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.
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!"
We hear it over and over. "Good business citizenship" matters to shoppers. Might Labor Day weekend be a good time to start getting the word out about your citizenship contributions?
Customers vote with their feet, their wallets, and their hearts, and increasingly choose those retailers who "do the right thing", whether it's how they source product, hire and pay employees, reduce environmental impacts, etc.
There are things that independent retailers do day in and day out, without perhaps even realizing how special they are!
Most retailers we know are "aw shucks" type people. It's charming, but, especially in today's world, your leadership can be a competitive edge! So, why keep it a secret?
Undoubtedly you'll agree with this. We read and hear a lot in the business press, but we treat 100% of it rather skeptically.
And so it is with articles and commentary about this coming Holiday Season, specifically about retailers' inventory and margins.
Nevertheless, there is considerable good news being trumpeted. Most recently, this feature article in the Wall Street Journal: "Retailers Hone Inventory for Holidays" *
"Of course I want it today. If I wanted it tomorrow, I would have come in tomorrow."
That's what we call "retail time." Retailers are comfortable with that pace; they enjoy the variety; they welcome the need to change and adjust.
But, instead of just keeping life interesting, 2020 seems to have gone overboard in bringing changes and disruption to us all. The triple pandemic of the virus, the economy, and the civil unrest. And oh yes, it's also an election year. Enough already, right?
We think the most challenging part of this is the effect on our sense of time.
Throughout the pandemics, many independent retailers successfully shed their "technology laggards" label, as they pivoted to embrace an array of digital tools.
Yet going forward, it is well to keep in mind what really matters to the customers. And it may not be more technology.
A recent survey* of more than 2,000 customers provides some interesting insights as to who shops where, why, when and how. It especially highlighted the differences between "large stores" and "smaller stores" (or as we view them, "specialty stores.")
Hmm. This suggests to us that shoppers essentially are treating large stores the same way they treat the internet:
People don't go into retailing to be financiers.
But few are attracted to the financial part.
Which is exactly why The Retail Owners Institute website has been built!
Given our years of experience consulting with retailers, especially in turnaround situations, our speaking at conferences and publishing in trade publications, we wanted to "level the playing field" for retailers.
The basic definition of retailing is "selling to the ultimate consumer."
As you know, HOW that is done, and in what location or format, continues to change and evolve.
So, we were intrigued by this recent post on the Shopify Retail Blog: The Future of Physical Retail in a Digital-First World.*
To us, the blog post was essentially a wide-ranging journey of discovery(and perhaps even some new-found respect for those "physical retailers".)
Still less than $1 a day! 👀