TNF ’85 Look To The Future
By current standards it would be something like a TED talk with more audience participation blended with in-depth hands on experiences. It was Future Q, the three-day gathering in Berkeley in late August 1985 put on by The North Face to show specialty outdoor retailers what their future could look like.
The brainchild of then TNF CEO Hap Klopp, Future Q was eye opening in many regards but mostly because it was perhaps the first time any of the retailers attending had truly considered how to become better at their business. Instead of pitching a few tents on the sales floor and hanging a few packs on the wall and putting out an “open” sign, Future Q challenged retailers to dream big, think differently.
The first session featured then retail guru Peter Glen. Right from the start Glen’s flamboyant style was at once a delight to the hipper retailers in the audience and off-putting to those of the “outdoor outpost” staid mentality.
At one point in his presentation talking about the best and worst of retailing, Glen pointed to a couple in the audience and said, “I bet you think you’re pretty good retailers don’t you?”
The couple nodded affirmatively. To which Glen responded, “well you’re not. I paid a visit to your store and it’s boring.”
Talk about a stunned silence. Glen took off from there to show slides of the couple’s store and what they could do to improve it.
At the end of his critique he apologized for being so brutal noting, “but none of the other retailers here is any better.” Nice finish to a hell of a presentation.
The following morning, Future Q attendees were put into groups to visit and report on various San Francisco retail outlets. For example, my team of six was given a list of six downtown retailers headed by the then uber-hip Commes Aux Garcons and finished by the uber-popular Williams of Sonoma.
Following an afternoon of team reports and analysis of store layouts, merchandising, customer service etc, attendees made their way to a special dinner at trend setting chef Jeremiah Tower’s Santa Fe Grill.
The food was superb, the conversation lively and filled with ideas on how pretty dull outdoor retail stores could be turned into excitement filled shopping experiences.
The third day was given over to TNF announcing their first ever sportswear line. That, a group photo and retailers promising that indeed they had seen the future and it was bright.
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