RV PRO

August '18

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12 • RV PRO • August 2018 rv-pro.com Celebrating LE A DING WOMEN in the RV Industr y Val Byrd, Manager of Customer Merchandising, NTP-STAG When Val Byrd started as a merchandising coordi- nator for Stag-Parkway, she says she never imagined she'd still be with the distributor 18 years later. Byrd majored in marketing in college and started as a buyer in the grocery industry. She moved from Georgia to Washington, D.C., for college and then to Minne- sota for a recent college graduate program as a buyer for SuperValu, servicing independent grocery retailers. "There was a correlation there; it was my first entry into dealing with independent retailers," Byrd says. "I worked grocery back in the '90s, switched to category management, then actually became a promotions manager on the category management team and a grocery store manager. "That's when I came into contact with the folks at Stag-Parkway, through a recruiter, and they (Stag) wanted someone from outside of the industry to help them develop a merchandising program." Byrd says she warned Stag she knew nothing about RVs or camping, but says company execs were fine with that. "They wanted someone who knew marketing and retail and could bring that to this industry," she says. "I came in wide-eyed, not really understanding anything about RVing, but I knew how marketing worked and how the grocery industry worked. I knew how to run a store and how a store should work." Byrd joined Stag in 1999, when she was hired by Donna Martin to develop a merchandising program. "Donna was trying to wear 12 different hats when she hired me as a specialist to kind of pass the baton. It was just me," Byrd says. "At that time, a lot of dealerships weren't really into the Internet. A lot didn't have their own websites. A lot of our suppliers didn't even have UPCs or barcodes on products. It was pretty early on for our industry. "Coming from grocery, it was an eye opener," she adds. "I was like, 'where do I start?' In my first job as merchandising coordinator, I was asked to mobilize our sales force to create some sort of structure for a merchandising program, so we could help our dealers to improve the look and feel of their stores." To create a program, Byrd had to do everything from deter- mining if software was needed to investing in hardware like scanners and devices. Byrd says the industry has come a long way in terms of packaging and presentation in stores. "When you compare the look and feel of independent RV stores or even specialty stores (versus) Camping World, I think our dealers hold their own. If I was a part of that, it makes me proud," she says. After a couple years as the sole merchandising coordinator, Byrd found herself supporting dealers nationwide by doing CAD drawings and store shelving, all of which she had taught herself. She was able to hire her first employee in 2004 and eventually hired a team and expanded from simple store plan- ning to inventory management as well. She has expanded her role to do consulting concerning inven- tory control, providing analysis of actual products on hand, cycle counting and most recently has moved into retail technology. "I'm a very strong believer and proponent of technology and automation. I'm also still a big proponent of brick and mortar. Despite eCommerce and the success of it, I read that almost 90 percent of sales still take place in brick and mortar," Byrd says. "I think we really need to encourage our dealers to embrace technology and help them to be exposed to it. Everything from mobile point of sale, being able to use smartphones and tab- lets, to getting from behind the checkout counter and utilizing these portable devices out on the lot and showroom sales floor is going to be more important," she adds. "Things we talked about at RVDA and The Expo include being able to seamlessly stick together different marketing channels." Byrd says she has found her job so rewarding and the industry so welcoming she can't imagine ever leaving. "It's been a wild ride and a great ride," she says. "Can I do another 18 years? At the RV stores and with our vendors, you see some white-haired people out there. I might end up being one of them. "The industry has been good to me and the company has been good to me. It's been a joy to work with a lot of these dealers," Byrd adds. "We have a business relationship, but we also have a friendship. We have friendships in this industry. That encapsulates why I'm still here. It's more than a job. I truly care. Because if I didn't care I would have been gone a long time ago."

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