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Plug and Play Helps Startups Disrupt Retail

BY Dan Berthiaume

Retail organizations may not typically seek the services of a “marriage counselor,” but for retailers looking to implement innovative and disruptive technologies, global startup investor and accelerator Plug and Play Tech Center can help find the perfect partner.

“We’re a marriage counselor between retailers and startups,” confirmed Michael Olmstead, director, Plug and Play Retail. “We gain an in-depth understanding of retailers’ pain points.”

Headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, with locations across the U.S. and globally, Plug and Play’s network includes more than 300 tech startups, 180 investors, and an extensive ecosystem of corporate partners and leading universities. Plug and Play has more than 250 companies in its portfolio including Zoosk, Lending Club, Dropbox, Danger, Freewebs, Canesta, PayPal (acquired by EBay), Vudu (acquired by Wal-Mart), and Retrevo (acquired by Barnes & Noble).

Letting retailers drive the selection process

Once a retailer explains their precise IT-related needs, Plug and Play puts out a call to startup application providers and then places their solutions in front of the retailer for review. The retailer then selects the startup they think can best resolve their particular pain points, and Plug and Play assists the solutions vendor in obtaining funding and developing their technology.

Optimizing the Kohl’s customer experience

One recent notable example of a Plug and Play-retailer partnership is a joint effort with Kohl’s Department Stores and Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions. Guided by Kohl’s and Toshiba, provider of Kohl’s POS infrastructure, Plug and Play will invest up to $100,000 in up to 30 startups from around the world to accelerate the development of technologies and platforms that will enhance the customer connection to Kohl’s while optimizing their omnichannel customer experience.

The ultimate goal is to create an easy, satisfying and targeted experience that will reach customers at every step of their path to purchase and convert consumers into lifetime Kohl’s shoppers. Vendors will work with Toshiba to develop solutions that complement and work with the Toshiba infrastructure for eventual pilot in Kohl’s stores.

“Nobody knows retail better than Toshiba and Kohl’s,” commented Olmstead. “We know how to find startups to fill their pain points.”

Click here for more information on Plug and Play’s partnerships with retailers.


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BJ’s Wholesale teams up with 215 schools for its Adopt-A-School program

BY CSA STAFF

BJ’s Wholesale Club plans to partner with 215 schools through the organization’s Adopt-A-School program. At the beginning of each school year, every BJ’s Wholesale Club and Distribution Center partners with a local school to help enhance existing curriculum.

Schools participating in the program receive a one-time, $500 donation in the form of a check or a club gift card. The donation goes toward discretionary programs, such as field trips and special events, reading programs or other educational needs. The schools also receive a complimentary BJ’s membership, offering access to supplies to help them throughout the year.

"Helping to provide kids with exciting learning opportunities like meeting penguins up close, exploring life-size models of dinosaurs and reading the best of Dr. Seuss are some of the many reasons why we support local schools," said Jessica Newman, assistant VP of community affairs and communications at BJ’s Wholesale Club. "We continue to run BJ’s Adopt-A-School program year after year because principals and teachers tell us that our partnership provides them with necessary supplies and event funding that they otherwise may not have."

Now going into its 19th year, BJ’s Adopt-A-School program has provided $1.7 million in funding to thousands of schools.

Click here to see the complete list of schools that have partnered with their local BJ’s for the 2014-2015 school year.

Headquartered in Westborough, Massachusetts, BJ’s Wholesale Club operates 203 clubs and 117 gas stations in 15 eastern states.

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Strong broad-based topline growth drives double-digit EPS increase at Estée Lauder

BY CSA STAFF

The Estée Lauder Companies achieved record net sales and reported overall strong financial results for the fourth quarter and fiscal year ended June 30.

For the year, the company achieved record net sales of $10.97 billion, an 8% increase compared with $10.18 billion in the prior year. Even excluding the impact of foreign currency translation, net sales still increased 8%.

The company reported a 170 basis-point increase in operating margin, and net earnings for the year rose 18% to $1.20 billion, compared with $1.02 billion last year. Diluted net earnings per common share rose 19% to $3.06, compared with $2.58 reported in the prior year.

“Fiscal 2014 was another outstanding year for our company. We achieved record results across many metrics, including sales, operating margin, earnings per share and operating cash flow. Our topline growth was nearly double that of prestige beauty and was broad-based across regions, product categories and channels, despite slower industry growth in some key countries,” Fabrizio Freda, president and CEO, said. “Our emerging markets, makeup and luxury brands, and our online, freestanding store and travel retail channels led our growth. At the same time, we made careful investment choices to support the fastest areas of growth, while continuing to eliminate non-value-added costs. This excellent performance further demonstrates the resilience and consistency of our strategic business model and strengthened our leadership in global prestige beauty.”

Additionally, the company’s fiscal 2014 fourth-quarter and full-year results included the acceleration of sales orders by some retailers of approximately $178 million in advance of the company’s July 2014 implementation of its Strategic Modernization Initiative (SMI) in certain of its largest remaining locations. These orders would normally have been expected to occur in the company’s fiscal 2015 first quarter. This amounted to approximately $127 million in operating income, equal to approximately $.21 per diluted common share.

“Fiscal 2014 marks the fifth consecutive year that we achieved outstanding results for our company and stockholders and is a testament to our ability to execute our winning strategy,” Freda said. “The cornerstone of our success is powerful brands, a robust innovation pipeline and a sharp focus on fast-growth areas prioritized in our strategy. We are a growth company well positioned to identify, create and capture the best global opportunities in the growing prestige beauty industry. Increased efficiency and effectiveness, along with benefits from the recent substantial completion of our Strategic Modernization Initiative, should allow us to reinvest for future growth, increase our profitability and continue to generate value for our stockholders.”

For the quarter, the company reported net sales of $2.73 billion, a 13% increase from $2.41 billion in the comparable prior-year period. Excluding the impact of foreign currency translation, net sales also increased 13%. Along with the accelerated retailer orders, fourth-quarter sales benefited from new products and growth in emerging and developed markets.

The company’s fourth-quarter sales growth reflects double-digit gains in the U.S. and travel retail, as well as double-digit local currency increases in many European emerging markets. In Asia/Pacific, local currency growth was led by strong increases in Japan, China and Hong Kong. Sales gains in the U.S., travel retail and Japan include the effect of the accelerated retailer orders.

Looking ahead to fiscal 2015, the company estimates global prestige beauty will grow approximately 3% to 4%. The company expects to grow ahead of the industry by bringing highly innovative products to market and focusing on the fastest growing countries, product categories and channels. The company also expects to leverage its strong sales growth and continue to reduce non-value-added costs to further improve its operating margin in fiscal 2015.

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