Behind the Scenes of Gap’s Holiday All-Store Meeting

An exclusive look at the brand’s recipe for execution & engagement this holiday season

December 2, 2022

Welcome to Holiday 2022. From technology roll-outs to in-store pop-ups, brand partnerships to employee perks, retailers everywhere have been making strategic investments in the hopes of guaranteeing a healthy comp during what’s turned out to be a very uncertain peak season.

For Gap, that meant rolling out a true all-store meeting: a paid before-(or after)-opening gathering, in every store, for every employee (even – especially! – seasonal associates) to prepare for the brand’s busiest time of year. 

As any retail pro knows, an all-store meeting is a huge investment – one that can make or break a brand’s holiday strategy. We got the chance to sit down with Gap’s Manager of Customer & Employee Engagement, Cari Hochbein, who spearheaded the band’s effort to bring Holiday to life for thousands of store employees across North America. Gap employees are already calling it the “best meeting ever” – and lucky for you, we’re here to report how it all came together.

From day one, crafting the content of Gap’s all-store holiday meeting was about putting employees first. Cari and team outlined specific goals that focused on building a memorable experience for store teams. “We wanted to create a holiday moment for our employees, inspire a selling culture, make the meeting more interactive, and uplevel our swag and snacks,” said Cari. 

Read on for some behind-the-scenes learnings from Gap’s successful all-store meeting:

Keep it Simple

Fronting the payroll to cover a three-hour store meeting across 439 stores might make some retailers’ eyes bulge. It’s tempting to justify the cost of store meetings (which can easily cost over $1M to execute) by cramming in every. single. possible. topic. But Cari and her team knew that overloading employees with information wouldn’t result in better outcomes. 

“We made sure to keep the focus on our main topic: our new selling and service model,” she explained. “We wanted to make sure that everybody had that, so there wasn’t a big operational component to this meeting.” The meeting was constructed around three main “pillars” – Customer, Product, and People – which helped keep content on track.

When it came to meeting logistics, Cari and team also sought to make things as simple as possible for the store leaders who would be facilitating. Rather than send materials piecemeal, the Gap team committed to shipping everything together at once.

“We came up with the idea of a ‘meeting in a box,’” said Cari. “Whatever we decided we would send them, we committed to sending everything in one box – a one stop shop – to make it as easy as possible to plan the meeting.” This meeting-in-a-box approach turned out to be one of the participants’ favorite aspects of the holiday meeting.

Always Have a Back-up Plan

Shipping all the meeting materials in a single box was a bit like putting all the eggs in one basket. Ask anybody who has worked in retail and they’ll tell you – shipments are always late. Fortunately, the Gap team had a plan in place.

“We had these boxes, and we knew that there’s always a chance that they’re not gonna show up on time. And even if they did show up on time, I wanted to get those facilitator guides in [managers’] hands so they could be learning their content much sooner,” said Cari.

By accessing digital copies of the facilitator guides ahead of time on Zipline, store managers were able to begin immersing themselves in the meeting content more than a week before their boxes arrived. This approach not only bought Gap some time in case of unforeseen shipping delays; it also saved money. “The extended timeline gave us more leeway for the actual production of the printed guides and boxes, which meant we didn’t have to pay rush fees,” explained Cari. A win-win all around.

Initial communication and tasks in Zipline also helped teams prepare.”I was able to give them their planning checklist [in Zipline], so even before that guide showed up they knew they’d have to be ordering a team meal, they’d need to check if their Visa card was working, and other prep tasks like that,” said Cari. “From housing the digital documents to the initial communication, to the follow-up survey – we couldn’t have done this without Zipline.”

Make it Interactive

To bring Gap’s new selling and service model to life, Cari’s team focused on the brand’s eye-popping holiday product. After all, the more excited associates are about Gap’s holiday line, the more likely they are to effectively sell these pieces to customers.

The problem? Store meetings lack the polish and pizazz of a first-rate fashion show. “Typically in the past we’ve just done a sort of ‘facilitator’s guide’ – a Word Document that’s basically just a script,” said Cari. “But this year we wanted to make it a little bit more interactive and more visually engaging.”

“When you sit in a long meeting like that, you usually need something to look at. For us [at HQ], we’re used to seeing a deck on the screen. But in stores, sometimes it’s just the facilitator talking to the associates. So I thought, ‘is there something that they can flip through?’”

Instead of the usual text-heavy packet, Cari took the time to lay out the meeting prompts in a 50-page, full-color glossy magazine full of photos from Gap’s holiday campaign. Bright puffer jackets and cheery striped sweaters leap off the pages. And for the first time, the team also produced a slimmed-down version of the facilitator magazine – an “associate guide” – that employees could flip through to follow along during the meeting. 

Invest Big in the Little Things

Icebreakers, swag and snacks might seem like fluffy “extras” to a brand’s higher-ups, but these thoughtful touches matter just as much – if not more – than the training components on a holiday meeting agenda. “Everything was meant to give [associates] that surprise and delight moment,” explains Cari.

And the key to surprising and delighting employees? “That number one meaningful thing is free product. That’s what they want,” said Cari.

For this year’s holiday meeting, every associate got their own Gap branded beanie. (Since Gap is known for being an inclusive brand, the team also sent every store a few pairs of branded gloves “in case an employee didn’t want to wear a hat for religious reasons,” explained Cari.)

The meeting ice breaker was simple but effective: a game with a single ball of yarn (which was, of course, included in the meeting-in-a-box.) “The group stands in a circle, and one person holds the yarn and says a fun fact about themselves. If somebody has that fact in common, you raise your hand and the speaker throws the ball of yarn to you,” explained Cari.

By the end, teams have created a physical map of their connections – “a web of yarn that tells the story of what they have in common,” said Cari. It’s a great way to also introduce new hires to the larger group.

Ask any retail veteran, and they’ll tell you – breakroom snacks matter. Whether it’s how to fill the fridge or what treats to bring in for a teammate’s birthday, store leaders always have food on the brain. 

So it should come as no surprise that Gap prioritized feeding teams first. “If you’re coming to a three-hour meeting and all there is are peanut m&ms and chocolate-covered Oreos, you might want a bagel or donut or a coffee at some point,” laughed Cari. “So we made sure to give teams enough funds to provide a more substantial meal during the meeting.” Did somebody say breakfast burritos?

For many seasonal associates, Holiday might be their first foray into what it means to work for a particular retail brand. Giving these associates a good, welcoming feeling can carry them through a demanding season – and into the next. “We wanted that ‘holiday moment,’ said Cari. “We wanted our associates to feel the same feeling we’re trying to inspire in customers this holiday season.”

Other Top Holiday Meeting Tips from Gap:

  • Create a meeting hashtag. Cari and team created a hashtag, #GapHolidayMeeting22, and encouraged participants to post pics from their holiday meetings on social media. Posts on LinkedIn racked up thousands of impressions, helping build Gap’s employment brand in an exciting, authentic way.
  • Use a content template. Rather than write all the meeting content from scratch, Cari created a template so that all of her HQ stakeholders – from Merchandising to Loyalty – could fill in their own points and truly “own” store execution for their particular area of expertise. Not only did this speed up the creation process (the facilitator guide was finished in less than three weeks!), but it also gave Cari more time to tie the content together in an engaging, brand-right way.
  • Solicit feedback. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Cari and team made sure to deploy a succinct, actionable survey in Zipline immediately after the meetings ended to gauge what worked best, and where they’d have opportunity for next year.
  • Keep the theme alive. An effective holiday meeting shouldn’t just be a moment in time. Instead, it should spur actions and behaviors that help drive store success throughout the entire season. To accomplish this, Cari and team launched a brand-wide contest at the conclusion of the store meetings designed to encourage teams to embody the new selling behaviors they had just learned.

Initial feedback from Gap’s holiday meeting is overwhelmingly positive: 98% of managers reported that the content was valuable, and 89% feel absolutely prepared to succeed in Q4. While a positive ROI is definitely the goal, seeing smiling associate faces pop up across social media is certainly a win in and of itself.

Are your store teams (especially your seasonal hires!) prepared to bring your brand to life this holiday season? Whether you’re looking to drive consistent execution across your fleet or trying to boost employee engagement and retention, Zipline can help. Zipline brings together frontline communications, task management, resources, insights, and more– so everyone feels connected to the brand and inspired by their work. Schedule a demo to learn more today.

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