In talking the talk, Doug Rauch appears to be walking the walk, espousing a more spiritual corporate ethic while at the same time working to better local communities.
Speaking in the conference’s closing session, Rauch, who spent 14 years as a president of Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s, a revered service-oriented grocery chain, addressed the importance of corporations valuing culture and ultimately a higher purpose as a critical factor for business success today.
Along these lines, Rauch said retail has moved from a product focus to a focus on relationships. “If you’re not actively creating a relationship with your customer, you’re missing the boat,” he said. “Whether it’s through humor, education or customer service, it’s about making life better … but you have to be authentic.”
To that end, companies also need to connect with their employees, “especially millennials—they want to know they’re doing well and doing good,” he said.
Companies need to think beyond profit (which he described as the “air we breathe”—important to the life of a business but not particularly exciting) and define for themselves a greater good that the company’s efforts continually strive to achieve.
“Every one of you has opportunity and obligation to anchor your community,” he said. “As retailers, you are the touch point for the community to interact. In today’s world of [smartphones and personal technology], you could go through your entire life and never interact with anyone. Retail has the opportunity to anchor and offer meaning and purpose like nothing else can.”
Rauch has gone on to live the kind of values-driven life that he speaks of. In 2011, he was named head of Dallas-based Conscious Capitalism Inc., a not-for-profit that gathers leaders of corporations in an effort to spread the ideas of value-based behavior among big businesses.
He is also in the process of launching a grocery-store concept based on sourcing food that has passed its sell-by date at low prices to people in disadvantaged communities. Having moved to the Boston area, he started Daily Table, a concept he hopes to get off the ground with its first store in early 2014.
In an exclusive pre-session interview with CSP editors, Rauch said that 40% of the food grown in the United States is never eaten. He spoke of how sell-by dates are not indicative of how edible or safe the food is, and neither are blemishes on food that render it undesirable by most shoppers. The Daily Table concept would channel such donated food into a format that appears upscale to a degree, with produce and grab-and-go meals of high nutritional value.
Rauch also addressed the current state of obesity in America, in which malnutrition comes not in the form of thin individuals but in the form of empty calories. And yet Rauch understands the challenges. Part of his burden is to persuade consumers to purchase food deemed of lesser value, as well as the whole notion of embracing food that is good for you.
Ultimately, he says it’s the job of the retailer to communicate its values through its actions and cues. “Are you consciously cultivating values that resonate?” he asked his audience during the final moments of the Outlook conference. “[Customers] want to know their values line up with yours.”