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The NRF Foundation shapes retail’s future by building awareness of the industry through statistics and stories; developing talent through education, experiences and scholarships; and fostering career growth among people who work in retail.

The NRF Foundation shapes retail’s future by building awareness of the industry through statistics and stories; developing talent through education, experiences and scholarships; and fostering career growth among people who work in retail.

The Disruptors 2016

The Disruptors 2016

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The Disruptors are true originals who rock the boat with ideas so crazy, they just might work. These are the people who make you rethink what you thought you knew about retail, opening you up to new possibilities for your customers, your business and your world.

Meet The Disruptors 2016:

Jessica Herrin

Jessica Herrin

Founder and CEO
Stella & Dot Family Brands

Jessica Herrin certainly had the resume to run a multi-million-dollar business: Stanford University graduate degree, disruptive tech startup (WeddingChannel.com) and time at a major corporation. But it was a moment in an elevator — surrounded by women enthused about a Mary Kay convention — that put the final piece in place, and Stella & Dot was born.

The online and home-based jewelry line is about more than selling accessories and helping women look good. For Herrin, it is about empowering those women with their own careers. To date, Stella & Dot has paid out more than $270 million in commissions to its stylists, and done so in an atmosphere of fun, passion, quality and personal service. Originally begun as a DIY in-home jewelry making party, designs are now crafted by Stella & Dot’s creative team and reach customers across North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Germany.

Herrin’s commitment to providing opportunity doesn’t end with Stella & Dot; in 2010, she created the Stella & Dot Foundation, raising over $2 million to date toward creating positive change in women's lives through education and economic empowerment and raising awareness for breast cancer and autism.

“I feel like I’m in the happiness business.”
Jessica Herrin
Katrina Lake

Katrina Lake

Founder and CEO
Stitch Fix

At the intersection of retail, data and technology, Katrina Lake found inspiration. While brainstorming ideas for a client, Lake, then a retail consultant, imagined a “beautifully merchandised store that was set up more like a museum exhibit.” Female shoppers could register preferences and options would appear in their dressing rooms.

It was a few years later at Harvard Business School that Lake put the pieces together; the result was Stitch Fix, an e-commerce site with a highly personal touch. Shoppers fill out online profiles and then receive up to five items hand-picked by stylists. Customers keep what they like and return the rest — the site’s technology learns what works, allowing further personalization with future orders.

Lake first shipped products from her apartment, but today Stitch Fix boasts more than 1,500 employees nationwide. Through it all, Lake has committed to staying connected to the business at all times and in many different ways — from visiting and working at distribution centers to styling Fixes herself in order to stay in touch with the company and its clients.

“We’re lucky to be so close to our clients; we hear firsthand that a dress we sent was what she wore when she got engaged, or a scarf sent to a mom was the one she wore while undergoing chemo. Things people buy gain meaning in the context of their lives.”
Katrina Lake
Kyle Nel

Kyle Nel

Executive Director, Lowe’s Innovation Labs
Lowes Companies, Inc.

Kyle Nel brings together uncommon partners to imagine the impossible and provide solutions for problems that customers and employees face every day. Formerly part of Walmart’s Global Insights group, Nel is committed to creating technology that is as useful as it is exciting. He has led Lowe’s Innovation Labs to develop and introduce technologies including the Lowe’s Holoroom, an augmented reality home improvement design tool, and the OSHbot autonomous retail service robot.

With Nel’s direction, Lowe’s Innovation Labs has also partnered with Made in Space to land a 3D printer on the International Space Station. Lowe’s-branded hardware can now be designed by NASA and printed out by technicians on the station. There are down-to-earth implications, too: A replica of the printer will be available in select Lowe’s stores, where customers can print their own objects.

The next frontier for Nel? A continued balance between the “forward-looking crazy future stuff” and practical applications that could one day be used by other retailers.

“We build stuff you wouldn’t expect us to build with people you wouldn’t expect us to work with.”
Kyle Nel
Greg Petro

Greg Petro

President and Chief Executive Officer
First Insight Inc.

Greg Petro’s goals for retail go far beyond delivering the right products at the right price. He also aims to revolutionize the field “for the betterment of mankind.” First Insight, founded in 2007, combines data from consumer engagement with other sources like customer relationship management systems and social media to help companies better understand their core customers. The idea is to predict how products will perform before costly investments are made.

Petro believes this sort of crystal ball enables retailers to capitalize on micro-segmentation; consumers will continue to refine how they want to be perceived, “maybe not down to segments of one, but close.”  In doing so, First Insight’s leading solutions help remove the distance between brands and their customers — and, as a result, help those brands become more successful, which allows them to employ more people and make the world a better place.

“There’s no joy in safety. There’s no passion in safety, either. All there is, is safety. And that’s not living.”
Greg Petro
Debbie Sterling

Debbie Sterling

Founder and CEO
GoldieBlox

When Debbie Sterling told her mother she wanted to major in engineering, the response was less than encouraging. “She said, ‘Ewww, why?’” Sterling recalls. 

She has since made it her mission that the next generation of young girls wouldn’t experience the same. 

Worldwide, only 14 percent of engineers are female; Sterling saw an opportunity to capture — and hopefully hold — the attention of girls early on. What blossomed thanks to a campaign on Kickstarter has become a successful construction toy company aimed at inspiring young girls to build. GoldieBlox is an effort to “disrupt the pink aisle,” engaging these girls in science, technology, engineering and math past age 8, when many traditionally lose interest.

Sterling’s savvy extends well beyond the absolutes and differentials that make up engineering; she’s also a pro at viral marketing. GoldieBlox premiered with a video of three young girls using their princess toys to create a complex machine, which was met with wild success. 

“It's time to motivate our girls to help build our future.”
Debbie Sterling
The List Quiz

Are you a power player, disruptor, dreamer, influencer or giver? Find your retail superstar personality with this interactive quiz.