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The latest Columbus Chamber CEO Insights event featured Yaromir Steiner, founder and CEO of Steiner & Associates, and Denny Gerdeman, chair and founder of Chute Gerdeman. These two seasoned retail leaders shared their experiences in the industry, how Columbus has grown into a retail mecca of talent and innovation, and what the future might hold for retail.

As I was listening to them, it occurred to me that these lessons are also very relevant to modern sellers and leaders in any industry. While a few of them are tried and true, some may surprise you.

  1. Your reputation will be remembered.

You never know where your connections and work quality may lead, or come full circle. For example, Yaromir was part of the 1990 CocoWalk design – think of it as an early version of what Easton is today. Les Wexner’s Limited Express had a location at this destination shopping experience, and it was the chain’s best-selling store. When Easton came up for build decades later, Wexner remembered Yaromir for his work, and that was a major factor in his winning the business.

  1. Say yes to diverse learning experiences.

Divergent learning experiences give you enhanced perspective. Yaromir was an engineer by schooling who made his legacy in the retail arena. He credits that, as well as his international upbringing, as important to his business approach, design aesthetic, and success.

  1. It’s about your client. And your client’s customer.

Denny expressed that you have to understand your clients, and your clients’ customers.  We must master delivering engagements at all points of access. That’s not only critical in retail, but across every industry. Today it’s not just how well you know your own client, but also about well you know their clients. That extra step will help uncover opportunities to solve for challenges and become a strategic advisor in new ways.

  1. Reinvent when things are going well.

Change is permanent. And to thrive, we must embrace consistent reinvention.  Yaromir shared a quote from Les Wexner that resonated with me: “The time to change things is when they aren’t broken.” There’s a constant challenge to stay fresh, to reinvent – especially when everything is working well.

  1. Your uniqueness will bring buyers back.

Buyers won’t return if what you offer is stale, or the same as what you offered the last time they visited. We must also reduce the barriers to buy, because people are time starved today. As for younger buyers, they tend to want uniqueness, even hand-crafted products and solutions – nothing cookie cutter. How can you stay original, interesting, and fresh?

  1. Openly share your secret sauce.

Yaromir is known for his openness. He is even known for hosting his competitors and revealing his secrets for success. Why? He shares his expertise in service of his mission of “place creation.” So you might see him guiding his competitors around Easton, showing them what worked and how he created such success here in Columbus. What is your mission, and how can you extend beyond your inner circles to support it?

For more leadership insights from the Columbus Region’s top leaders, read my recaps of past CEO Insights events: Dan Creekmur of Columbia Gas and David Kaufman of Motorists Insurance Group.

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