Amanda Astrologo ‘make sure you believe in it.’

Amanda Astrologo is a Partner in The Parker Avery Group, and has held key leadership positions in retail, merchandising, planning, replenishment, and forecasting over the course of her illustrious 20-year career. She’s worked with a roster of retail names, the likes of which include iconic organizations like At Home, Belk, Kendra Scott, Orvis, Party City, and The Fresh Market. She’s also been an honored presenter at several prominent industry events, including GroceryShop, Oracle Retail CrossTalk, and Zipline Aspire. And she also has broad, professional experience with a wide range of retail segments, including grocery, apparel, department store management, and specialty products.

Douglas Hampton Dowson

6 min read

Astrologo is originally from Pennsylvania. She and her husband are currently living in the Charlotte, North Carolina area.

Amanda Astrologo is a well-known and established name in the industry—having worked, sacrificed, and succeeded for her brands and clients for the past 2 decades. So when we were honored to receive a ‘yes’ upon her invite to become a Convrt Award Judge, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask Amanda a bit more about her retail industry experience and story, and to ask for a bit of perspective about what to expect next in an ever-changing industry.

Can you describe your job in one sentence?

I am a Retail Management Consultant who helps our clients do strategy, business, process design, and management transition.

Can you identify a tipping point in your career, where you started to see success? Are there any takeaways or lessons you could share?

I would say there are a few. Careers are meant to be a journey, and not necessarily a straight path. So very early on in my career, when I started in retail, I had a tremendous leader I reported to. I made a very large, slightly costly mistake for the company, and the leadership that he showed through it to me, and the compassion and empathy he displayed, left a lasting impression.

He could have easily let me go. He could have easily coached me out of the company. Instead, he used it as a learning moment to help me rectify the situation and move forward. That lesson early on in my career showed me what kind of leader I wanted to be. Two, it showed that you can fail forward and learn from your mistakes, and that you can learn to do something differently.

That was a very early lesson in my career that I will take with me for as long as I can, and I want to teach it to others as well. I definitely try to show more empathy in my leadership and understanding today than I thought I ever would. So that’s lesson one. Fast forward, I would say that joining consulting was probably the next pivotal point for a successful career—understanding that you can take what you’ve learned in the past and use it to make things better.

Changing the approach from sitting in the chair to helping others lead and work through their challenges and the needs of their companies is a huge pivotal point. I think it’s great to bring fresh ideas to the table, and it’s exciting. I think that’s really what gave me a jumping-off point to where I am today, of just being able to do something different every day and help others.

You have to constantly look at what’s next.

Do you have any insights or advice for someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Well, avoiding burnout is a big one in retail. I would say, have intellectual curiosity. Retail, we know, is constantly evolving. With the pandemic, it evolved in ways that many of us never thought we would see (at least from a timing perspective). I think it forced people to be innovative.

I think innovation (in any job) has been a term that has always been somewhat cliche, and one that people have somewhat overutilized. But now, people actually had to be innovative. You had to think differently. You had to come out of your comfort zone. I think that’s how you avoid burnout. You have to constantly look at what’s next. You have to learn and realize that you wanna make things better or change things, or even simplify things. Just because you change doesn’t mean that things have to get more complicated.

Then, you start to simplify your life, which really does help avoid burnout. So I think that’s a major challenge for many retailers, especially many in our industry today. Because normally, you know, when you say that you wanna embark on a new project, it’s automatically a huge project and it’s always several hours—but there are different ways to do things, and I think the key is to force yourself to really think differently and get potentially even a better result than what you thought you could by just really stripping it back and taking a hard look at how you do it.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership, to me, is building a strong team. That doesn’t mean being out at the forefront. It means letting others show their skillsets, letting them shine on their own (or collaboratively as a team), and giving them the tools and the guidance to allow them to do that. Leadership doesn’t mean being a director of all things. It just means letting people work and fostering their strengths.

We are all not created equal, and I think a good leader has to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and how much stronger they can be together. How do you really facilitate that objective while also being able to make the harder decisions along the way, while also making them quickly? So if a team member or a piece of the team is not working well, how do you rectify that in a quick manner if there’s a problem that can easily fester into something else?

So, it’s really being able to facilitate the growth and the support, as well as the need for change.

Leadership, to me, is building a strong team. That doesn’t mean being out at the forefront. It means letting others show their skillsets, letting them shine on their own (or collaboratively as a team), and giving them the tools and the guidance to allow them to do that.

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity, to me, from a consulting point of view, means problem-solving. That’s what I do today. It’s a lot of everything’s different every day, and you have to be creative about how you solve those problems. I think creativity today means thinking about something that would’ve been more prescriptive in the past. The straightforward way to attack a problem now is, more or less, to sit down with a whiteboard and say “let’s figure out how to solve this a few different ways.” You’ll have a B plan to your A plan, a C plan to your B plan, and always have the ability to adapt and evolve.

What are some of the key challenges that you see facing retail at this point in time?

Let’s stick to a top two or three. One is the evolution of the customer, right? That’s really the crux of all of this. The customer has been trained to shop differently, and now it’s about customer experience along that journey. And there are so many options for the consumer to shop now, whether you’re talking about an Amazon online, a Walmart online, etc. And then, you add in the marketplaces—and it’s virtually impossible not to have multiple places to find the same products that you need. So making sure that you can keep that market share and keep your consumer engaged, that’s a very different thought process than what it has been. And that’s certainly evolving.

I think it’s easy for retailers to think… this is what I need to do to keep my online business going, or this is what I need to do to keep my brick-and-mortar business going. But now, there’s no differentiation. She wants to be able to shop on her mobile device while she’s in a brick-and-mortar store. So when you start to introduce things like that, and the need coming out of the pandemic for people still wanting to go back to a physical store and see, feel, and touch—that’s a pretty decent undertaking for any retailer today.

So I think that’s one piece that’s really showing its teeth out there in the market. I always talk about things in a people, process, and technology mindset. So if we talk about the process being the store engagement and the customer engagement, the people part for many retailers is staffing. And whether you’re talking about the labor model in the story, or you’re talking about people in your back office, the question is—how do you keep them engaged? How do you keep them brand-aware? How do you keep them wanting to continue to work in retail and go down that path?

Because now, everyone’s fighting the attrition of nobody wants to come back into the office, but we need to get people back into the office. And then there are generational gaps and differences in what retailers are having to face, and skillset differentials. That’s a pretty big piece that I think is probably going to be a steep climb over the next 6, 12, 18 months that we’re going to see.

From a technology standpoint, there are a lot of shiny objects out there, which is what I like to call them. Retailers notoriously always go for those. However, the foundational pieces of data management and the basic needs of the technology basis have been neglected over the last decade or so, if not more.

In order for some of these new practices and new technology software packages to really work well, then some of that has to be addressed. And those processes are costly. In many cases, they’re long projects to put in. I think we’re gonna see a lot of retailers having to really embark on those projects and be strategic about them over the next 2, 3, 5 years in order to just stay in business.

But those are generally not the ones that the CIOs want to tackle, because there’s not a lot of ROI that comes with them. But they are enablers, and they are dependencies. So I think it’ll be interesting to see how some of those data pieces get addressed.

I always talk about things in a people, process, and technology mindset.

What is your vision for the future of our industry?

I’m gonna go out there and say those players in the industry that focus on the enablements of their people (because without your associates you are left high and dry), those that really focus on some of the back-to-basics standardizing and simplification of their processes, will win.

I do think we’re going to have some that get caught up in all the shiny objects, and they’re going to be challenged. So my advice for leadership is really to understand what it takes to get the job done, and understand what it takes to support your associates—both on the front lines and in your back office. The leaders in retail today are those who go out and understand what they’re up against, what it takes for their associates to get things done, what it’s going to take to move things to the next level, and take the time to learn it at the appropriate level of detail.

Now, that doesn’t mean they have to get into the weeds. They don’t have to know what buttons to push. But they really need to take the time to educate themselves on how to get there, and how to get the vision for where they’re trying to lead their organizations in the future. I think that that will win. That’s what I hope for. I hope some of the fun retailers of today, that we know and love, start to really realize some of that and continue to move it forward.

The Convrt Award is about authentic, independent recognition. Why do you think that’s important?

Innovation and getting new ideas into the marketplace are always great. I’m excited about it, just to get a new vision and a new mindset on some of these things that are being developed, and the creativity of people.

It always astounds me. Every time something new comes out, I’m like, oh, why didn’t I think of that? You get in this industry for so long and it just becomes kind of old hat. And you know what needs to be done, but these are people who are actually working where the rubber meets the road, and they’re putting forth fantastic ideas. It’s exciting to be a part of something like that.

If you don’t have passion for something, and if you’re just kind of checking the boxes, your willingness to stick with it dwindles. You’re definitely more hungry if you believe in what you’re putting forward.

What would you like to see from participants entering the awards? Any words of encouragement for entrants?

Anytime I do something like this and I see new things, new entrepreneurs, and new development, one of the key things that I look for is passion. Have they done their research? Are they just trying to create a new widget to make a buck, or is it something that they’re truly passionate about—and does that come through in their delivery? Does that passion come through in how they thought about the development of the technology? Does it come through the process and through their pitch, from beginning to end? Have they really tried to answer all the questions? So, just looking and seeing how that passion comes through in their overall delivery, and in the product they’ve developed, is very important.

If you don’t have passion for something, and if you’re just kind of checking the boxes, your willingness to stick with it dwindles. You’re definitely more hungry if you believe in what you’re putting forward. So that’s what I’m looking for. My advice to any of the contestants that are going through this journey is to make sure you believe in it. Make sure that you’ve gone through and understand all the inner workings and why you’re doing it. Because that will come through in all of the pieces you’re about to embark on.

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