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Finding Success in Membership

Bari Harlam, Marketing and Membership Analytics, BJ's Wholesale Club
Thomas Wade-West
December 10th, 2013
Bari Harlam serves as a marketing and membership analytics expert at BJ's Wholesale Club. Her passion for marketing and dedication to innovation allows her and the marketing team at BJ's to accelerate in their industry. BJ's Wholesale Club is a membership club which puts a strong emphasis on providing quality products for great prices for their members.

7 Questions with Bari

How does your team generate new ideas?

It all starts by trusting and empowering your team; rewarding innovation is the key to generating new ideas. Creating a culture and team that celebrates and rewards new ideas is important. The power of innovation comes from everyone, not just one person. Subsequently, we like to create a culture of empowerment. Our team knows that they have the permission and support to generate new ideas. This is how we achieve success in moving forward and overcoming obstacles.

Do you have specific rituals for re-setting your team to be creative?

It’s firstly important to understand that not all ideas are going to be successful, but that should not deter those from voicing their thoughts. For instance, in a brainstorming meeting, we're not going to filter ideas. When we move forward, we then take certain ideas and understand how they can be feasible.

What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating?

When innovating, the main thing is whether the members are going to like this idea and appreciate it. The second thing is to ensure that we are going to be able to execute it, and execute it well. Setting clear expectations across the company and clearly communicating to our operations team is very important. This includes crystallizing our methods and plan of action across the team and to each of the different internal partners. Being able to test the idea is important, too. We have 201 clubs in which we can test the idea; generally, we'll do this in a handful of clubs or in a region, and if its successful, we will roll it out chain wide.

How do you identify trends? What resources does your team use to spot trends and consumer insights?

Identifying trends is a team effort across every category. In brief, we need to be attentive to what is selling and what is not selling. We listen to members by what they are buying or not buying; we have member panels, which help us understand what consumers and members want. We are also very tuned into social media and the conversations that occur on Facebook, Twitter and the like. We pay attention to everything we are learning, and mix those insights in a proverbial bowl. It’s kind of like an innovation stew. Finally, we test and learn. Those ideas that prove solid during the testing phase are executed across BJ’s footprint.

Has there ever been an instance where another industry has influenced an innovation at your company?

We're in touch with outside initiatives to help the communities in which we have clubs. For instance, through BJ’s Feeding Communities Program, in partnership with Feeding America, BJ’s team members gather unsold food from their Clubs, including in-demand and nutritious fresh fruits, dairy, vegetables and meat and prepare it for delivery to community food banks where it is sorted and prepared for distribution. So far, we've donated around 12 million pounds of food.

What makes an innovative culture? How do you create a culture of innovation?

It is important that we create a safe environment where our team is encouraged to speak with candor. Our team also needs to know that BJ’s ideation process welcomes everybody for being innovative and for taking risks. We need to be on the same page -- generating new ideas, taking intelligent risks and stepping up to the plate

Looking to the future, how is BJ's going to be a leader in innovation?

We're interested in staying true to what matters most to us: our members. We must focus on our members and what they care about. We will always strive to improve how we listen and how quickly we respond to our members.
References: bjs