As the vice president of merchandising for beauty at Walmart, one might picture Jody Pinson immersed in big data. After all, Walmart is the largest purveyor of mass-market beauty products in the U.S., if not the world, with domestic beauty sales estimated to exceed $4 billion. (Walmart does not break out category sales and did not comment on estimates.)
The retailer rings up a mind-boggling 140 million transactions per week. And, picture this: Walmart sells 1.6 mascaras every second — or almost 50 million per year.
Poring over numbers is part of her role, but Pinson’s happy place is in one of Walmart’s 4,500 stores — where she got her start more than 28 years ago — and where she likes to listen to the customer’s voice. That feedback has been instrumental as Pinson works to elevate the retailer’s beauty department, with features like a faster go-to-market strategy, new brands and more exclusives, enhanced fixtures with LED lighting, greater use of technology, influencer programs and in-store activations. Walmart even has in-aisle makeovers in select stores — something that would have been unheard of in the mass market just a few years ago.
Pinson has spent her entire career at Walmart and has been involved in every facet of the business from tagging apparel in a warehouse (where she met hard-working employees who pushed her to pursue a college degree), to manning a cash register and eventually landing a spot in the management training program. She became a buyer in 1999 spending time in sporting goods, stationery and pet care before taking on beauty in 2013.
Pinson is one example of a woman who ascended the ladder at Walmart. According to the company, women represent 55 percent of the giant’s total U.S. workforce and 43 percent of U.S management. Thirty percent of the U.S. corporate officers are female and 25 percent of Walmart’s board — which is higher than the S&P 500 average of 21 percent. When it comes to moving up the ranks, women account for 55 percent of U.S. hourly promotions and 44 percent of U.S. management promotions. For Pinson, Walmart is almost like part of the family, as her father was a Walmart employee.
WWD: Your love of visiting stores is in your DNA, growing up in retailing with your father holding positions at Eckerd Drug and then Walmart. What role has that played in your career?
Jody Pinson: On our family vacations, we would go to stores and my father would judge the success of a retailer by the number of cars in the parking lot. Once we entered the stores, he would analyze them by listening to customers and associates — whether it was the company he was working for or a competitor. The best gift he gave me was how to listen. Hearing why customers do or don’t shop a particular retailer is important to me.
I always go back to my roots traveling with my family. Even today, I love working in stores, side-by-side with our department managers. We have a program called VPI [volume producing item] where managers pick an item and if they get excited about it, the customer will, too. Mr. Sam [Sam Walton, Walmart’s founder] was the best at getting associates excited about merchandise.
WWD: What are the biggest challenges given the scope of Walmart?
J.P.: Anytime you’re dealing with such a massive department, you can quickly get overloaded. But I always start with the customer. She’s changing, social media is changing….The challenge for Walmart and many other retailers is how do we tailor our assortment across 4,500 stores? We talk a lot about gaining credibility in a low-cost environment. And, how to be in stock and be ahead of the customer — that’s one of our biggest challenges. Getting the right partners involved is also important. We have a great supply chain network, which requires us to have inventory at the right time, right location and right quantities. I’m proud of where we’ve come…but I see so much opportunity for the future.
We are constantly testing and trying new delivery options such as our online grocery pickup. Last May, we relaunched our beauty content on walmart.com and it is continuing to increase engagement and conversion.
Our stores are big with big parking lots. Imagine the mom with two kids parked toward the back of the parking lot, heading toward our store with a long list of school supplies. Beauty is one of the only departments where she can take care of herself. How do we get her to stop? We are highlighting new trends on features and working to drive excitement in our stores. We launched a Favorites Box that is curated with items specifically picked by our buyers.
WWD: How do you fuse your gut instincts with analytical forecasts?
J.P.: We use data to understand how business is trending, but it isn’t going to tell you what’s going to happen in the future. We aren’t afraid to take risks. When we launched the facial mask business, there was very little data to tell us it was a trend. We knew we had a good price point at two for $5. Masks have become one of our best and one of my favorite categories. We’re everyday people trying to satisfy the needs of our customers, but we also travel the world to understand beauty trends and do it in a Walmart way — affordable and accessible for all.
WWD: Who are your mentors? Who do you draw inspiration from?
J.P.: Of course, my parents. My father still offers, often unsolicited, advice about retail — mostly about out-of-stocks. In my early 20s at Walmart, I had a manager who taught me the grocery business. His name is Gary Rains. Gary is still a market manager with Walmart, and he and I stay connected to this day. Also, early in my merchandising career I had a boss, Theresa Barrera-Shaw, who taught me that driving the numbers isn’t the only thing that’s going to get you ahead…you have to offer the whole package. It’s about telling the story in the right way. And lastly, John Westling Sr., who sadly lost his battle with cancer last year, helped me learn how to take a vision and a strategy and execute it in a Walmart way, which is a low-cost environment.
WWD: Everyone who knows you talks about your involvement in your community. What causes do you support?
J.P.: I’m very active in the Network of Executive Women, the American Heart Association and the Bentonville Film Festival. The idea was led by Geena Davis and Trevor Drinkwater to highlight underrepresented voices in the entertainment industry, especially women. It is a fun week for our entire community, and we brought out something like 200,000 visitors to Bentonville this year.
My sister developed breast cancer three years ago, which was totally devastating to our family. Myself and 13 other women are working with the Susan G. Komen organization. We are called the BigWigs and we wear crazy, silly pink wings on social media to raise money, while raising funds for our local community.
WWD: With your work commitment, community involvement and being a mother of two, how do you manage work and life balance? Can you have it all?
J.P.: I think you can have what you want to have in the time you want to put into it. You have to prioritize. Work-life balance for me could be different than others. There were things I couldn’t do — I couldn’t be a home room parent — but I tried to attend every event of my children’s programs. If I couldn’t, someone from our extended family was there. I choose not to count how many days I travel, but I work for a company that enables choices, and if I feel compelled to make a choice for my family, there are always people ready to step in.
Life is all about choices, but as people get further into their careers and look back, my advice is to limit the number of regrets.