Retail Connect Reinvents Itself

October 15, 2020

At the onset of planning for Retail Connect 2020, event organizers thought their largest obstacle would be overhauling the event’s brand—then the pandemic hit followed swiftly by the killing of George Floyd.

"We went from talking about rebranding to talking about how we could make this event relate to these two huge forces of change affecting our communities," reflected Center for Retail Design and Innovation Co-Director and Retail Connect Event Planner Peggy Lord.

Launched in 2010, the College of Design’s Retail Connect continues to be the University’s signature retailing conference each year. The event brings together industry leaders to address challenges and innovations shaping the retail landscape while connecting retail merchandising students to the larger industry.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak and renewed calls for racial justice, Lord and her team decided to leverage the event's platform to discuss these timely issues. With less than four months until the event, the team changed the event's theme and name to "Be A Catalyst for Change: Leadership Lessons to Navigate Retail in Transformative Times."

"We want our students and community to be part of these larger conversations," said Lord, who sees Retail Connect 2020 as a critical opportunity to keep the dialogue flowing. "The retail industry has work to do to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion." As part of these efforts, event organizers and sponsors are directing a portion of the sponsorship money toward student scholarships. "We know how critical financial support is for increasing accessibility," explained Lord, "so we worked with our sponsors to create the Leadership & Diversity Scholarship and the Leadership Awards for a total of six individual student scholarships."

Yet, the organizers faced another hurdle: how to pull off one of the college’s major events during a pandemic. "We had a lot of long conversations and meetings about the best way to host this event while staying true to itself," said Lord. Ultimately, to ensure the safety of the attendees and to test the innovative capacity the event is known for, the team opted to move the event entirely online.

Featured in the first-ever virtual Retail Connect event will be a powerhouse group of retail experts from organizations of all sizes. Speakers include:

  • Allison Peterson, chief customer officer at Best Buy as the keynote speaker
  • Mark Irvin, chief inclusion and diversity officer at Best Buy as a panelist
  • Greg Cunningham, chief diversity officer and senior executive vice president at US Bank as a panelist
  • Alissa Montbriand, CEO/proprietor of Pacifier as a panelist
  • Virajita Singh, associate vice provost at the Office of Equity & Diversity and senior research fellow at the College of Design will act as moderator

"I hope that Retail Connect 2020 will model different possibilities as we move through these stressful times," said Interim Design, Housing, and Apparel Department Head Hye-Young Kim. "Now more than ever we need to be compassionate, resilient, and brave. If we can achieve that in everything we do, we may come out of this challenge stronger and more unified."

"Ultimately I think our event attendees are going to be really impressed with this year’s conversations," concluded Lord. "We couldn’t have done it without our amazing volunteers, board, and our sponsors."


This year’s Retail Connect is on Tuesday, October 27. Learn more about the speakers and register to attend. Interested in sponsoring retail merchandising students? The College of Design has started a new scholarship fund that advances Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Retail Education. Contact Peggy Lord, review the Retail Connect sponsorship letter for more information, and/or make a gift online.

The retail merchandising program is proud to share that, as part of its 2020 Retail Connect event, it was able to provide individual scholarships to six current retail students: Courtney Clark, Caroline Geiger, Pei Jet Teh, Olivia Rein, Annie Skogen, and Kersten Wetterstrom.

On the second floor of McNeal Hall, a new research center is opening its doors. Designed to connect retail industry professionals with faculty and students, the new Center for Retail Design and Innovation (CRDI) brings a unique design thinking approach to retail industry problems.

This Thursday, students and industry professionals will gather for the College of Design’s annual event, Retail Connect. This year’s event will focus specifically on entrepreneurship and the role entrepreneurs play in our global economy.