Perspectives

From The Co-Founders

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Strategic insights and commentary from The ROI Co-Founders, Pat Johnson and Dick Outcalt
Outcalt & Johnson: Retail Strategists LLC; Retail Turnaround Experts


"There's HOW much to know about retailing?"

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!

 

If you feel more confused about what to do, what decisions make sense, look. You've got lots of company! Retailing is entering uncharted waters.

For instance, you'd think that a big retailer like Kohls would have all the right answers. Why then, instead of continuing to build their own private brands, as they always have, they instead are adding Lands End and Eddie Bauer in a major way?

Why? They're experimenting, trying new ways of dealing with this new era. Because, like the entire retail industry, coming out of the multiple pandemics, the future is a ball of fog. Don't you agree?

For retailers everywhere, it seems like absolutely nothing is as it was.

  • Certainly the customers have different priorities, tastes, and financial issues. Maybe the same people, but not really the same customer. 
     
  • And think of your staff. The entire mask issue has been interpreted by each individual – staff, customers, management, everybody – differently. There has been no one easy approach that works for everybody. Masks have added confusion. 

    And don't you find that every staff member is asking for or expecting a raise? 

     
  • And store managers, the pickle in the middle between senior management and staff, are challenged like never before. They're saying "This used to be a fun job. Where'd the fun go?"
     
  • And then there's the changed competition: online, live streaming, pop-up shops, etc, etc. Lots of retailers are opening, and yet lots of others are closing. 
     
  • And what vendors are most appropriate for these times? Those with liberal credit terms? Or those with higher margins? Or those with better turns? Or...??? And for which of your customers?

If you feel that the questions and the issues and the challenges seem almost unmanageable, we're here to tell you: "You're right; they are!" They do demand different management than ever before. 

Retailing has always been somewhat unpredictable, which is why continual experiments, trial-and-error, taste-it-before-adding-more-seasoning is the way to manage today. There is no one right answer, no one size fits all. Kohls' management is plenty smart. They're experimenting like everybody else. 

If you feel like "I never knew there was so much to know about retailing," you've got good company. The whole industry feels that way. 

So, recapture your spirit of adventure. Embrace the uncertainty. Try answering all those "Why?" questions with "Well, why not? Let's try it!"



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