retail news in context, analysis with attitude

This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

I'm coming to you this week from one of my favorite places - the classroom at Portland State University in Oregon, where I've been team teaching a class on Wednesday evenings with Tom Gillpatrick, who heads up the PSU business school's Center for Retail Leadership.

The class has been focused on CPG and retail marketing, and one of the wonderful things about it has been the participation of so many industry folks who have joined us - not just this year, but every year, coming from as far as Vermont, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to share their knowledge and insights with the class. (If you want to join us next summer, let me know … we'd love to have you.)

This year, something really special happened a couple of weeks ago. We had two executives join us that night - Lisa Sedlar, the former CEO of New Seasons Market who has launched her own venture, Green Zebra Grocery, and Lauren Johnson, COO of Newport Avenue Market out in Bend, Oregon. They were both terrific, sharing with us war stories about leadership and management.

Now, among the students in the class is a fellow named Roland Fornataro who had told us of his personal dilemma - he was trying to choose between going to law school and working in a new startup he was part of that makes beef jerky from wine and beer. I'd told him that if he wanted to bring in samples, we'd all be happy to help with his choice.

Now, the evening that Lisa and Lauren joined us happened to be the night that Roland was bringing samples. Just before class started, we had a brainstorm. I cleared it with Lauren and Lisa and then went to Roland and told him that at some point in the evening, I was going to offer him the opportunity to make a sales pitch for his new product to the executives … and that they were prepared to listen and evaluate his product, which isn't yet in stores. "Just don't screw it up," I told him.

Talk about pressure. Well, when I turned it over to Roland, he made his pitch, and Lisa and Lauren were magnificent … they were tough but fair, receptive to his pitch but asking him a wide variety of questions about price, promotional support, margin, sustainability, ingredients, transparency, labeling, UPC codes, the whole nine yards. For about a half-hour, all I had to do was hand out beef jerky to the class … and it helped that both Lisa and Lauren said it was some of the best jerky they'd ever eaten. Roland, I have to say, hit it out of the park … he had answers for almost every question they asked, was professional about taking guidance and criticism, and when the evening was over, both Lisa and Lauren had agreed to carry a couple of SKUs of his product.

When I thought about it later, it occurred to me that there was a lot of learning going on, but very little "teaching." Probably better that way, and I know from reading essays subsequently written by the members of the class, they got a unique view and understanding of the supplier-retailer relationship.

To me, it speaks to the power of the classroom. This is a wonderful place where lots of interesting things can happen … because we all walk in the door with a completely different mindset. We all learn. If you're ever given the opportunity to spend time in a classroom with a bunch of students, grab it. I can promise you that it'll change you for the better. It has me.

I'm thrilled to be here, and I'm jazzed that so many of my industry friends keep showing up to help. I'm grateful that Tom Gillpatrick keeps inviting me back, probably figuring that if I keep doing it often enough, eventually I'll get it right.

Plus, I'll let you in on a little secret: It's enormous fun.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: