As we get closer to the next decade, I’m pleased to present another view of the future of our industry.  These insights come from Steve Johnson, Principle and Market Director of Johnson Waters Marketing. Steve’s rep firm, based in Minneapolis, serves 2800 customers across 8 states in the Midwest.  Our shop is one of those benefiting from the high level of service they provide.

Johnson Waters Marketing was founded by Steve’s father Gene, who inspired his son by always asking “What did you do today that brought value to your customers?” Today the company is the sales agency version of a Mom and Pop store.  Steve’s wife Dawn is the Creative Director, in charge of branding, their website, advertising, Minneapolis Mart showroom, and more. Their daughter Taylor is now the Revenue Generation Coordinator at a tech company in Minneapolis, but she worked in sales with Johnson Waters Marketing throughout high school and college.

Steve Johnson has been traveling portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, for just over 30 years serving retailers of all types and sizes. Here are his thoughts about the changes that are coming up:

“Although the retail landscape has changed, the basic premise will remain the same in the 2020’s, in my opinion. The retailers that are the most effective at inspiring their customer and creating the strongest personal connection with the customer will continue to grow well into the new decade. Many of the fastest growing retailers are not in obvious places, but they have one thing in common…their customers feel a strong personal connection to their store, many even refer to the store as ‘my store’, and ‘their’ favorite store is an important part of their personal life. The consumer is wanting to feel inspired, and is thirsty for a personal connection. 

Great retailers create an environment where the consumer instantly slows down, feels warmth, and falls in love with the creative displays, merchandising, and great product. Creating an emotional response is especially difficult in the world of online retail. It is often viewed as an ‘event’ to visit a favorite brick and mortar store that hasn’t been visited in a while. All of this is especially true when the purchase is a gift for someone that is special, a truly emotional purchase. There are a large number of stores that execute this in a very effecting fashion, and there are more emerging in this changing marketplace. These stores are the very bright future of retailing.

Here are four things Steve thinks will help independent retailers succeed in the coming decade:

  • creative merchandising in an environment that inspires
  • aggressively expanding on product mixes that are working, and quick exits on those that are not
  • great in-store service, that recognizes and reacts appropriately to the ‘in a hurry customer’ vs. the ‘enjoy my time here customer’
  • continually create in store events that feed the emotional connection of the customer to the store and celebrates the relationship

I look forward to bringing you the insights of several more industry leaders before the end of the year – please feel free to nominate someone you’d like to hear from by contacting me at

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder