From The Co-Founders


Tips, Tactics & Strategic Insights and Commentary
from The ROI Co-Founders, Pat Johnson and Dick Outcalt
Outcalt & Johnson: Retail Strategists LLC; Retail Turnaround Experts

You managed the "Pandemic Pivot." So, now what?

A little chaotic, isn't it?

  • Have you shopped in a grocery store lately? Noticed the priority parking spaces reserved for the "professional shoppers?" Or observed those folks darting about the store, staring at their phones, often filling two grocery carts? 
  • Or, maybe you've attended (or plan to attend) a trade show this year. Did you find a "hybrid experience?" That is, a combination of the remote experience – Zoom sessions, special apps, etc – with some live, more traditional elements? Did exhibitors tout their online ordering capabilities? Did you keep having the feeling that something was missing? (Or wondering why you had shown up in person?)
  • Have you gone into a store, and encountered rows of racks of packages awaiting pickup by customers, or more likely, a delivery driver?
  • Or, alternatively, gone into a store to pickup an online order for yourself, and been dispatched to the far reaches of the store?

You likely have experienced some of these dilemmas from the customer side. So you know how annoying or unsatisfactory it can be. 

But you also are living that dilemma from the retailer's side. 

Being the owner of a business always has pluses and minuses. Usually the pluses outnumber the minuses. But maybe not so much right now.

If you feel that way, you've got a lot of company. Ugh! But hang on; maybe we have a perspective that you'll find useful and timely. It's called "Misery loves company!"

First, consider where we are. Early July, just past a nice Fourth of July Holiday weekend. The summer and early fall look promising, both for getting "back to normal" and for some leisure hours in the hammock. Nice, eh?

But there are those dark clouds out there. 


As we emerge from the pandemics, many retailers are eager to grow. (How's that for an understatement?!)

  • For some, that simply means having a better year than 2019 (because 2020 was such a disaster), and they relish having survived.
  • Others are looking to expand by adding locations, whether by acquisition of existing stores, or taking advantage of vacated retail sites. 
  • Still others are focused on expanding their newly-established e-commerce capabilities. 
  • And, for some, still other imaginative ways.

Trade shows are opening up with great success and eager buyers. Landlords are eager to fill vacancies, and in many instances, to cut deals. Vendors are eager to quit thinking about supply chain problems and start selling their merchandise, especially at trade shows. Plus, the continued growth and expansion of online wholesale marketplaces makes far more product available to retailers. 

Then there is the access to capital. Lots of money is floating around out there

All in all, it creates an environment of exuberance. "Seize the opportunity" is the rallying cry. Indeed, for some retailers, FOMO – that Fear Of Missing Out – is pushing them to make some major decisions. 

As Amazon Prime Day approaches – it is June 21 and 22 this year, the earliest ever for this 48-hour promotional event – retailers from all segments are wondering (or being asked): "So, how do you compete with Amazon?"

Our response? You don't, at least not directly. 

Yet independent retailers do have many strategic advantages over Amazon. But you must recognize them, and enhance them at every opportunity. Here are some ideas that you may want to consider. 

A few years ago we were on a PBS news show about retailing's ups and downs. Several months later, one of us ran into a teacher of one of our kids. That person excitedly mentioned having seen us on TV, saying "I didn't know you knew so much about retailing." (Yep, known just as someone's parent, right?)

But then this very well-educated person said the key thing: "I never knew there was so much to be known about retailing!"

Well, that incident happened a few years ago when retailing was perhaps more understandable, even more predictable. Alas, those days are history! Today, nothing in retailing is quite as understandable or as predictable as before. Or as manageable!



We often caution that many vendors are so much better trained at selling than retailers are trained at buying. In their eagerness to grow sales, and the associated promise of thereby growing profits, it is all too easy for retailers to become overbought. Instead of higher profits, they can find themselves in a cash flow crunch.

And that was in Before Times, before the pandemics. Throughout 2020 and continuing now, vendors and retailers alike have increased their online capabilities. Ordering online brought new challenges to buyers and sales reps, but also saved time and improved access. 

We have applauded these advances in technology, but...

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Here's a post-pandemic strategy that should not be missed: higher margins! 

Not the entire store, of course; you must be a merchant here. 

But think about it: many shoppers have increased savings, reduced debt, or gotten their job back. Maybe all three.

And after months of being at home, and spending on home improvement and groceries, many shoppers have pent-up demand to spend on items they have had to postpone, like for themselves. Whether that would be in a restaurant or in a specialty store, shoppers are more willing and able to spend. (And some even feel entitled to spend.)

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As we approach April of 2021, the question for retailers is "Now what?" Having survived 2020, in many cases on guts and guile, we must now focus on how best to survive 2021 and beyond.

As having one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat, the future of retailers in that Red Zone is not a pretty picture. 

Granted, there is much talk about the expectation that "convenience" will become a major factor for shoppers going forward. And we don't disagree. 

  • Throughout 2020, millions of shoppers – including the older Baby Boomers – discovered the benefits of online shopping. Then, as brick-n-mortar retailers scrambled to survive, the increased availability of delivery, curbside pickup, BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) and BORIS (Buy Online, Return In Store) has been well received by a broad swath of consumers. 

Here's the deal: We see that this has brought heightened awareness of two different retail strategies: Convenience Retailing versus Destination Retailing