Jeff Lotman, the Founder and CEO of Global Icons, was recently interviewed by NRF’s STORES Media. The NRF Foundation tacked on a few questions in this interview to explore the career side of of branding and licensing, and to learn more about Lotman’s background and how he came to launch his own licensing agency.

Tell us a bit about your career. Your first paying job, and what lead you to launch your own branding company?

I started in the food business via the manufacturing sector. I worked for more than 17 years at Keystone Foods, a large processor for some of the world’s leading food brands, including McDonald’s. I fell into licensing, as most people in this field do, by happenstance. I was trying to get the rights to use the name of James Cagney for a special project and ended up representing the rights to his estate. From there I built a licensing agency that specialized in representing classic celebrities. About ten years ago we shifted our focus to corporate brands and haven’t looked back.

How has branding as an area of expertise evolved during the past few years? How do you think this strategy will change during the next few years?

The field of licensing formally started in the 30s and 40s, with the biggest success of that era being Disney. An interesting historical anecdote about the power of the Disney brand is Lionel, the model train company. Lionel was close to going under until they took on the license for a Mickey Mouse branded train. The model sold so well it saved the company.

Back then, licensing was mostly just a matter of putting a character or logo on a product and it would sell. Today it has evolved from ” label slapping” to a much more sophisticated process. We look at the essence of the original brand and determine what demo or audiences it appeals to. We then find products that best reflect the promise and the integrity of the brand. Brand extensions through licensing must stay relevant to the essence of the brand. Coming up with a winning match-up is both a science and an art.

A recent example is the Ford Garage system, where we have addressed the interest of consumers who like to work in their garage and given them a totally branded system with Ford’s name or Mustangs’ name on all key features.

How can aspiring retailers prepare themselves to pursue careers that embrace branding? What attributes do they need in order to become successful in such a discipline?

Retailers are always looking for a way to drive new consumers to their store. Brand licensing, when done correctly, helps differentiate the retailer by providing a unique incentive for attracting customer traffic. Licensed products can effectively enhance retailers’ revenue streams when those products are designed to be sold exclusively to only certain retailers that share the demographic or the essential appeal of the original brand. Retailers who become savvy about the strategy of brand licensing can really elevate the success of their stores and their personal careers as well.

Are professional training/educational programs that address branding as a viable retail concept (such as those offered by colleges and universities) widely available?

There are some. UCLA has a course. So does LIMA (Licensing Industry Merchandising Association). But our industry is really the least known of the marketing disciplines. As a matter of fact, when I tell someone what we do, I always have to give an example since most people don’t really understand it at first. I surely didn’t when I first started.

Read more about Jeff Lotman, and his thoughts on brand licensing, in the full NRF STORES interview.

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Careers in e-commerce and online retailing are on the rise! As a way to encourage career paths in this exciting sector of the industry, Shop.org, NRF’s digital division, established the Ray M. Greenly Scholarship, in honor of a long-time staff member. Melissa Homa, a student at University of Arizona’s Lundgren Center for Retailing, was one of the scholarship recipients during the 2010-2011 academic year. We recently talked with Melissa, to get an update on how this scholarship has helped her towards a job and career in retail.

Ray Greenly Scholarship recipients should demonstrate a strong interest in e-commerce or online retailing. How has your coursework and/or work experience piqued your interest in this aspect of the industry?

I was first intrigued with the e-commerce field through my coursework in the Retailing and Consumer Sciences major at my University. I completed an e-commerce internship with Collective Brands Performance and Lifestyle Group in 2010, focusing on the four brands: Sperry Topsider, Keds, Stride Rite, and Saucony. I worked with the graphic design team, the international marketing team, and online merchandising department. I furthered my knowledge of the field with additional coursework in multichannel retailing as well as entering in the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund case study of 2012. With this case, I competed and won with a business structure based solely in the non-store channels.

Scholarship recipients should also demonstrate leadership in the community or on campus. What activities have you been involved in at the University of Arizona?

I was the Vice President of Standards for my sorority, Vice President of Technology for Students In Free Enterprise, and a Student Ambassador for the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing Corporate Advisory Board. I served as a student teaching assistant for two professors in academic courses. I am also a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars as well as the National Society for Leadership and Success. I was awarded the title Outstanding Senior for the Graduating Class of May 2012 in Retailing and Consumer Sciences.

How have you used the scholarship funds?

The entirety of the scholarship amount has assisted my tuition expenses while attending the University of Arizona.

When are you graduating? Have you secured an internship or job in e-commerce or online retailing for when you graduate?

I am graduating in May 2012, and I’ve accepted a position with Macys.com in New York City, starting in August this year.

Congratulations to Melissa! We’re looking forward to hearing about more success from her, and other scholarship recipients, as they rise through the ranks in the retail industry. Look for updates from other recent Ray Greenly Scholarship winners on our Retail Careers Blog in the near future.

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Chuck Luckenbill, Vice President of Visual Merchandising at OfficeMax, has had a rich career in retail. Luckenbill has held senior leadership positions in visual merchandising and store design with Kohl’s, Carson Pirie Scott & Co. and Dayton-Hudson Department Stores, before joining OfficeMax in 2007. In our joint NRF STORES interview, he shares a lot of incredible insights about how his early career experience shaped him (“learning and believing in the value of the people you work with and work for”), the mentors who influenced him, and advice for those (including his kids!) interested in making connections with retail companies.

Did you aspire to a retail career from the beginning? Was visual merchandising a focus of your college studies?

I studied fine arts in college and loved every minute of it. I was taking courses in sculpture, painting and photography. I did not aspire to a career in retail, but I joined Dayton’s [Minneapolis] for a two-week stay and got bitten by the retail bug. And wow, time flies when you’re having fun.

Your first retail job, at Dayton-Hudson, lasted 16 years — that’s a long time by today’s standards. How did that experience shape the rest of your career? What do you like most about working in retail?

My first job there was in windows, but I had the opportunity to be promoted every two to three years. So each time I was learning more and gaining more responsibility. That coming-up experience taught me to continually look around me for ideas and influences, to surround myself with talented individuals and share my knowledge. I also learned you should do what’s good for the soul once in a while.

At Dayton’s, I recognized the foundation for success. It’s learning and believing in the value of the people you work with and work for. If you don’t believe in their value, I don’t know how you’re going to be successful.

What characteristics do you think are important in the retail industry, and visual merchandising in particular? What advice would you offer others who are interested in a visual merchandising career?

I’ve found it’s important to have people skills, flexibility and commitment, but most important is being able to interpret an idea and turn it into a tangible thing. My advice is to seek out a mentor early on, keep an open mind and trust your instincts. But most of all, exercise your passion.

Did you have mentors early on who guided you in the right direction?

I did. At Dayton’s it was Andrew Markopoulos [former senior vice president of visual merchandising and design for the department store division of Dayton Hudson Corp.], who taught me good taste vs. bad taste. He was a very demanding boss. He really influenced my career and I learned a lot from Andy, but he wasn’t the only one. [In 2001, Luckenbill, then vice president of visual merchandising for Kohl’s Corp., was named as the seventh recipient of the highly coveted Markopoulos Award, an industry honor named for the late visual merchandising vice president.]

Another big influence was Sam Chernoff, a vendor who took an interest in my career and gave me advice. He wouldn’t let me throw caution to the wind, even though sometimes I did. Another mentor, Wayne Sullivan, who represented a number of mannequin companies, became a friend of mine early in my career. He was not only an industry friend, but a personal friend who was able to give me both personal and career advice. You need to understand [at that time] I had two fantastic parents who didn’t understand what I did for a living.

With more than 500 connections, your LinkedIn profile is pretty impressive. Do you have any tips for retail job seekers trying to connect with people and/or companies on social media websites? How can they use this connection to their advantage?

I wasn’t looking for that to happen, but over time those connections were made … there are lots of people out there with 500 connects. Personally, I like to read the blogs associated with LinkedIn, so I use it more as a learning tool to see what the retail world is up to. It offers how and what people are thinking.

I’m not sure social media sites are a great job source. I think you need to look at it from the company’s perspective: How do they wade through thousands of resumes and get the cream to come to the top? Think about the multiplier effect — there could be millions of people on that site and thousands of people looking for that job.

Once you’ve identified the job or company, the next step is to do whatever it takes to get an introduction and a foot in the door. Use LinkedIn as well as the company’s website. Send an e-mail, mail a letter and try to connect with a real person. Be the squeaky wheel, but be courteous. Call the company early in the morning — before 9 a.m. Most retail executives, including HR, are in their offices between 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., and sometimes they’ll pick up their own phones. I got the job at Carson’s using that strategy. I got the lead from a vendor and the next morning I called. This was before the Internet, but I think my advice still applies. I also believe word-of-mouth networking remains as powerful as the Internet.

I have more personal experience in this area as a dad. When I’m helping my kids, who are adults now, I keep reminding them it’s about the relationship. About a year and a half ago, my daughter was online every night applying for jobs. And I said, “Okay, think about it. How many people are on that site looking at that job and applying for that job?”

My son Evan is now manager of operations at Nike’s Beaverton, Ore., employee store. He started out there in visual as a department manager and I’m really proud of what he’s accomplished. Of course, I’m proud of all three of my kids. Evan and I talk regularly about the challenges and opportunities retailing offers. As everyone knows, it’s a hard business to be in, because like anything it requires a commitment and the idea that you should do whatever it takes to get the job done and to do your best work. But if you like what you’re doing, it’s a great business. If you don’t like what you’re doing, get out and find something else.

Read more about Chuck Luckenbill, including more about his thoughts on visual merchandising, in the full NRF STORES interview.

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CareerBuilder.com, our Retail Careers partner, has put together an excellent series of career articles that we’ll share on our blog to help you land the job of your dreams. This Career Readiness series will focus on detailed job hunting, interview tips, and resume writing for new and recent college graduates, and other job seekers. The first article is from 2006, but the five things you should know about job hunting still apply now. Take note as you start looking for that coveted position.

This article was originally posted on CareerBuilder.com by Chief Operating Officer Brent Rasmussen.

The class of 2006 is looking at a bright future with promising job prospects and salary increases. Seventy percent of hiring managers say they plan to recruit recent college graduates this year, up from 62 percent in 2005, according to CareerBuilder.com’s “College Hiring 2006″ survey. Plus, nearly one-in-five hiring managers expect to hire more recent college graduates in 2006 compared to last year and one-in-four plan to increase starting salaries.

College grads can also expect a bigger payoff this year. Twenty-seven percent of hiring managers anticipate increasing starting salaries for recent college graduates in 2006 and only 5 percent plan to decrease them. How much should new grads expect to earn? Thirty-four percent of hiring managers expect to offer between $20,000 and $30,000 and 28 percent expect to offer between $30,000 and $40,000. An additional 10 percent will offer between $40,000 and $50,000 and 7 percent will offer more than $50,000.

New grads won’t have to pound the pavement for too long. Thirty-six percent of hiring managers say they will do the majority of their hiring of recent college graduates in the second quarter. Thirty-one percent say the majority of their hiring will take place in the third quarter. With promising job opportunities, favorable salaries and plenty of free time, new grads should have no reason not to look for that first job. Make sure you know these top five things hiring managers look for when sizing up a candidate:

1. Relevant experience – Twenty-three percent of hiring managers say the candidate’s ability to relate their experience to the job at hand is the most important factor in the hiring decision. Unfortunately, new graduates often underestimate the experience they have through internships, part-time jobs and extracurricular activities, but 63 percent of hiring managers say they view volunteer activities as relevant experience.

2. Fit within the company culture – Just because you look good on paper doesn’t mean you’re a shoo-in for the job. To 21 percent of employers, the trait they most want to see in a candidate is the ability to fit in with co-workers and the company. Offering up a blank stare when the interviewer asks why you are the right fit for the job will not go over well. Just be yourself, but mind your i’s — never insult, interrupt or irritate the interviewer. This can also be evaluated by that “unimportant” small talk at the beginning of an interview or non-job-related questions like “What was the last book you read?”

3. Educational background – Nineteen percent of hiring managers place the most emphasis on your educational background: the institution you attended, major, minor and degree earned. Be sure to also include courses taken and completed projects if relevant to the job. With grade point average, it’s tricky. A good rule of thumb is to omit it unless it is 3.0 or higher and denote if it’s your overall or major GPA.

4. Enthusiasm – Passion for the job is the top characteristic 19 percent of employers look for in a candidate. Employees who are passionate about their jobs tend to be more productive workers. The answer to “Why do you want to work here?” should always focus on the strengths of the company and the challenge of the position, not the perks. A “take or leave it” attitude about the job will leave the employer feeling the same about you.

5. Preparedness – Eight percent of hiring managers say the ideas you bring to the table and the questions you ask carry the most significance. Come in prepared to discuss how your qualifications can specifically contribute to the success of the company. Actually put yourself in that role and explain how you would perform your work and ways to improve it.

We hope new grads and other jobseekers find these tips helpful as you embark on your job search. Stay tuned as we’ll have resume tips coming up next month – so you can beat the post-graduation job application rush.

Brent Rasmussen, Chief Operating Officer of CareerBuilder.com is an expert in recruitment trends and tactics, job seeker behavior and workplace issues. Check out CareerBuilder.com’s job board to see current opportunities.

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Top retail students from across the country are nominated to participate in the American Express-NRF Foundation “Aspire2Retail” Intercollegiate Challenge by their college or university’s program director.  Selected students are then assigned to one area of study in a retail case study problem — ranging from sourcing to merchandising. Team members must work together remotely and are given a retail executive mentor to help guide their individual recommendations, before they present their findings at NRF’s BIG Show.

One participant, Alexandra Wangard, a student at University of Wisconsin, took the challenge head-on. We interviewed her to find out more about the life-long lessons created by her involvement.

How was the experience of working remotely with other students from around the country? Did you have any particular challenges working remotely?

Working remotely was definitely challenging in some aspects as we were dealing with different time zones and many different schedules. However, working remotely also motivated us to use our time together on calls wisely. For my team and me it was about time management and making sure we had a set plan for every call. As a team leader, I made sure we had an agenda for each of our meetings and an idea of what we wanted to accomplish when we talked again.  In many ways not having that real-time face-to-face interaction helped keep us organized and on track because we knew we wouldn’t be talking to each other everyday.

You had the opportunity to present in front of retail executives during the NRF’s BIG show. How did you prepare?

Presenting at the Big Show was nerve-racking but also incredibly exciting and I was confident that my team and I would do well. Preparation was more about learning how to deliver our presentation to a live audience rather than over a web conference. In order to prepare, I re-worked my talking points and added a more conversational element. Our team had a few more conference calls to make sure we were all on the same page, as well as a practice in New York the day before we presented. We also did a team dinner at a phenomenal Italian restaurant in the Theater District to celebrate our win.

Why are you interested in a retail career? What motivates you?

There is really nothing else I can imagine doing; working in retail is something I have always had a passion for and the more I learn about the industry the more I know I picked the right sector to pursue my career in. The retail industry is constantly changing with new developments and technologies that help create better products and a better consumer experience. I am definitely motivated by the progressive nature of the industry and the unique and exciting experiences and challenges that working in the retail industry brings.

What did you learn from this overall experience and how do you apply it to your professional career goals?

Personally, I learned how to lead a team successfully as well as how to be a successful team member. As team leader, I was able to develop my communication skills as well as develop an understanding about what it takes to be a respected leader. The teamwork skills I gained during this project will also help me be a better professional, as working on or with various teams is something I will undoubtedly encounter during my career. This case study simulated situations that I will be presented with in buying and planning. We created our own retail business from merchandising to sourcing and it is great to have a more specific and real-life knowledge of how a retailer functions in its entirety. Having this cross-functional knowledge will be incredibly useful as I embark on my career path.

What did your (challenge section) mentor do to ultimately help you to solve the problem in the case study? What was it like having a one-on-one session with (name of mentor, company, and position)

I fulfilled the compliance role on my team for this year’s case study and our compliance mentor was Dennis Cohen, Senior Director of Private Brand, Sourcing and Supply Chain for Office Depot. The session helped broaden my knowledge of the compliance issues that retailers currently face. Prior to the call I had a basic knowledge of various compliance factors like trade deficits and labor conditions, but Dennis provided me with a lot of resources and other pieces of information that really helped me complete thorough research and really develop a strong understanding of compliance and how it can be applied to manufacturing footwear or other private label goods.

Caption: (l to r) Marcia Klipsch, advisor from University of Arizona, Courtney Dolfi- University of Florida, Nicole Wanco- Georgia Southern, Tamara Smith- Florida State, Marla Putty- University of Arizona, our interviewee, Alexandra Wangard- University of Wisconsin- Madison, and Lydia Schulz, VP/GM Retail Industry Group at American Express

Did you face any unique challenges while participating in this case study? How did you overcome them?

The most unique aspect of this challenge was taking the challenge prompt and coming up with an entirely unique company profile from a merchandising strategy to the detailed aspects of sourcing and a new diversified supply chain. My team members and I had a lot of great ideas and information and it was definitely challenging to try and sift through everything and develop a comprehensive presentation. I attribute our success to the mutual respect we developed for each other’s opinions and ideas and our ability to communicate and collaborate to create our solution.

Do you have any advice for future “Aspire2Retail” challenge team members?

The most important advice I could give to future team members would be to really get to know your team and your university affiliated mentor. As part of this case you spend a lot of time talking to your team and knowing their communication and work styles will really help you develop a successful solution. Another important tip would be to use any and all resources available to you; don’t hesitate to reach out to various industry professionals you have made connections with in the past as they often can give you helpful and relevant advice about the current retail climate as it pertains to the case challenge.

The mission of the “Aspire2Retail” Intercollegiate Retail Challenge is to build awareness of diverse career paths in retail by engaging university students in a competitive, collaborative role play with support from retail executive mentors to implement a multi-tiered business strategy.

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