Best Buy's 5 pillars for building a successful take-back program

Best Buy's 5 pillars for building a successful take-back program

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Build a national-scale program, drive evolution and improvements, and have wild success at it while churning out buckets of profitability. Been there, done that, right? Me neither.

While I’d love to take credit for single-handedly envisioning and launching Best Buy’s consumer electronics and appliance recycling program, some very bright minds before me did the front-end heavy lifting.

What I can speak authoritatively about is the transition from a take-back program to a high-functioning business capability based on learnings along the way — continuing the heavy lifting to evolve a basic service into a core value proposition.

Here are five key things we did to get there, and what we learned along the way:

1. Talk to industry leaders

Before you embark on the journey of 1,000 headaches and decide that a take-back program of some scale is your dream sustainability project that surely will provide meaningful and measurable return to your employer (deep breath here), do yourself a favor and benchmark.

It is prudent and beneficial to talk to the Patagonias, Sherwin Williamses (in states where paint recycling is regulated), Stapleses or Best Buys of the world to hear the who, what, when, where and how of their respective take-back journeys.

Specifically, make sure you can clearly articulate to your stakeholders why launching a take-back program is necessary, who will benefit from the effort, what the ultimate goal or problem is and how the program can be performed successfully. Most important, define the return on investment that your leadership deserves to understand and demand.

2. Define your mission

Once these key questions are answered, stay true to your mission. Sounds simple, right? Not so much.

It is imperative to understand exactly who you intend to serve with this program — is it the average Jane and Joe? Small or medium businesses? Corporate America? Define why you want to create this program and for whom, then recognize that along the road traveled, your mission statement and target audience are likely to evolve. So, too, must your program.

When Best Buy piloted and subsequently launched our e-waste recycling program, the mission was to address activist group feedback by consolidating expensive, high-risk, one-off and unorganized activities already occurring around the country. A secondary driver was increasing incremental foot traffic to our stores.

Best Buy
</p><p></p><p></p><p></p><p></p><p></p><p>E-waste recycling in a Best Buy store.</p>

We subsequently sought to achieve multiple objectives: greater operational efficiencies; maximizing reverse logistics capabilities; driving added revenue by supporting manufacturers with state recycling obligations; alleviating a significant customer pain point. The overarching aim was to eventually hone all that down into a crystal clear solution for the lack of or difficulty involved with free recycling programs for large appliances and enormous cathode ray tube/console/projection TVs.

The process also involved addressing related concerns involved in the e-waste value chain: helping recycling partners maximize their ability to repair and re-sell recycled products; removing intermediate layers that reduced return; linking consumer-facing offers with corporate recycling efforts aimed at providing more value to customers; and embedding the program within the company's core business growth strategies. See where this is going?

3. Cultivate champions with vision

Darwinists say that only the fittest survive. I suspect that is one of many reasons our program remains the single largest retail collection program in the world, growing by double digits annually.

We started cultivating internal champions from day one and consistently found a passionate leader or three to back our work, based on a sound business case with measurable and sustainable benefits. Without those backers, the ship would have sunk long ago.

One senior leader in particular learned quickly and became especially passionate about the work to ensure this effort grew from a “take-back program” into an enterprise capability worthy of leveraging for company growth, brand loyalty and overall sustainability. It took many long working sessions to brief this leader so he could leverage this knowledge to our advantage, and it was worth every minute.

4. Build a high-performing team

I inherited a small team of tactics-focused individual contributors when I took over the program four years ago. The ship was sailing on smooth waters, and we had a nice little program that operated as a one-off service for our customers but had yet to be integrated into the company’s business growth strategies.

We were a band of environmental professionals who needed strengths in retail operations, reverse logistics, business management and financial acumen, strategy and growth. Good teams are great, but great teams drive value creation.

I am proud to say the team has now doubled, with less emphasis on an environmental background as crucial to our success. We have two high performers driving growth strategies in partnership with the core business teams. We are also working concurrently to embed our program in current and future IT systems, both of which are critical work streams to make this program successful.

Some amazing program managers have evolved from a tactical role to become go-to subject matter experts. We have bolstered our operations management capabilities with incredible personnel well versed in the ways of retail execution and reverse logistics. And we have analysts who go deep into data to identify trends, uncover anomalies and find opportunities for improvement. They get it done.

5. Adapt as you grow

You now have the framework, mission statement, champions of the cause and a high-performance team in place to bring your take-back program to life. The final piece of the puzzle if you lead this effort is to be ready for change, adjust on the fly and continue to adapt your program to meet the ever-changing needs of your target audience, stakeholders and business leadership.

This might be as simple as tightening requirements and performance of your downstream partners. It could be as complex as designing and launching new IT systems to help facilitate a more efficient and less costly process flow. Stay nimble.

Take these learnings to heart, and you could find yourself leading the next greatest take-back program with (hopefully) fewer growth pains than your predecessors endured.