Breakfast with the Boss: Lisa Panattoni, President of Merchandising at ROSS Stores, Inc.

Lisa Panattoni is the President of Merchandising at ROSS Stores, Inc. She directly oversees men’s, home, cosmetics, lingerie, and jewelry, and has been at ROSS for over 12 years. Lisa has spent 25 years of her career in off-price retail. In college she majored in Communications with a minor in Business. Upon graduation, Lisa entered the training program for Weinstock’s department store in Sacramento, California. She spent six years working for Weinstock’s, eventually moving to the east coast to work for TJX, and later ROSS Stores, Inc. Lisa discovered her natural propensity for the fast-paced world of off-price retail, and has been a part of the industry ever since. “What do you think has helped with the growth of stores like T.J. Maxx and ROSS in recent years?” one scholar asked. “I’ve been working with off-price for a very long time,” Lisa responded. “When I started, there were maybe one third of the number of off-price stores that we have now. The growth has really been explosive. I think it has a lot to do with how people like to shop. We are starting to see a separation of internet shopping and shopping in physical places that are a bit more experiential. Shopping at ROSS, and in off-price stores in general, is fun! It’s not for everyone, but for those who enjoy it, it is an experience. You go in one day and find a bargain, and come back the next week and take part in the treasure hunt all over again. I think that drives a lot of our business. Some people have to shop off-price, and some people just enjoy the hunt. I think the combination of both has driven a lot of the growth.”

Lisa Panattoni is the President of Merchandising at ROSS Stores, Inc. She directly oversees men’s, home, cosmetics, lingerie, and jewelry, and has been at ROSS for over 12 years. Lisa has spent 25 years of her career in off-price retail. In college she majored in Communications with a minor in Business. Upon graduation, Lisa entered the training program for Weinstock’s department store in Sacramento, California. She spent six years working for Weinstock’s, eventually moving to the east coast to work for TJX, and later ROSS Stores, Inc. Lisa discovered her natural propensity for the fast-paced world of off-price retail, and has been a part of the industry ever since.

What do you think has helped with the growth of stores like T.J. Maxx and ROSS in recent years?” one scholar asked. “I’ve been working with off-price for a very long time,” Lisa responded. “When I started, there were maybe one third of the number of off-price stores that we have now. The growth has really been explosive. I think it has a lot to do with how people like to shop. We are starting to see a separation of internet shopping and shopping in physical places that are a bit more experiential. Shopping at ROSS, and in off-price stores in general, is fun! It’s not for everyone, but for those who enjoy it, it is an experience. You go in one day and find a bargain, and come back the next week and take part in the treasure hunt all over again. I think that drives a lot of our business. Some people have to shop off-price, and some people just enjoy the hunt. I think the combination of both has driven a lot of the growth.”

“Would you say that off-price and full-price stores operate differently?” another scholar inquired. “Oh yes,” Lisa said. “They operate very differently. One of the things that really separates off-price is the level of flexibility. When you think about a more traditional store, you are really centered around laying out seasons and working on doing so a year in advance. A merchant here at ROSS is really living more in the moment. There is much more ability to change. Our merchants look at sales each week and start to recognize patterns and make quick changes to assortments based on those findings. The ability to evolve your assortment so quickly is a major advantage and a major difference in off-price versus full-price retailers.” “How do you avoid overbuying?” one scholar followed up. “We have hundreds of merchants who all love to buy. We run a trend analysis that allows us to track trends and see where we are,” Lisa explained. “We also have a planning team that is side by side with the merchant team to make sure that our plans are aligned and our buyers are in check. The other component of off-price that is different is the way we approach buying. If we have a budget for 100 of an item, but there are 500 available for an amazing deal, we will buy all 500. We don’t let our plans constrict us if it is the right deal.”  “E-commerce has shaken up the way a lot of full-price retailers approach business,” another scholar said. “Would you say that e-commerce has had as great of an effect on off-price retailers like ROSS?” Lisa responded, “This is a question that the market asks us all the time. We are obviously paying a great deal attention to the internet; Amazon is making the news every other week. ROSS’s position so far as really been to wait and see. We are watching other off-price retailers and seeing how they are moving. However, one of the things about off-price is that it is a fairly low average ticket, and it changes very quickly. For this reason, it is very expensive for our products to be up on a website. At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of store growth ahead of us and we’d like to focus on that. We are definitely paying a lot of attention to how the internet is affecting retail, but we are confident in our strategies.”

Would you say that off-price and full-price stores operate differently?” another scholar inquired. “Oh yes,” Lisa said. “They operate very differently. One of the things that really separates off-price is the level of flexibility. When you think about a more traditional store, you are really centered around laying out seasons and working on doing so a year in advance. A merchant here at ROSS is really living more in the moment. There is much more ability to change. Our merchants look at sales each week and start to recognize patterns and make quick changes to assortments based on those findings. The ability to evolve your assortment so quickly is a major advantage and a major difference in off-price versus full-price retailers.”

How do you avoid overbuying?” one scholar followed up. “We have hundreds of merchants who all love to buy. We run a trend analysis that allows us to track trends and see where we are,” Lisa explained. “We also have a planning team that is side by side with the merchant team to make sure that our plans are aligned and our buyers are in check. The other component of off-price that is different is the way we approach buying. If we have a budget for 100 of an item, but there are 500 available for an amazing deal, we will buy all 500. We don’t let our plans constrict us if it is the right deal.”

 “E-commerce has shaken up the way a lot of full-price retailers approach business,” another scholar said. “Would you say that e-commerce has had as great of an effect on off-price retailers like ROSS?” Lisa responded, “This is a question that the market asks us all the time. We are obviously paying a great deal attention to the internet; Amazon is making the news every other week. ROSS’s position so far as really been to wait and see. We are watching other off-price retailers and seeing how they are moving. However, one of the things about off-price is that it is a fairly low average ticket, and it changes very quickly. For this reason, it is very expensive for our products to be up on a website. At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of store growth ahead of us and we’d like to focus on that. We are definitely paying a lot of attention to how the internet is affecting retail, but we are confident in our strategies.”

“Right now as you know, full-price retailers are struggling, but off-price is on the rise,” another scholar noted. “What do you think is the biggest challenge that off-price retailers face in terms of remaining successful and continuing to grow?” Lisa replied that ROSS’s strategy is all about mutual success. “I think we have to continue to get great talent for our company, which is why we love programs like the YMA FSF. Having the right people in the right chairs at the right time is a huge part of our ability to grow. The other part is sort of dependent on other retailers’ performance.  We need a healthy supply chain to function well. It is good for us if other retailers are doing well. If everyone else is performing well, then they’re buying and putting goods out on the market. It’s good for the total economy, and for retail. Certain closures are good for the short term, but not necessarily for the long term.” We closed out the question and answer session with a final inquiry from a scholar. “What do you think is a key trait in yourself that has helped you move up in your career?” she asked. “When I started working in retail, I didn’t come in with the mindset that I was going to be a President one day,” Lisa replied honestly. “I think that as I started to move along and feel more comfortable in my career and with my skills, one of the main things that helped me succeed was doing the job that I was given and doing it well, without being distracted by what I thought was to come or where I wanted to go down the line. For me, when I became a buyer, I didn’t worry about becoming a division or the Vice President. I worked hard at being a great buyer and let opportunities come. You still have to be an advocate for your career, but I wasn’t always looking for the next job. I was focused on the job I was in at that moment in time. I think this mindset really helped me get ahead. Additionally, I think it is important to approach things with a level of intellectual curiosity. Whatever you are doing, whether it is getting coffee or styling a show, there is a lot to be learned from each experience. You need to want to learn beyond just the singular task you are given.”

Right now as you know, full-price retailers are struggling, but off-price is on the rise,” another scholar noted. “What do you think is the biggest challenge that off-price retailers face in terms of remaining successful and continuing to grow?” Lisa replied that ROSS’s strategy is all about mutual success. “I think we have to continue to get great talent for our company, which is why we love programs like the YMA FSF. Having the right people in the right chairs at the right time is a huge part of our ability to grow. The other part is sort of dependent on other retailers’ performance.  We need a healthy supply chain to function well. It is good for us if other retailers are doing well. If everyone else is performing well, then they’re buying and putting goods out on the market. It’s good for the total economy, and for retail. Certain closures are good for the short term, but not necessarily for the long term.”

We closed out the question and answer session with a final inquiry from a scholar. “What do you think is a key trait in yourself that has helped you move up in your career?” she asked. “When I started working in retail, I didn’t come in with the mindset that I was going to be a President one day,” Lisa replied honestly. “I think that as I started to move along and feel more comfortable in my career and with my skills, one of the main things that helped me succeed was doing the job that I was given and doing it well, without being distracted by what I thought was to come or where I wanted to go down the line. For me, when I became a buyer, I didn’t worry about becoming a division or the Vice President. I worked hard at being a great buyer and let opportunities come. You still have to be an advocate for your career, but I wasn’t always looking for the next job. I was focused on the job I was in at that moment in time. I think this mindset really helped me get ahead. Additionally, I think it is important to approach things with a level of intellectual curiosity. Whatever you are doing, whether it is getting coffee or styling a show, there is a lot to be learned from each experience. You need to want to learn beyond just the singular task you are given.”

Lisa Panattoni’s Words of Wisdom: Focus on the job you are given and do it well. Approach life with a level of intellectual curiosity. Learn beyond just the singular task you are given.

Lisa Panattoni’s Words of Wisdom:

Focus on the job you are given and do it well.

Approach life with a level of intellectual curiosity.

Learn beyond just the singular task you are given.