THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS – Theodore Wright will likely wince at these words, but he’s unquestionably a retail savior.
A veteran of Deloitte & Touche, a past president of 14-state car dealer Sonic Automotive, principal of his own farm machinery rental firm, and a TWICE Excellence in Retailing Award winner, Wright famously took the reins of Conn’s when the company was on the verge of collapse.
With no time to spare, he executed one of the most remarkable comeback stories in retail by returning the business to profitability in one year, and extending its reach from Colorado to the Carolinas in two.
The notoriously camera-shy chief executive recently reflected on his decisions to lead and dramatically expand the multiregional retailer in this exclusive exchange with TWICE.
TWICE: Conn’s was clearly a company in trouble when you assumed day-to-day responsibility. Why take on the challenge of turning it around?
Theodore Wright, Conn’s: Conn’s has a great business model, and I felt it had great potential. It was an exciting opportunity to be a part of a company with a history that spans more than 100 years.
Beyond the fact that Conn’s offers customers highquality products at great prices, it has something that other retailers don’t have: Yes Money, our in-house financing program. I knew that we could harness this potential and provide underserved, working-class customers with products that they would normally not have access to.
TWICE: Conn’s is now embarked on an ambitious expansion strategy across multiple states. Why move beyond your traditional markets, and how will you avoid the pitfalls of past CE and appliance retail chains that grew too aggressively and failed?
Wright: Our expansion is thoughtful and measured, and we’re entering markets that have unmet needs in our category.
Conn’s is more than a traditional electronics and appliance retailer; in fact, our number-one category is actually furniture.
In addition, we provide something more than just low prices – we provide shoppers with real value through our Yes Money financing program that allows customers who normally would be turned down for financing the ability to afford aspirational items for their homes and families. This has led to more than 90 percent of surveyed customers saying they would recommend Conn’s to family and friends.
TWICE: What is your long-term outlook for brickand- mortar retail in the age of e-commerce? Will there always be a place for physical showrooms, or will bulky, big-ticket items also eventually move online?
Wright: Though the number of online retailers has increased, they still struggle with certain categories. Physical showrooms are here to stay because they can enhance the customer’s shopping experience. People seeking big-ticket items, like a new furniture set or mattress, want to speak with a highly trained sales associate about their available options, as well as test the items and know that it will be delivered the next day. It’s more difficult for online retailers to meet these expectations.