Ron Thurston is passionate about retail employees. One conversation with him and you’ll know that, too. But just in case you haven’t heard of him, check out his best selling book or take a look at his mile-long resume, leading field teams for brands like The Gap, Apple, West Elm and Bonobos.

From part-time sales associate to VP of Stores, Ron has worked at all levels of the retail industry over the last 30 years and today serves on the Board of Directors of Goodwill NY/NJ, and on the Advisory Board of KWI as well as on the Boards of several emerging retail tech startups including Reflex, Job Pixel, and Immerss.

His success as a retail executive has been in large part because of his fierce dedication to learning in the field — in other words, spending time with in-store employees. After all, in-store associates are the teams in the front lines interacting with customers every day. They know what’s working and what’s not, and they are the ones providing the customer experience that represents the brand.

Grumpy shopper? Retail executives often can’t fully know why just by looking at a report at the corporate office. But in one case, an in-store employee pointed out to Ron, “They’re mad because we offer no wireless internet connection for customers in the store.”

Employees are the all-knowing ambassadors of your brand. Are you getting face time with them — especially the in-store associates?

KWI — Rob Thurston


Putting the pedal to the metal

When Ron told us about his dream of driving an Airstream across the country to meet with, inspire, and celebrate everyday retail heroes, we were all-in as sponsors.

In his journey, Ron will meet with industry leaders, tech innovators, mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, students, store managers and store associates, collecting stories along the way. Ron will draw on these experiences and insights for a new podcast, Retail in America, and write his second book to be published after the tour. He’ll also be launching video and social media content to offer a compelling new look at the changing face of American retail in 2022 and beyond.

His year-long road trip, which takes off in New York City in April and makes pit stops in cities like Miami, Nashville, New Orleans and Austin, reminds us exactly why we got into this business. KWI was founded upon the belief that when you empower your employees with better tech, you also power a better customer experience.

For us, supporting Ron’s journey means celebrating the people who keep your business churning.

Ron’s Retail in America tour is supported by sponsors: KWI, YOOBIC, and Spotify Advertising.

There are 30 million workers in the U.S. retail industry today.

Not even a global pandemic can take down what is many people’s favorite pastime: shopping. In fact, COVID19 has brought changes to the retail industry, modernizing it, making it more competitive. Sure, the shopping experience looks different, but the backbone of our industry is still real, live employees.

Make no mistake, the recent surge in ecommerce sales is in large part because of our workers on the ground. An omnichannel journey, as we know, is a crooked line. A shopper might start out on an Instagram ad, then try the item on in the store, only to buy it on the website. Without that critical in-store experience, you may not have closed the sale.

Recruit. Retain. Reward.

Ron suggests that brands consider employees their most valuable asset, especially in an age — and economy — where they might be tempted to seek other lines of work. The key to hiring and retaining is helping employees succeed in their daily responsibilities, and investing in their long-term retail career growth and development.

The more tools you can provide employees to give shoppers a better experience, the more fulfilled employees will be and the longer they’ll stick around.

Consider the moment a customer realizes you don’t have a product they want. Don’t make your sales associate pick up the phone and call around to find it somewhere else. That’s painful. Empower them with tools to locate the item instantly in another store location or warehouse. It’s a full-circle win-win because when your employees are happy, your customers are happy. And when your customers are happy, your employees are more likely to feel accomplished and happy as well.

This empowerment extends to the way you treat all retail positions. No matter what title someone has, it should have a path for professional development. We should be training our people for growing into their next role in the organization, and giving them the kinds of opportunities that inspire a career — not a job.

Once again, happy employees means happy customers, and vice versa.

Bon voyage, Ron

As Ron sets off on his expedition in the spring, we’ll look forward to bringing you the very best of what he finds. We hope his journey will embolden you and give you insight into how in-store employees are the bloodline of your brand, and how you can empower them.

“I am on a lifelong journey to inspire retail employees to take pride in their retail career. This next chapter will be the best one yet,” Ron says.

We couldn’t agree more.