose as a home products retailing authority.
In one of the most telling exchanges during his Connect SPRING appearance, Tritton neither dodged nor deflected when asked how Bed Bath & Beyond is rebuilding the trust of vendors that often felt as if they had little sway against the retailer’s leverage during its demanding heyday.
“We’re just more transparent, much more inclusive and much more partner-oriented than we’ve ever been,” Tritton said during his Connect SPRING session. “I felt we were really difficult partners… (We are) sitting down to the table and talking more regularly about who we want to be as a company, how we want to evolve and how (vendors) could help us forge that purpose — not just so we could achieve our goals, but so they could achieve theirs.”
Time will tell if Tritton and a largely reconstituted Bed Bath & Beyond executive and merchandising team can live up to such a vendor partnership objective. But Tritton’s candor should be viewed as a welcome start to a potential new era of collaboration required for Bed Bath & Beyond to compete against an expanded marketplace of high-output reseller options that didn’t exist for suppliers just a few years earlier.
Some suppliers may worry about being trimmed by Bed Bath & Beyond’s plan to curate a more selective assortment highlighting what Tritton calls “owned brands.” The promise of a collaborative approach that propels a long-term rebound by the retailer, however, could provide plenty of incentive for suppliers to work overtime to be part of the mix.
The early results of Bed Bath & Beyond’s omnichannel transformation in the midst of a pandemic are encouraging. The retailer recorded 11 million new digital customers in its fiscal 2020 to go with an 83% year-over-year gain in digital sales to $3 billion, 37% of which were fulfilled by stores. The company’s 2020 annual report might one day be memorialized as the first scorecard of a lasting turnaround.
If so, Mark Tritton will be judged not for the disarming transparency by which he publicly confronted Bed Bath & Beyond’s challenges, but for the effectiveness by which he, the Bed Bath & Beyond team and the home + housewares industry united to complete the retailer’s successful transformation.