21 Retailing Quotes to Inspire You to Run a Better Retail Business

While being a retailer can be very rewarding, running a store is no piece of cake. There are days when you’ll need extra helpings of motivation and inspiration to remind you why you’re in this business in the first place.

At Vend, we are all about delighting retailers and helping you be more awesome, so we’ve compiled a collection of inspiring quotes from some of the world’s most successful retailers. Check out their words of wisdom below. And feel free to bookmark this page or print out the quotes that speak to you, so you can refer to them whenever you need a boost.

1. On engaging with customers in-store

The thing is, I don’t want to be sold to when I walk into a store. I want to be welcomed.

– Angela Ahrendts, Senior Vice President of Retail at Apple Inc.

Angela Ahrendts brings up a great point — that many retailers often forget. While closing more sales is essential, sometimes the path towards this goal isn’t through the hard sell (and definitely not through selling to people right when talk walk in.)

A far more effective approach is to make the shopper feel unique and valued when they walk through your doors. Start with the right greeting. Ditch the tired old lines like “Can I help you?” and come up with something new and creative instead.

Further Reading


Need retail greeting inspiration? Check out our in-depth post on how to greet customers in retail for ideas and action steps!

Learn More

2. On maximizing your square footage

There is a solid chance that you can be using square footage more productively… We don’t need another retailer selling jeans and black pants, unless they bring a point of view and an experience that no one else has.

– Rachel Shechtman, Founder of Story

Rachel founded Story, a concept shop in New York “retail concept that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.” Every six to eight weeks, Story reinvents its entire space — from store design to inventory — around particular themes.

And while the store sells physical inventory, a lot of Story’s earnings come from brand sponsorships. The themes of the store are centered around brands and the narratives they want to tell.

For example, when I visited the shop in January, STORY’s main hook was “Home for the Holidays,” a theme inspired by the film The Greatest Showman. Prior to that, the theme was “Beauty,” and Story teamed up with Coty, a company that manufactures cosmetic, skin, and fragrance products.

The takeaway here isn’t for you to suddenly partner up with brands (though that might be a good option). The bigger point is to challenge how you’re using physical space. Like Rachel said, you could be using your square footage more productively, so find a way to do just.

Ask yourself, aside from selling “stuff”, what other things can you do with your space? What other revenue opportunities are out there? And if you are going to sell merchandise, what makes your point of view and experience unique and why should people buy from you?

3. On balancing history with innovation

Our CEO Charles Bergh often talks about how Levi’s needs to have one foot rooted at the heritage of the past to make sure we understand where we came from, and one confident step forward in terms of driving innovation forward.

– James ‘JC’ Curleigh, Levi’s Brand President

Should you stay rooted to your history or do you forge ahead into the future? Answer: you need to do both.

Like Levi’s, you need to find a balance between staying true to your heritage while innovating and trying new things. You need to evolve along with your customers without forgetting where your business began. It’s a tricky balance and the right strategy will vary from one retailer to next.

One thing’s for sure, though: finding that balance is essential to the future success of your business.

4. On not taking customers for granted

Our brands — Nike, Converse, Jordan Brand and Hurley — are loved by customers all over the world. But we never take that for granted; we know that every day we have to earn their trust — by serving them completely and adding real value to their lives through products and experiences.

– Mark Parker CEO, Nike

The nugget from this quote is pretty clear: never take your customers for granted. Strive to delight every single one of your customers — particularly those who are most loyal to your brand.

Remember, it costs far less to retain customers than it is to acquire new ones. Happy customers also tend to spend more and the best ones can effectively drive word-of-mouth for your business.

All that contributes to higher sales, lower marketing costs, and a healthier business in general.

Further Reading


If you need pointers and real-life examples of how shoppers should be treated, this post puts the spotlight on a handful of retailers that are providing amazing customer service.

Learn More

5. On partnerships and collaborations

The biggest sources of opportunity are collaboration and partnership. And today, with digital communication, there is more of that everywhere. We need to expose ourselves to that as a matter of doing business.

– Mark Parker CEO, Nike

Here’s another great quote from Nike CEO Mark Parker. Collaboration in the retail is more important than ever before.

Consumers today demand more from retailers, and you simply cannot do it alone. Even the biggest retailers (Amazon, Walmart, Target) recognize this, which is why they’re partnering with third parties to execute their various marketing, fulfillment, and customer service initiatives.

If you’re looking to stay competitive you too should consider collaboration. Figure out any areas of weakness, then find strategic partners who can help you implement initiatives outside your strengths.

6. On being consistent

People like consistency. Whether it’s a store or a restaurant, they want to come in and see what you are famous for.

– Mickey Drexler, Former CEO and current Chairman of J.Crew Group

Are you delivering a consistently amazing brand experience every time (and on all channels)? If the answer is “no” or if you’re unsure, then take immediate steps to evaluate and improve the consistency of your brand experience.

Whether it’s through hiring secret shoppers or conducting regular store audits, do what you can to ensure that your stores (and the employees in it) are in line with the brand story and experience that you want to put out there.

7. On striking the right balance

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that fashion is this tightrope where you have to be consistent but inconsistent. You need the connective thread but at the same time you need a sense of surprise.

– Michael Kors, Honorary Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, Michael Kors Holdings, Limited

On the flip side, while consistency is important, too much of it can get boring. Again, the key here to achieve balance. On the one hand, you’ll need to stay true to your values and defining characteristics so people can easily recognize your brand. But you should also bring in an element of surprise and trendiness, so you’re not doing the same things over and over again.

How do you find that balance? Start by identifying your key values and story. A good way to look at this is to find your North Star and let that guide you when you’re crafting your retail strategies and tactics.

8. On having great retail employees

“When you look at the reasons people leave companies, it’s usually because their boss is a jerk or because they aren’t learning and growing. So we spend a lot of time developing leaders internally and creating learning opportunities.”

– Neil Blumenthal, CEO, Warby Parker

We all know that today’s consumers are more informed and savvier than ever. They can shop from anywhere and the product choices in certain categories are nearly unlimited.

One of the best ways to compete in this environment is to hire the right people and empower them to deliver services and experiences that consumers won’t find anywhere.

Simply put, you can no longer afford to undervalue your staff. They are a key differentiating factor for your business, which is why you invest in their learning, development, and happiness.

Whether that’s through providing retail training, offering perks, or creating an attractive culture, you need to find ways to attract and keep employees with the people skills and service-oriented attitude that sought out by consumers today.

9. On the role of physical retail

Until Amazon creates a drone that can cut your hair, there’s a physical and real reason to come to the store.

– Mary Dillon, CEO, ULTA Beauty

Consumers are still heading to brick-and-mortar stores. But here’s what’s changed over the last decade or so: shoppers today no longer tolerate bad retail experiences. In other words, your customers are still willing to visit you, but you need to give them a compelling reason to do so.

How? That depends on the type of business that you’re running. Beauty stores like ULTA have found success in offering in-store services, while those in the sports and athleisure space (for example Solfire and Pace Athletics) are using their stores to bring communities together. Meanwhile, retailers like Birchbox and Dresden are making shopping more interesting by letting customers “build” their own products.

Have a think about the types of services or experiences that can help you attract more customers. Experiment with different initiatives and then refine your efforts based on the results.

10. On being curious and trying new things

“Like most retailers, we don’t know exactly where we will land at the end of it but our curiosity and willingness to create will be a guide for us.”

– Jesper Brodin, CEO, Ikea

Jesper Brodin gave this quote as he talking about Ikea’s foray into augmented reality. Is he 100% sure of a positive outcome? No, but as he said, Ikea is willing to create in spite of the uncertainty.

Trying new things can scary, but it’s a must for any retailer who wants to thrive. You need to develop a willingness to experiment and innovate in order to get ahead. Will all your efforts be successful? Maybe not. But you’re guaranteed to pick up some valuable lessons along the way.

11. On corporate social responsibility

I want Sephora to be a benchmark for exemplary environmental performance. New technologies, equipment and eco-friendly materials are being introduced all the time and impact every aspect of our business – architecture, store operations, logistics, products, etc.

– Chris de Lapuente, CEO of Sephora

Let’s talk about corporate social responsibility. Study after study after study have shown that consumers prefer to buy from companies that promote ethical, social, and environment-conscious practices.

In short: engaging in CSR doesn’t just help make the world a better place, but it’s also good for business.

That’s why if your company isn’t engaging in CSR just yet, it’s highly recommended that you do so.

12. On learning lessons about retail

Retail is a customer business. You’re trying to take care of the customer — solve something for the customer. And there’s no way to learn that in the classroom or in the corner office, or away from the customer. You’ve got to be in front of the customer.

– Erik Nordstrom, President, Nordstrom Direct


Erik Nordstrom, despite being part of the family that owns the company, worked his way up in the organization and had experience in various departments, from the stockroom to the sales floor. This helped him understand the retail business and the store’s customers on a different level, thus enabling him to perform better as one of the heads of the company.

Take a page from Nordstrom’s playbook when running your business. Don’t spend all day in your office. Make it a point to spend time on the floor interacting with your customers so you can get firsthand insights into their wants and needs.

Apply the same principle when you’re looking to fill C-level or upper management positions. You should aim to hire or appoint someone with a deep understanding of your business and your customers, so look for people who have been in the trenches and have had direct interactions with shoppers.

13. On incorporating your personality

My company is an extension of me, so when I designed my stores I wanted people to feel that they were in my home.

– Tory Burch, Founder & Creative Director, Tory Burch

The best way to differentiate your store from its competitors is to incorporate your personality, your style, and even your lovable quirks into the business. This will not only make your store unique, but it will help you attract the types of customers you want, which will make running your business more fun, natural, and fulfilling.

14. On the opportunities that brick-and-mortar present

I was reading all these reports that were down on retail brick and mortar, saying it’s all about online… I think brick and mortar is an amazing opportunity to use our stores and our store staff as a vehicle to truly engage with the community in a way no other retailers are doing.

– Jim Brett, President, West Elm

Jim Brett transformed West Elm from an unprofitable furniture store chain to Williams-Sonoma’s fastest-growing brand by humanizing its products and stores. One of the things he did was encourage associates to forge relationships with customers and build communities around its shops.

For instance, West Elm offers a home-decorating service where design consultants would visit customers’ homes for free and help them pick out furniture—even if the items didn’t come from West Elm. Stores also held events such as dumpling-making classes, paving the way for additional foot traffic, stronger relationships, and more sales.

Find ways to do something similar in your business by offering services or events that add value and enrich the community.

15. On cultivating a strong culture

Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.

– Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos

Zappos’ excellent customer service stems from its 10 core values, which it uses to develop its culture and brand. These values are also deeply instilled in its employees; everyone in the company lives by them.

Strive to create an amazing culture for your business. Don’t just write down your mission and values—demonstrate them. Make day-to-day decisions based on these values and see to it that your employees do the same.

16. On your retail store’s staff

Their job is to figure out what you need and help you get it, even if it’s a product Apple doesn’t carry. Compare that with other retailers where the emphasis is on cross-selling and upselling and, basically, encouraging customers to buy more, even if they don’t want or need it. That doesn’t enrich their lives, and it doesn’t deepen the retailer’s relationship with them. It just makes their wallets lighter.

– Ron Johnson, former Senior VP of Retail at Apple

You may want to show this quote to your sales associates. See to it that they recognize that helping shoppers trumps selling to them. Instead of motivating your staff using commissions, encourage them to find solutions to your customers’ needs—even if those solutions don’t come in the products or services that you offer.

This genuine willingness to help customers may not always result in immediate sales, but it sure goes a long way when it comes to building trust and loyalty.  

17. On driving sales

This was one of my most important principles: Never have a mandatory sell. This rule gets violated all the time; it just drives me nuts: ‘Buy now!’ You never give an order to a customer.

– Joe Coulombe, Founder, Trader Joe’s

You don’t get people to complete a purchase by telling them to buy. Rather, you do it by giving them great in-store experiences, providing amazing customer service, and selling products that offer real value. Need advice on how to do these things?

Check out Vend’s staffing guide for tips and resources that can help you achieve retail success.

18. On knowing your customers

We know who our customer is and we’re a company standing firm with our point of view.

– Ralph Lauren, CEO, Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren Corporation sells many things, from apparel and fragrances to home furnishings and food. But even with various subsidiaries, the corporation manages to stay consistent with its brand, and one of the reasons for this is that everyone at the company knows its vision and—as Lauren put it—works from the same point of view.

Put this nugget to work in your business by hiring people who share your point of view. It also helps to constantly communicate with your staff so they always have a clear idea of what your business stands for.

19. On not screwing over people

Too many businesses today are based on driving prices lower by screwing over somebody: pounding suppliers or squeezing employees. We’re the opposite. We put employees first, radically… If you take care of them, they will take care of your customer better than anybody else.

– Kip Tindell, CEO, Container Store

Happy employees work harder and stay longer. The Container Store recognizes this, which is why it offers great pay, excellent benefits, and a whole range of perks. It even celebrates its own “National We Love Our Employees Day.”

Named one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For thirteen years in a row, this retailer definitely knows how to take care of its employees

Take a cue from The Container Store and invest in your staff. Ask yourself—or better yet, ask them—how you can make their lives better, and if it’s feasible for your business, then go for it.  

Further Reading


Need more staffing tips and insights? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Training and Motivating Retail Employees, an in-depth resource packed with actionable takeaways for motivating employees and boosting staff productivity.

Learn More

20. On making a difference

Why are you doing this? How are you making a difference? What is your reason for being, besides making money? There is no engine or vehicle like business to make a difference.

– Walter Robb, Co-CEO, Whole Foods

Whole Foods Market makes a difference in the lives of its customers and society in general. It is committed to high-quality and organic foods, and it demonstrates this commitment by selling natural products, sourcing food from organic farms, and supporting various causes, including animal welfare, environmental stewardship, and more.

Remember, making money is great, but making money while making a difference is even better. Figure out how you can do that in your business, and you’ll be much more fulfilled and inspired.

21. On fear of failure

My parents taught me to not be afraid and if you are, don’t let that fear constrain you. If you fail, accept it and move on. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to but you’re still a good person and capable of many things.

– Lizanne Kindler CEO, Talbots

This one applies both to retail and life in general — and it’s pretty self-explanatory. Whether you’re doing new things in your business or just taking a different direction in life, failure is a possibility. But don’t let the fear of failure hinder you from forging on, because (as cliche as this sounds), the ultimate failure is failing to try at all.  

Further Reading


Enjoyed this post? Check out our free ebook, Retail Survival of the FittestThis book serves as your practical guide to modern-day retail success. You’ll learn:

  • How to design in-store experiences that delight customers and keep them coming back.
  • How to automate or streamline repetitive tasks so you can be more productive and focus on serving your customers and growing your business.
  • How to increase repeat purchases through creative loyalty strategies, clever use of data, and modern-day rewards programs.

Learn More

Your turn

Got any favorite retailing quotes? Let us know in the comments.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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