It's a kind of artistry when you think about it -- the ability to transform a plain space into something alluring. From the time Sharon Leicham joined Royal Robbins as the director of merchandising in 1971, she has used her sense of style to dramatically improve the look of countless retail stores, and put a gleam on outdoor clothing and gear.
Since 2002, Leicham has applied her apparel and retail expertise to the SNEWS® website and SNEWS magazines (formerly GearTrends® magazines), serving as merchandising editor. And this summer Leicham announced that she is stepping down to launch a merchandising blog and focus on her position as the board chair of the Memphis Farmers Market, which she founded two years ago. Her swan song with us will be at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, where she will judge the BOB Awards for a final time, as well as lend her reporting skills to our show coverage. Be sure to give her a hug or two as she passes by.
While she is making this move to carve out more time for herself away from publishing demands and deadlines, Leicham has told us she will still occasionally contribute to trade publications, including SNEWS, and present merchandising seminars to retail chains. The Merchandising Hub, which Leicham founded in SNEWS, will continue to exist with regular contributions from a slate of other merchandising experts -- and perhaps Leicham if we beg long enough. In addition, the BOB Awards will continue, this time with a panel of judges recognizing booth design expertise, starting with the 2009 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.
The SNEWS crew considers Leicham not only a great colleague, but also a dear friend. We're excited about her future, but also sad to be losing someone with her grace, charm and great talents. With a long history in the world of outdoor recreation and specialty retail, she has developed a reputation as one of the true authorities on merchandising.
In the 1980s, Leicham served as the global marketing manager for Specialized Bicycle Components, and launched a Specialized apparel line. As a contributing editor to Outdoor Retailer magazine, she encouraged retailers to put more thought into store aesthetics and work harder to cater to women outdoor enthusiasts. And in 1996, she joined Sierra Designs to direct the company's apparel merchandising division, sparking sales growth of 300 percent. In the last decade, her merchandising articles have appeared in more outdoor, ski and sporting goods trade magazines than we have room to list.
Though Leicham is stepping away from SNEWS, we have no doubt she will continue to examine the drab places in this world and make them brighter. Just consider what she's done for the city of Memphis. Four years ago, she was living in downtown Memphis, having moved there from the Bay Area. As president of her neighborhood association, she was seeking ways to promote the South Main historic district, and focused her attention on the area behind the Central Station building, which was the old rail hub. Where most people saw an old pavilion used for nothing but a bus turnaround, she saw something grand.
"I was trying to find ways to bring people to the district, and I thought it would be good to start a farmers market," said Leicham, adding that Memphis had only one other farmers market at the time, and it was a 45-minute drive from the city.
She worked with the Memphis Center City Commission for a year to create the market, and house it under the Central Station pavilion. It wasn't easy -- at first, area farmers were wary about going downtown. "They thought downtown was like it was in the '60s, which was deserted and dangerous. We had to drive people around to show them how the district is now a hot place to live," said Leicham.
In 2006, the market opened in the Pavilion at Central Station and included 20 vendors. This year it will involve about 70 vendors, and attract more than 50,000 people. Held on Saturdays from May to October, the market has become much more than a place to buy fresh food. There are local musicians who play for nothing more than tips, plus kids' activities, nutritionists who help people shop, cooking demonstrations from local chefs, and even a veterinarian who takes care of pets while their owners shop.
The Memphis Farmers Market has not only spiffed up South Main and created a social gathering place, it's having a ripple effect on surrounding districts and the greater population. "It's built the economy of downtown and raised the awareness of healthy eating," said Leicham, who now volunteers her time to direct advertising and marketing for the market.
They say that artists can look at a blank canvas and see the final painting before the first brush stroke. For years, Sharon has realized the great potential of retailers in the outdoor industry and made them more attractive. We're not surprised that her keen eye is now working wonders with entire city blocks.