TJ Maxx Marshalls Back to School Event

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The MarMaxx event (TJ Maxx/Marshalls to you) was really fun. I didn't go in expecting to learn a lot but I did. The off-price shopping concept takes a lot more planning than I imagined. It was nice to hear from the buyers and find out how they do their jobs and how they are able to bring items into the stores so frequently to keep the inventory fresh.

We got to tour the purse closet (I could have died from all the pretty-ness), the shoe racks, see some of the items in store for kids' back to school, see a few of this year's Halloween costumes (so cute!) and there was a fashion show with looks put together by celebrity stylist Art Conn (currently working on American Idol). I did not know that TJ Maxx is celebrating a 25 year partnership with Save the Children, which provides basic necessities for impoverished children (read more about the initiative and how your .99 can help here).

I enjoyed listening to Michael Macmillan, the company President speak. It was obvious he was not in it just for the paycheck. He, and all the other company employees, really seemed to have a passion for what they do. He was very down to earth and approachable. Which is why I felt a little guilty putting him on the spot with a question about diversity.

I don't remember how the conversation with Alli Worthington started, but I told her the Women of Color session at BlogHer was my favorite. She asked if being the only black woman there was uncomfortable for me. I said no, that I'm used to it. I also said that some people are not OK with taking on the role of "the token" but I don't mind. If it takes me being there to get a dialogue started I'm happy to take on that responsibility, as long as it's not the ONLY reason I'm there. So, I asked the CEO about the male to female ratio at the executive level and how diverse the company is. I commend him for his honesty ("we're not as diverse as we'd like to be") and appreciate that the company has programs in place to help them achieve a more diverse work environment.

(One of the buyers had these on, I covet them!)

I had no qualms about asking a similar question of the people representing the advertising agency. Around the room were posters of their back to school campaign. I think I may be getting cynical in my old age, but often it feels to me as though ads are very calculated, as though someone on the set was saying, "No, this won't work. All these children are white. Someone bring me a few brown children, right away!"

Of course, that's my own bias and it could very well be completely false, but it's how I feel. Anyway, I approached Stacey (who is SO nice!) and said, "same question about diversity for you." I told her that, as a parent of a bi-racial child, it's important to me that my son see himself in the places I choose to spend our money. He's too young to pick up on it now, but he will. Looking at the posters, I saw only one child he'd be able to identify with.

I also played Devil's Advocate and asked about children with special needs. Stacey said they have a whole campaign centered around the charitable programs the TJX companies are involved in. To that, I said putting children with special needs in "their own" ad campaign sends out the wrong message. They are kids first, kids with special needs second and there's no reason why the only time they should be acknowledged in ads is when the message focuses on how they are "different" from other children. 

Then I stepped off my soapbox.

Even though I didn't win the Gucci bag or Coach shoes (sob!) I still had a fabulous time. Thanks so much to Laura McDowell, Michael Macmillan, Denise Vitola, Naomi Borno and Stacey DeFino from Ogilvy, Victoria Taylor and Brian Brunskill from Rocket XL and anyone else who made our trip possible!

View the rest of my photos on Flickr.

*TJX paid for my airfare, lodging and meals as well as provided gift cards and a gift bag. All opinions are my own.


  1. Just wanted to say that when I worked in bank advertising, that this:
    No, this won't work. All these children are white. Someone bring me a few brown children, right away!"

    happened all the time.

    I swear to God.

  2. Sounds like a great trip. Good for you for bringing up diversity.

  3. If they're smart they'll hire you for their P.R. department.

  4. I love your point about how companies need to include children with special needs in their regular ad campaigns. We've been talking about that for a while now and we really need to spread that message to companies.

    But it was such a great event and I had a fantastic time getting to know you better.

  5. Awesome Recap!

    Yes, I loved your points. I think getting dialogue going is so important!

    Loved meeting you & youur fabulous self!

    xoxo, Alli

  6. Good for you, Mel! I've always admired that side of you...the gal who's never afraid to speak her mind or bring up the "uncomfortable" issues. It's important and you were right and I'm proud of all that you're doing! :)

  7. It sounds like a fun event. I'm proud of you for speaking your mind and sharing your thoughts on diversity. I think it was important for the company to hear. And I know so many bloggers who are just so excited to get invited to these kind of events that they are concerned with doing anything that might make them stand out or say anythng that might appear to be critical of their host.

    I agree with Jenn@Juggling Life!


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