Five Below CEO on tenacity, authenticity and retail’s scorecard

The List 2022 honoree Joel Anderson answers “20 Questions”
By Lottie Watts
Published Oct 13, 2021

Five Below, Inc. President and CEO Joel Anderson will be celebrated at the NRF Foundation Honors in January as one of the dynamic leaders on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2022. He reflects on more than 20 years in the industry, from the keys to succeeding in retail to how to bring calm when there’s chaos and more.

The List 2022 honoree Joel Anderson answers “20 Questions”

Here are a few questions, along with Anderson’s answers (watch the video above for all “20 Questions”):

Why is retail the industry you picked for your career?

I fell in love with retail during an eight-week summer internship at Target. And what it was that I loved about retail is that it's the closest thing you come to sports. I grew up playing sports. I've always admired any sport. I love playing them, I love watching them and retail is like sports.

You wake up every day and you get a scorecard. Did I win or did I lose? And that's how sports work. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And the customer votes every day. That vote comes in the form of comp sales. I just love competing. And that's what retail was like, and I never looked back.

What three skills are key to succeeding in retail?

The first one is attention to detail. There's an old saying that “retail is detail” and it really is. There's just so much you have to absorb. And so you got to love to get into the details and really pay attention to that.

The second one I would tell you is tenacity. Retail just keeps throwing curve balls at you. You just never know what the next week is, the next month. You got weather issues, you got people issues, you got competitors, and so just having that tenacity to keep on going is a real important skill to have in retail.

The third one I would tell you is customer service – being people-focused. It truly is a customer service business.

What decisions did you make during the pandemic that proved critical?

I think great leaders bring calm when there's chaos. During those first couple months, there was a lot of chaos. People worried about their jobs. People worried about getting sick. People wanted confidence that Five Below would be there for them.

We were laying off people. We were cutting purchase orders. We had to close our stores. And so I tried to create calm and I held weekly meetings with all the associates via Zoom. And I answered questions every week, and never tried to avoid those questions. And they were some really tough questions, but the associates appreciated that it wasn't HR standing in front of them, it wasn't their general counsel. I was there as the CEO telling them even things they didn't want to hear, but they knew they'd get the straight answer.

What qualities do you look for in your employees?

They need to be people-centered, egoless and authentic. And those are hard qualities to tease out in an interview process, but I really spend a lot of time talking about the individual. What do they believe in? I'm really trying to get at are they people-centered? Do they care about people?

We worry about the skills later because those you can teach but understanding what's in somebody's heart, and how they can make a difference leading people is probably the single biggest skill I look for in people today.

What is one misconception about retail that you would love to debunk for everyone?

You can make a career of retail. It's one of very few industries that appreciate somebody that may only have a high school degree or may have a Ph.D. I think as long as you're willing to work hard and have a lot of tenacity, you're going to make a career out of it. And that's the part about retail that a lot of people miss is that it's truly an industry where you can create a career regardless of your education level. And we need everybody that's a hard worker and cares about customers.

The NRF Foundation connects people to an industry that’s a great place to start and a great place to grow. Since 2015, the NRF Foundation Honors has raised the funds to continue to provide programs and resources to help people build better lives and stronger communities. Join us in New York City and be a part of the story of how retail builds extraordinary careers.

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