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By Sarah Palisi Chapin, Diane Ellis, Matt Gutermuth, D.G. Hague and Monica Woo


8 minute read

“Who has dealt with this problem well? And what can we learn from them?” Two questions that Bill Gates asks whenever he tackles a big problem.[1] These questions reflect two important leadership traits: 1) Know what you don’t know. 2) Learn and adapt from other’s success; don’t reinvent the wheel.


The economic and social impact of COVID-19 has been devastating. Over forty retailers have already filed for bankruptcies and more fallouts are expected. 100,000 small businesses – many are retail shops – are closed for good.[2] On their monthly Zoom session, board advisors of VIPER EA shared examples of how select retailers and non-retail businesses are thriving, despite the pandemic. VIPER is the leading provider of profit improvement solutions based on proprietary data science and Machine Learning. Following Bill Gates’ principles, retailers can learn and adapt from other businesses’ success stories.

D.G. HAGUE: Besides being the former President of Safeway perishables and IHOP, I was also the CEO of Centerplate. One of my leadership credos was to encourage creative problem solving at the local level. I love this story of the City Club division of ClubCorp, the largest operator of country clubs and urban dining clubs. To sustain local operations during the COVID shutdown, the City Club general managers had created, in just a few weeks, an on-demand fresh meal and grocery delivery service for their members. By emulating GrubHub and online grocery retailers, City Club generated revenue, reduced inventory waste and engaged members.


TOM PARK: Des, you’re so right. Empowering associates at the local market and store level to excel is so critical. That’s why I am excited that VIPER not only can pinpoint profit opportunities at both the enterprise and hyperlocal levels, but also, recommend pragmatic actions to improve performance down to specific store associates. VIPER enables success for regional, district and store personnel.


Your City Club example also illustrates the importance of understanding and fulfilling customers’ needs. Despite the pandemic, both Home Depot and Lowe’s delivered impressive revenue growth in the last two quarters. They are capitalizing on consumers’ propensity to repair and renovate their homes. I love Lowe’s “DIFY. Do it for yourself” theme, and Home Depot’s free DIY workshops. Furthermore, both retailers started investment in eCommerce years ago, and that conviction is paying off.


MONICA WOO: Tom, your point on digital commerce and technology investment resonates with me. The positive revenue growth of Walmart, Target, Kroger and other mass merchandising and grocery retailers is driven primarily by eCommerce, as well as the processes and technology enabling seamless order fulfillment across channels.


Before the pandemic, nearly 98% of U.S. grocery sales were in the stores. Even with the exponential online revenue growth, 85% of sales were still in stores at the peak of Covid-19[3]. Investment in contactless check out and point-of-sale technology is as important as eCommerce.


I am tracking the progress of Giant Eagle’s GetGo convenience stores. Shoppers can download an app, walk into the store, scan purchases with a QR code, pay and leave without checking out. I’m also interested in Circle K’s in-store technology. They are using ceiling-mounted cameras equipped with machine learning software to detect shopper’s purchases and behavior. Being an investor in AI companies, I know the power of Computer Vision and Machine Learning.

DIANE ELLIS: Monica, your comment about fulfillment reminds me of Target’s acquisition of the technology asset of last-mile delivery from Deliv. Target is establishing sort centers in areas with high order density, to be closer to the shopper and optimize delivery efficiency. It makes so much sense as 80% of Target’s digital sales are fulfilled from stores.

MATT GUTERMUTH: Building on your point, I’m tracking DoorDash’s expansion into grocery logistics, and enabling delivery within an hour. A great example of removing friction in online ordering.


DE: Besides technology, I am also inspired by creative partnerships, like the Walmart Drive-in. Partnering with Tribeca Film Festival, Walmart has transformed 160 stores’ parking lots into outdoor cinemas. Over 300 movie showings from August through October. What a clever idea to lift customer engagement and sales!


SARAH PALISI CHAPIN: Walmart Drive-In! Talk about a new twist on an old classic! Your examples bring to mind consumer products using technology to address home-based needs. I love iRobot’s autonomous cleaning products like Roomba vacuums, and am curious about their new robotic floor mopper.


I use Brava’s smart cooking system with their light technology and enjoy the ease of their chef-designed recipes as well as my own. For a generation of people who mostly ate out but are now cooking at home, it is remarkable when the oven knows how to cook sophisticated dishes not just “easy bake”. I put my entree and sides in at the same time while Brava does the rest. Innovative products and technology provide new twists to the substantial amount of time we are spending at home. We can be inventive!


MG: Like 75% of Americans[4], I enjoy video games at home. It’s a fun, creative way to connect with friends and family during these challenging times. That’s why I love Elevate, a cool innovation by VIPER. Elevate uses gamification to train clients on how to use their broad array of analytic tools. Retailers have fun while maximizing return from VIPER’s solutions.


DH: That’s right. Maximum value for the money! Here’s an affirmation: VIPER is offering a $1 million Profit Improvement Guarantee™. We commit to achieving a minimum of $1 million in profit increase or pay the difference. You can’t beat that!



Sarah Palisi Chapin is a board director at Middeby Corporation and was formerly the CEO and board member at Hail Merry Snack Foods. She was a board director at several companies, including:Yummy Spoonfuls Organic Baby Food, Caribou Coffee, Prime Source FSE, and also, was CEO and Board Chairwoman at Enersyst Development Center. Sarah is an advisor to the Board of VIPER EA LLC.


Diane Ellis is a board director and CEO of DME Advisory Group LLC. Previously, she was Brand President of Chico’s at Chico’s FAS, Inc., CEO of The Limited, and President of Brooks Brothers. She is an advisor to the Board of VIPER EA LLC.


Matthew Gutermuth is board director and COO of iControl Data Solutions, as well as Chairman of the Board at GroceryKey. Previously, he was President/CEO of and was a member of Winn-Dixie’s executive team who achieved their turnaround (2008-2012). Matt is an advisor to the Board of VIPER EA LLC.


D.G. Hague is the CEO of VIPER EA, has served as an operating partner/advisor of several private equity firms, and board member to a number of for-profit and non-profit organizations. Des was formerly CEO & President of Centerplate, President of IHOP and of Safeway Corporate Perishables. 


Tom Park was previously the President of Kenmore, Craftsman, Diehard division of Sears Holdings, President of Disney Stores worldwide and COO of Belkin International. Tom is board director of Howard’s Appliance, TV & Mattress, and an advisor to the Board of VIPER EA LLC.


Monica Woo is the CEO of WooWorks, which invests in, as well as develops and implements growth strategies for companies in digital commerce, AI and retail. Previously, she was President of and Bacardi Global Brands, and FreshDirect’s Chief Revenue & Strategy Officer. Monica is an advisor to the Board of VIPER EA LLC.



[1] Twitter post by Bill Gates, 9/1/2020

[2] Washington Post, Heather Long, 5/12/2020

[3] CNBC, Annie Palmer and Melissa Repko, 9/6/2020

[4] The NPD Group, July 20, 2020

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VIPER has created a proven, proprietary Enterprise Acceleration (EA) methodology - which gathers data from throughout the retailer client’s enterprise; then feeds this data into our NV® AI system, leveraging Machine Learning to identify leading performance indicators and predictive models. These models isolate and quantify systemic problems, operational deficiencies, breakdowns in training, and/or execution failures which lead to gaps between business expectations and actual outcomes. Throughout the engagement, VIPER does the heavy lifting; partnering with the client throughout the engagement to determine the root causes of these issues, and to implement best practice solutions. The result is a return of 1%-3% of yearly revenue delivered to bottom line of the P&L.  VIPER’s profit improvements are measurable and isolatable from other company initiatives.

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