Sandy Shelton seemed to be concerned.

A 1990 graduate in Family and Consumer Sciences, she built her career in retailing, gaining experience in marketing, profit and loss management and operations while overseeing millions of goods for some of the most successful retail chains in the country. Among them is JCPenney – Shelton’s first employer – who closed hundreds of its stores en route to filing for bankruptcy over the past year.

The scenario has become all too well known in recent months. In the first eight months of 2019, when 9,500 stores closed, there were 29 retailers filed under Chapter 11. Many of them were mall anchors like Macy’s, Sears, and Neiman Marcus.

Last year was just as brutal. Retailers faced a rapid and sharp decline in pedestrian traffic during the pandemic. More chains disappeared, including Pier 1, Tuesday Morning, and Men’s Warehouse. Other companies like the parent company of Bed Bath & Beyond worked to stay afloat by closing storefronts. Mom and pop businesses have had an even tougher struggle to keep their doors open.

Remaining in such a profession when businesses across the country are closing quickly is no longer Shelton moving on. Despite being aware of the changing shopping paradigm that has intensified with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, she remains enthusiastic and optimistic about the future of retail.

“The stationary shops were already struggling and the anchor chains were already being scaled down. COVID-19 has just forced the accelerated strategy to adjust the number of stores that began to reduce, ”said Shelton, regional manager for Barnes & Noble College. She notes that long-term vacancies are still being recorded in some shopping centers due to rising rents. The high price of staying in such a place makes no sense if only a few consumers are still attracting.

“People don’t go to malls like they did in the 1980s and 1990s. Then it was a place to socialize, meet friends, and shop all day, ”Shelton said, reflecting on how people of all ages have enjoyed browsing and stopping at the food court in the past. “Today buyers want diversity. They want to get on and off quickly, and the shopping centers offer this convenience. Today you will most likely find a gym, spas, bowling alleys, medical facilities and plenty of accessible parking in addition to your retail business. “

The desire for quick and easy shopping has been further confirmed by the rapid rise in online shopping, especially during the ongoing presence of COVID-19. “Retailers who already had a strong e-commerce platform have done well. The pandemic has had no impact on their business other than to move it forward, “Shelton said, warning that stores must continually emphasize and enrich the online aspect of their sales in order to thrive.

Delivering an omni-channel experience is what the consumer wants. The ability to offer service in-store, online, or on the roadside has enabled companies like Barnes & Noble College to deliver the quality of service that customers expect, especially during these challenging times.

“Sometimes the best plans are even better once they have been revised.”

Sandy Shelton

Understanding the shopping experience consumers want and knowing how to deliver is a skill Shelton has mastered since her graduation in fashion merchandising. Born in South Korea and raised in Chicago, she enrolled at Illinois State to become the family’s first college graduate. She valued lecturers who helped her understand the business and psychological aspects of retailing.

“My professors have laid a great foundation for my career,” said Shelton, who joyfully came into contact with many of them during her induction into the College of Applied Science and Technology Hall of Fame in 2019. She found her niche in retail, which she entered via an ISU job fair.

Shelton attended the Career Services event at the Bone Student Center during her junior year to gain interview experience and explore employment opportunities. She connected with a JCPenney recruiter who only hired seniors. It went down the following year, and ironically, the same rep attended the job fair.

“I knew I wanted a career at JCPenney, so I walked right up to him and said, ‘I’m a senior now and I want to work for your company.’ I went through the interview and got hired. Thirty years later, I still have my letter of offer with the starting salary. ”

The job as merchandising manager was secured before Shelton’s graduation. She worked at the Bloomington Store and in Chicago as a merchandise buyer for the shoe, jewelry, women’s and children’s departments.

Shelton joined Kohl’s in 1996, which she recruited as the chain grew beyond the Midwest. She moved from an assistant branch manager role for the company to a district manager in 2005, running 20 stores in suburban Chicago with combined annual sales of $ 200 million.

“I’ve learned a tremendous amount at the company, from starting a business to renovating a building to opening a store,” said Shelton, who understood and valued the importance of teamwork, budget management, and merchandising of a store. “I’ve learned that success isn’t about you. It’s about how successful the people around you are, and it’s about the shopping experience you provide to the customer. “

She knows that consumers want a clean and well-maintained environment with friendly and knowledgeable staff. She continues to focus on maintaining both in her roles at Barnes & Noble College. Shelton joined the company in 2008 and now has accounts in 50 locations including Illinois State.

It is a pride for her to be back at the university where her professional career began, and especially in the building where her dreams were born, as the ISU store is in the student center.

Shelton has the same enthusiasm and enthusiasm for her job today as she did after graduating, and is ready for the next chapter as she delves into the industry she loves.

“Everything in our lives is changing, including retail. The question that arises is what the e-commerce platform looks like. Consumers still want the entire shopping experience, so we need everything to run smoothly across all channels – from store to online or via a mobile app and roadside pick-up, ”said Shelton, who lives from delivering exceptional service to his customers Offer.

“My job is to figure out how to create this shopping experience, knowing that the plan will change from day to day and sometimes a dozen times a day. I’ve learned that’s fine. Sometimes the best plans are even better once they have been revised. “