New York—It has never been more difficult for brick-and-mortar companies to succeed, said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz during a keynote session at the National Retail Federation's annual Big Show.
Schultz noted that companies need to be innovative or risk disappearing. "Any company that embraces the status quo of doing business in the traditional way...is on a collision course with time," he maintained.
An even bigger threat to business, according to Schultz, is the "dysfunction" in Washington that business owners must address. "There is a lack of leadership in Washington and we [business owners] are watching idly. Democracy is about having a voice, and our voice must be heard," Schultz argued.
Schultz did not elaborate on what exactly business owners should demand, and insisted that Starbucks was not leaning Democratic or Republican, but rather supported the concept of being "American." As an example of the company's bi-partisan viewpoint, Schultz pointed to the decision to have Starbucks employees write "come together" on coffee cups during the height of the fiscal cliff crisis.
In terms of how the economy was doing, Schultz predicted 2013 will be a "tough year" for companies due to low consumer confidence.
In contrast, Kip Tindell, chairman and CEO of the Container Store, said he believes the economy will get stronger this year, but noted that "capitalism has a bad PR problem."
Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb called for a "re-imagining" of capitalism as the heart and soul of business. "Despite the challenges we face, we still have the ability to inspire our people not about what they do, but why," Robb insisted. "When you have employees connect with customers...that stands out because it's such an anomaly. We get where we are because of our people."