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At a glance
Best Buy
Business: Retail chain specializing in electronics, computers and appliances
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Founded: 1966
Locations: 4,400 in 12 countries
Employees: 167,000
Fiscal 2012 revenue: $50.7 billion
52-week stock range: $21.79 to $32.85
Thursday’s close: $22.65, down 30 cents on the New York Stock Exchange

Best Buy adapts to times

CEO listens to buyer feedback, good and bad

Dunn

Brian Dunn bristles at criticism.

But the Best Buy CEO seeks it out so he can better understand what customers experience in the retail chain’s 4,400 stores.

“Feedback is a gift,” Dunn said Thursday as he spoke to about 120 local business people and students at IPFW.

Dunn was the featured speaker for IPFW’s annual Doermer Dialogue, a three-hour morning event that included a panel discussion with business executives from the region. Connecting with customers was the topic.

The CEO is trying to orchestrate a turn-around for the company, which reported an annual net loss of $1.7 billion on March 29. Best Buy officials unveiled an $800 million cost-cutting plan that includes closing 50 big-box stores in the U.S. this year.

Dunn spends part of every Sunday online, seeking customers’ opinions about their experience buying electronics, computers and other items at Best Buy. The Minneapolis executive boils down the remarks to find kernels of truth.

The retail chain tries to adapt, based on changing technology and customer input. Many businesses are too slow to embrace customer feedback, he said.

Dunn counsels executives to expect tough times and focus on how to survive. He cautioned against “euphoric recall,” or the tendency to glorify how things used to be. Glossing over challenges, the CEO said, is the death of many businesses.

Best Buy shifted its sales staff from commission to an hourly wage about 25 years ago.

Manufacturers fought the change, believing only incentive-driven staff would be an effective sales force, Dunn said.

Seven years passed before Best Buy returned to a profit. But Dunn believes it was the right move because staff shouldn’t have a financial incentive to push products that don’t fit customers’ needs.

Mary Lung, an assistant vice president at Swiss Re, was in the audience for Dunn’s presentation. She appreciated his personal stories scattered throughout and called the presentation “very insightful.”

“You have to keep up with the customers. They are first,” Lung said, repeating what she’d learned. “You have to listen, even to the bad news.”

Swiss Re is requiring all staff to attend customer-centric training this year.

Lung was pleased to find a local opportunity to meet the mandate.

sslater@jg.net

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