Mike Graen has spent nearly three decades in the collaboration business working both sides of the equations solved regularly by retailer and suppliers.
Most recently Graen spent 3.5 years as the director of innovations for supplier collaboration at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. But last week he formally accepted the role as the managing director for the new Crossmark Collaboration Center under construction across the street from Wal-Mart’s home office in Bentonville.
Graen recently told The City Wire he was excited about the new opportunities this state-of-the-art center will do to facilitate supplier/retail collaboration – a business he knows well and one in which he shares a longtime passion.
“I am excited to help create a platform that lets Wal-Mart and their suppliers plan the future together. To be part of a facility that uses data, insights and technology to improve the customer shopping experience is perfect for me,” he said.
Graen spent 25 years with Procter & Gamble leading the supplier’s Information Technology business with Wal-Mart, during which time P&G’s global business with the retailer grew from $300 million to $13 billion. Graen said he turned down a 2008 promotion to return to Cincinnati to stay in Northwest Arkansas, an area he had grown to love. He spent two years consulting on supplier collaboration before joining Wal-Mart in April 2010.
“I saw the sign go up several months ago for the Crossmark Collaboration Center, right across the street from Wal-Mart’s home office, where I park my motorcycle. It piqued my interest me at this time in my career as I continued to look for new challenges regarding collaboration,” he said.
The past couple of years Graen worked on the SPARC (Supplier Portal Allowing Retail Coverage) project at Wal-Mart, which was a collaboration between the retailer and half dozen or so suppliers aimed to given more inventory visibility and improve on-shelf availability.
With a technology background, Graen spoke passionately about the new center he will lead when it opens next spring. He said forget the 5-slide Power Point presentations typically used by suppliers when they get a coveted meeting with their Wal-Mart buyer. He envisions the new collaboration center bringing a supplier presentation to life with the use of virtual simulation that be used to iron-out merchandising concerns and revamp modular displays on the spot — before they are built.
Suppliers and retailer buyers can step inside a virtual tech lab that Graen said will put them in a store setting.
He said one wall may show a young mom with a two small children in her cart who came to the store for diapers. The second screen shows the trouble she went to getting both children out of the car seats and into the store. Another screen communicates her discontent with having to walk to the back of the large store just for diapers. Another screen could show the total market for diapers in the U.S. and together the supplier and retail buyer could hammer out the best solution which is to drive more sales overall.
The 18.500 square-foot building is expected to open in late April. The site’s large scale plan is expected to cost between $5 million and $8 million once completed.