As co-CEO of Whole Foods, Walter Robb leads one of the fastest growing retailers in the US and the world’s leader in natural and organic food. The Austin Business Journal recently hosted Robb as part of Face 2 Face, a series of interviews with business leaders from around the world. Here’s what we learned from the interview between Robb and ABJ Editor Colin Pope:
Technology and retail are seamless.
At this point, retail and technology should be operating hand in hand. Whole Foods continues to allocate more and more spending towards technology for a better experience for both shoppers and team members alike. This includes Apple Pay, Apple’s device-integrated payment method announced last year and incorporated into the latest iPhone models. Whole Foods currently sees the most Apple Pay transactions out of any retailer, according to Robb.
Whole Foods recently introduced Instacart, which gives shoppers the ability to shop online and have their groceries delivered to their door. Currently in 15 markets, Instacart accounts for up to 5% of sales at some stores, despite only being introduced in September of 2014. When asked how much he sees a service like this growing in the future, Robb seemed confident that delivery services won’t ever dominate sales in the retail space. Shopping in a store is as much about interactions with others as it is about shopping, according to Robb. Whole Foods stores reflect this outlook, with multiple places for people to congregate and have spontaneous social experiences within any given store.
When asked about what he considers to be the most disruptive technology, Robb remarked that it is “whatever’s coming next.” Once technology gets out in the world, his team can tackle it (like Apple Pay). But with the fast pace of growth in digital technology, planning ahead can be problematic. He also expressed interest in the emerging fields of predictive analytics and putting big data to good use.
Walter Robb became co-CEO of Whole Foods and 2010 and has been with the company since 1991.
Leaders should always be evolving.
One thing Robb learned in his time as a leader at Whole Foods is that he must always be growing and evolving. According to Robb, if leaders can’t grow and shift over time, neither can their company. One example of growth in recent time was a lesson Robb and Whole Foods learned last year, when the company had a less-than-successful year leading up to the mid-year earnings call. Robb recalled learning that in order to be successful, they would need to ride the line between focusing too much on successes and too much on failures. This proverbial line led Whole Foods to its first ever marketing campaign, Values Matter.
Values Matter. A lot.
Whole Foods has long held a reputation as a leader in the organic food industry and for holding a higher standard for grocers everywhere. Robb was excited to talk about their first advertising campaign to reinforce that message — last year’s Values Matter campaign. Robb described the campaign as a chance for Whole Foods to speak for itself. He remarked that team members appreciated the campaign as much as he did — it gave them a concrete idea to present to customers and to represent themselves.
More than just saying that "Values Matter,” Whole Foods puts them into practice. Robb spoke at length about Whole Foods’ three philanthropic arms: Whole Planet, Whole Kids and Whole Cities. He also talked about the obligation for new businesses to become a part of their new community, rather than the other way around. Each new Whole Foods store comes along with community building efforts, and in conjunction with Whole Kids and Whole City, a positive impact on the existing communities. Robb briefly mentioned what’s at the core of all of this: Conscious Capitalism. Being a better business — both to customers, team members and others around the world — to affect positive change in the community and globally.