The Vitamin Shoppe follows a people-first path to positive results

NRF PROTECT: Chief Operating Officer Andrew Laudato on building a safe environment for innovation
Sheryll Poe
NRF Contributor

Innovation thrives when retail leaders put talented people in a safe environment where risk taking is rewarded, not punished, according to The Vitamin Shoppe Chief Operating Officer Andrew Laudato.

NRF PROTECT

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“Innovation is spending time, talent and treasures on things that probably won’t work,” Laudato said during his keynote session at NRF PROTECT, held June 5-7 at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas.

“We want to reward risk taking, which is a funny thing to say at this conference because we want to control and mitigate risk.”

He said a failed project is not a waste of resources if leadership and teams are willing to talk about lessons learned. The Vitamin Shoppe has undertaken several projects and technologies over the years that just didn’t work out, including free-standing barcode scanners.

“Cool innovation, but it didn’t work,” he said. Likewise, the integration of robots at the retailer’s distribution centers has been “not bad, but it hasn’t blown us away.”

These underwhelming innovations have not stopped Laudato and his team from moving forward with new ideas, he said, including the use of mobile point-of-sale tablets and aiming to become a network-less retailer.

“Companies don’t innovate, people do.”

Andrew Laudato, The Vitamin Shoppe

It's possible to innovate in a way that values safety and security, he said. Build cybersecurity into the innovation process from the beginning, and identify and prioritize risks up front and early.

Leaders should foster communication and cooperation between the innovation teams and cybersecurity experts. And they must continuously monitor emerging threats and technology.

But the best way retailers can create an environment where innovation thrives is by putting people before technology.

“It’s all about the people,” he said. “Companies don’t innovate, people do.” When he’s hiring, Laudato looks for four key attributes — integrity, intelligence, ambition and temperament. “This may seem aspirational, but you can teach someone the technology, the process, project management, but you can’t teach them these attributes.”

After that, it’s up to retail leaders to keep those people. “There’s nothing more important — no matter what your job is — than hiring the best people, making them feel safe and then taking really good care of them. It’s expensive to hire and hard to find good people. You’ve got to keep them.”

In closing, Laudato offered 10 tips for keeping innovative employees:

  1. Ask people what they want from their career.
  2. Don’t assume high performers are doing just fine. Focus on nurturing them.
  3. Get involved in career development planning.
  4. Always support your team, even when they’re wrong.
  5. Have a real open-door policy, making sure people know when you are available to talk.
  6. Listen, ask questions and then listen to the answers.
  7. Only change someone’s work when truly necessary.
  8. Provide fair and timely feedback.
  9. Be kind enough to let someone go.
  10. Be a one-way diode. Let compliments, praise and appreciation go through you to the team and block any complaints, criticism or anger.

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