In this episode of the SLN Podcast, Mike Gugat speaks with Jeff Rosenthal, former CEO and Board Member of Hibbett. Jeff has been a merchant for most of his professional life. He helped grow Robby’s Sports from 12-60 locations and Champs from 100+ locations to more than 500.  Jeff joined Hibbett in 1998 and would go on to serve as CEO from 2010-2019. He discussed the balancing act of leading a publicly-traded company with then 1,000 locations. He emphasized the importance of relationships when it comes to managing vendor partnerships with brands like Nike, adidas, Under Armour, and Puma. Jeff made it clear that he is most passionate about the product. He also lent his perspective on the future of retail. SLN was especially appreciative of his willingness to share his personal experience with COVID-19. Please wear a mask.

Podcast Highlights

2:58 – Being diagnosed with COVID-19: “I was home sick for about eight days running a 100 to 103 temperature. My wife had to take me to the emergency room where I went under ICU.” 5:10 – Starting in the industry: “I started way back with Robby’s which maybe a lot of people don’t know of. It really was way ahead of its time. It was a chain out of Florida.” 11:08 – Hibbett staying away from competition: “Everybody says how much they liked competition. We tried to stay away from competition. It was a brilliant strategy in its day. But as things changed through the last so many years with e-comm and other digital means, we had transformed Hibbett to be more modern and be able to use some of those technologies.” 12:47 – Building the fundamentals of technology: “When I took over as CEO we really had to build the fundamentals of the company to be able to do it right. We were late to the game.” 18:00 – Fostering trade partnerships: “I always took the approach. How can I win 51% of the time from the vendor who wins 49% of the time or 50-50? So I always try to, no matter what kind of negotiations or how I spoke with a vendor or how we tried to move forward, we always try to think of both sides.” 19:40 – The brands being important for retailers: “You want to have the latest, the greatest stuff. And you know, the brands expect that you display it properly, you present it properly, you sell it properly.” 22:30 – Sport, music, and entertainment has transformed the industry: “It’s interesting how sport music, entertainment all has really transformed the whole business. You know, it’s not just the athletes, it’s also music and other things that can make products fashionable.” 26:25 – Selling out on inventory: “It’s easy when things are hot and they want to explode it. Well, maybe exploding it for one year might be the right thing. But if you want to be in the business for a long time, it definitely kills you sometimes when you look at these things.” 27:40 – Future of retail: “You always have to find the fastest, the quickest, the most efficient way to get products to customers. And I think that will continue.” 31:05 – People want new and different: “Today’s customer didn’t want to be like everybody else. They want something to identify themselves with.”