Of the many changes over the past year, the meaning of home likely tops the list.
No longer just a nest at the end of the day, home has also become a workplace, school, refuge – or pandemic prison – around the clock.
For Mark Tritton, that change makes rethinking of the home as an uplifting, nurturing space more crucial, in his role as president and chief executive of retailer Bed Bath & Beyond.
He sat down with Reuters to talk about how to make the best of the situation at home.
Q: You came onboard shortly before the pandemic, so what has that been like?
A: What a crazy time to join the company. But you have to turn these things into lemonade. We were going to go through a massive transformation, so it was a great time to get engaged. The company was ripe for change across the board. This has been a huge opportunity to reinvent an iconic brand.
Q: How did you hunker down and figure out how to stay in business?
A: The first thing we did was to look at liquidity, not knowing how long this crisis was going to go on. We worked out the math and knew we had a long runway of being stable.
We closed our stores (temporarily) at the end of March 2020, which did hurt us, and make us wonder how we were going to survive. We were judicious in how we managed our businesses – increasing liquidity, closing some stores, investing in store remodeling, being fiscally responsible. I think we did a great job.
Q: How has people’s conception of the home changed over the past year?
A: It has changed their mindset. It is now seen as a zone of safety, comfort and joy. It is really the epicenter of everybody’s life right now: work, home, play.
Whether in one-bedroom apartments or big suburban homes, we have seen a lot of tailwinds for our business: big-ticket purchases like home offices, new sofas, dining-room tables. Discretionary spending on the home is here to stay, because it is where people feel safe and comfortable, and they want to express themselves.
Q: Have people changed what they have been spending on?
A: It has been an interesting progression. What we saw at first were cleaning products, vacuum cleaners, hand sanitizers, those kinds of basic essentials. Then, after we had all been staring at the walls a little longer, people wanted to do something different, and started looking at bedrooms and bathrooms. And the kitchen trend has been ongoing, since we are all cooking more at home.
Q: It has been a tough few years for retail, so how did you approach that challenge?
A: We dug in and looked at the data. We looked at population growth, where people were migrating to, both prior to COVID and all the way through it. Where we had duplication of stores, or where we weren’t generating enough profitability, we culled 200 locations from our real estate portfolio. We are looking at a five-year horizon of where people will shop.
Q: You are launching a number of in-house brands. Why did you decide to go that route?
A: That’s an exciting part of our transformation plan. We want to create true differentiation and preference for our products. We are introducing our customer-inspired Owned Brands – Google them all you want, you won’t find them anywhere else.
We are creating a rich brand persona from scratch, and are launching eight of them this fiscal year alone. To date, we have launched six, with the latest being Squared Away, which focuses on storage and organization. This will reinvent Bed Bath & Beyond.
Q: You think about homes analytically, but has it transformed your own space?
A: My wife and I moved just prior to COVID. We had to think about where we would work in our home and create space for that, and make it as comfortable and easy as possible. While I’m back at the office again, working at home for much of last year brought my wife and I even closer. It has been really phenomenal.