The Perfect Match: Reflections from my 1st week at fabric

Jay Topper picture next to his quote

Last week, I attended eTail24 in Palm Springs, CA as a new employee of fabric, inc. What a welcome: week one, and I get thrown into speaking at a conference, now I know this is going to be a fun ride.

Any given month, maybe even week, there is a retail conference somewhere and I have been to many over my career! What made this one unique was the company I represented. For the first time, I was on the “sell side” as the newly minted Head of Strategy & Innovation for fabric—we are a commerce and Omni-channel Order Management System (OMS) platform provider that’s attacking a common commerce conundrum a different way: getting the order right so the customer and the retailer form the perfect match. Back to the conference: the immediate difference I experienced was that rather than loading up my dance card with solutions and partners that I could use for my company, I needed to understand why my former retail peers were attending. This was in stark contrast to previous conference missions.

In 1997 I was a CIO fresh out of the U.S. Coast Guard working for an entertainment technology company called Production Resource Group (PRG). The entrepreneur/founder was drawn to my military background and recent education. I was drawn to his success & vision, and jumping into the deep-end supporting Broadway scenery construction, lighting and audio solutions, and the coordination of event experiences across the globe. I started going to local conferences simply to learn. I was so incredibly ignorant. The internet was just exploding, we were in fast growth mode buying up a fragmented market, while I was putting in ERPs, building networks, and developing proprietary software on the fly. I needed these conferences to understand the vendor offerings and how they could help me. Being a Coast Guard Officer and a CIO had one thing in common: The people that work with you are a lot smarter than you are and it rarely pays to be the smartest person in the room.

From PRG jumped every 4-5 years or so to new companies—Rosetta Stone, FTD, Vitacost & Kroger and Chicos FAS. I became addicted to driving massive change and did so throughout my career. More on that later! Throughout the next 25 years, I still attended conferences to learn—NRF, Forrester, Gartner, eTail, Shoptalk, CommerceNext and more. But the purpose of attending
expanded over the years. It comes down for me to four main purposes:

  1. Solving a problem: The most exciting reason is when we were ready to solve a problem tied to our company’s goals, with the funding for a solution, with only the selection remaining. A qualified buyer gets a ton of attention at conferences. It doesn’t replace a vendor/platform process, but meeting partner teams, their customers, and their executive leadership cuts through a lot of time—with a targeted approach you can meet, or re-meet 7-8 providers with a specific goal in mind.
  2. Learning from my peers: There is still the ethos of learning—from potential partners and fellow retailers—and curiosity is never-ending. The exhibitors that attend retail conferences are a “who’s who” of all the solicited and unsolicited contacts you get every day in your email, on LinkedIn and sometimes even texts and calls. Sometimes it’s hard to sort through what is real. But when you hear a retailer offer their experiences, it can be transformational. Listening to a retailer, often with one of their partners, case-study a similar problem you are experiencing is where the magic happens—a walking reference of success.
  3. Telling my story: I have been fortunate enough to speak at many of these conferences—more often at the request of a successful partner. To share your story to promote your company’s brand, while also expanding your personal brand, to help others on their journey, is an incredibly unique experience. Finding those 5-10 people in the audience that are experiencing similar challenges and priorities is exhilarating. I never tire of hearing from and speaking with retail peers.
  4. Networking: Lastly, it’s a perk! I don’t know many real attendees who didn’t want to be there. Over the years I delegated this to many others—so they could experience the aforementioned purposes. We would explore the tracks and attendees weeks beforehand—it’s critical to attend with a plan, or the experience can be overwhelming.

Which brings me back to my latest experience at eTail24. I joined fabric because I believe in their solutions—having successfully implemented them on my last tour of duty with Chicos. For vendors attending a conference, the focus is one of empathy. Every person you speak to, pre-arranged, or just walk up to the booth, is there for a reason—likely some combination of the above. So first up I needed to figure out why they were there. You can’t offer a solution if you don’t understand the problem. Secondly, as a newer enterprise platform company, we need to get the word out on who are and what makes us special, without compromising our quest for empathy.

We had a private lunch where I spoke about my experiences as a retailer, and with fabric. I know it resonated with a few and that we spoke each other’s language. It was also an opportunity to explain why we at fabric believe Order Management, or “an OMS” is a strategic service in an omni-channel world especially. It’s where the customer and enterprise shake hands and form a semirelationship. It was humbling to have retailers show interest in our solution and more importantly our Point of View.

Lastly, this finite world is all about people. I was able to stop by some former partners who were successful in my previous companies and simply thank them. I was meeting many fabric associates for the first time in person. Everyone has a first day or week on the job, which sets the first impression that never really goes away. My first impression was one of welcome. This is a company of passionate people and care. Our mission is to revolutionize commerce, and I felt that from every single person I met. And as importantly, they are smart—at the end of the day, engineers and products breathe life into platforms so passionate intelligence rules the day! Exactly the type of firm I historically sought out to help me solve problems—and now I find myself helping form the strategy around it, and innovating on top of it.

It’s a perfect match, much like OMS and commerce!

The fabric team—Etail 2024

Topics: People
Jay Topper

Chief Customer Officer @ fabric

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