Business & Tech

Bold Types

With two top hires, BJ’s looks to catch up on the digital front

Chris Morris for The Boston Globe
Chris Baldwin

BJ’S Wholesale Club isn’t exactly known for its e-commerce.

But Chris Baldwin is hoping to change that.

The BJ’s chief executive just hired two top digital executives as part of a strategy to build online revenue.


Scott Kessler, who was most recently chief information officer at the North Carolina-based department store chain Belk Inc., joined BJ’s as CIO. Kessler replaces Peter Amalfi, who plans to retire later this year after 16 years with the Westborough-based company.

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Meanwhile, Baldwin recruited Rafeh Masood from Dick’s Sporting Goods to be the chief digital officer at BJ’s, a newly created position. Masood will be responsible for the online experience for BJ’s members and for linking its brick-and-mortar locations with the website. One example: the company’s service that allows members to pay online and pick up in person.

“Both jobs will have significant roles in the future of the company,” Baldwin says.

The company was late to the online game, not launching its website until 2006. But Baldwin, who became CEO in 2015, is trying to make up for lost time.

Last year, BJ’s streamlined the online membership process by reducing the clicks it takes to join, and started allowing tire installations to be scheduled through its website. The company also launched digital ordering for deli and bakery platters during the last holiday season.


BJ’s is a private company – it’s owned by Leonard Green & Partners and CVC Capital Partners – so we can’t learn much about its financials. But Baldwin says the company had strong profits in the last two years. Apparel was one bright spot, with clothing sales growing by a “high single-digit” percentage. (That category is still missing from its website – but that could be about to change.)

The physical stores – clubs, in BJ’s parlance – remain critical, of course. BJ’s just opened its 215th location, near Charleston, S.C. As shoppers increasingly steer clear of big indoor malls, BJ’s is benefitting, Baldwin says.

But there’s more untapped potential online. “Technology,” he says, “needs to be at the forefront of every decision we make.” — JON CHESTO

The eyes have it

What would it look like if iRobot and HubSpot had a baby? Perhaps something like the 11-inch, owl-shaped remote conferencing device released Wednesday by a Somerville company led by alumni of the two heavy-hitters.

Owl Labs is now selling its $799 Meeting Owl, which in addition to its convincing approximation of its namesake, is designed to improve the experience of calling into a meeting from afar.


The device, tall enough to peer over a laptop, was hatched by cofounders Max Makeev and Mark Schnittman , both iRobot veterans. Vice president of marketing Rebecca Corliss and vice president of growth Karen Rubin were both among HubSpot’s first 50 employees.

This week, executives said they thought the combination made for a compelling fit of company culture and technical strength.

Owl Labs got seed funding from Android cocreator Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures and last month announced a $6 million funding round led by Matrix Partners.

The device itself hooks in with popular conferencing services such as Skype, and has a 360-degree camera on top. Two beady “eyes” light up to let users know it’s on.

The Meeting Owl uses an array of eight microphones to focus both the camera and the sound input on the person who is speaking, and a panoramic view on top of the remote user’s screen shows a broader view of the room. The device ships in July.

Schnittman said the idea came to him while he was working in Boston for a startup in Las Vegas. Call-in meetings were extremely frustrating, until somebody placed a conferencing camera on a rotating seat and used it to follow the discussion.

“The original research was my life,” he said. — ANDY ROSEN

Business card upgrade

Even in an era of digital correspondence, it’s still nice to network with a business card in hand. Experts suggest that the moment cards are exchanged creates a bond, in that it allows for both physical and eye contact that can help leave a lasting impression.

The British design firm MOO, with US headquarters in Boston, has been in the business card business for over a decade. Like a slogan emblazoned across a T-shirt, the right card can be a personal billboard, a tangible reminder of who you are.

So perhaps it’s fitting that their new line of cards is made with tangibility in mind. Instead of using wood pulp, the company is taking the scraps from T-shirt factories to create a line of cotton cards it hopes will make an impression in more ways than one.

“We set out to really create a new paper that was really high-quality but made with recycled materials,” said Chad Jennings, MOO’s chief product officer, who runs the industrial design team. He said that companies are looking for cards made of recycled paper but want something that looks sleek and impressive (and not too crunchy).

Historically, many of the first papers were made from natural fibers like hemp and cotton, and today, the US Mint contracts with Crane Currency, a Dalton company, to produce paper money from a combination of cotton and linen fibers.

Jennings said the cotton pulp is dried and thinned into sheets, and since it’s naturally bright white, no additional chemicals are needed. The product feels a bit like a high-end art paper that still has some of the texture and fibers of the cotton, he said. When people feel it for the first time, “you can see them caressing it nicely with their fingers.”

“We found an old way to make a new paper. Or maybe it’s a new way to make an old paper,” he joked. — JANELLE NANOS

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