Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hello My Name Is….

A speaker I saw recently reminded the audience that “Retail is in the Details”. And how true that is! Last night, after leaving the office from an extra-long day, I decided to treat myself to Chick-fil-A. I just love their traditional sandwich…and their service!

Let me recount my drive-thru experience as a prime example.

- Arrive at order position and am greeted with, “Hello and welcome to Chick-fil-A. My name is Amanda. May I take your order?”

- I made my request, which was confirmed and followed with a request to, “Please pull around to the window so I may complete your order.”

-As I often do, I thanked her for taking my order, to which she cheerfully responded, “My pleasure.”

-Upon reaching the window, the cashier greeted me and thanked me for offering my payment.

-Within the few seconds it took for her to process the transaction, my food was handed to her. She passed my change, receipt, and food along to me with a smile and, “Thank you and have a nice evening.”

Ordering fast food is a simple task that many of us do many times a month. So how is it that so many can get it so wrong.

Chick-fil-A, especially Amanda, had it down last night. She offered a perfect experience for me by getting the “details” right.

Oh, and the chicken sandwich was perfect…the final step in delivering on their brand promise.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Try Before You Buy

Technology is changing the way we do business in more ways ever day. At a recent In-store Marketing Institute Expo, I got a firsthand look at a new technology from Epson and partners.

- Interactive Apparel Displays -

Customers use a touch-sensitive screen to pick different styles/colors and tops, bottoms, and accessories. As choices are selected, the corresponding item is projected onto a mannequin form 5-6 feet in front of the touch-screen.

Take a look at the maroon top matched with knee-length pants and an oversized belt.

It’s obviously not the same as trying on the items. But to a time-starved, changing room adverse shopper like me…I’m waiting for this to hit the Men’s Department.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

I’ve confessed to being a trade mag junkie.

I read them on planes, over lunch, with a cup of joe, even when I’m supposed to be giving undivided attention to my favorite TV show. I spend most of my time skimming for interesting nuggets, searching for insights into trends, and otherwise looking for writing on the walls.

Of the thousands of things I’ve read in the last few years, one thing is certain: Retail has changed, it’s never going to be the same, and we have to evolve to survive.

To make my case, here are the top 5 things (and one bonus thing)--from just the last few months--that scream “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

1. MinuteClinics -- CVS pharmacies are opening “retail medical clinics”, complete with nurse practitioners, in their stores. Colds, allergy issues, and other minor ailments will be diagnosed onsite. A remedy will be recommended directly from the aisles of the store, of course. (Fast Company, Sept. 2007)

2. Plenty to Spend…on Gadgets! -- Soaring gas prices haven’t put a dent in discretionary spending or the development of products to satisfy our appetites. Case in point: Cell phones by Porsche and Prada. The Prada handheld is a cool $600. But Nokia’s “Luna” takes the prize (for now) at $800. (Details, Oct. 2007)

3. Digital Domains -- Since Disney-ABC started selling downloads of TV shows online, viewers have tuned in to to watch a staggering 90 million episodes of Disney shows since June 2006 alone! Tell me the day is not coming for digital content/course materials. (Fast Company, June 2007)

4. Oprah Goes Retail -- As if Orpah hasn’t conquered enough territory? Harpo Studios has announced that it will open a 4,500-sq ft retail store right across the street for their location in Chicago’s West Loop. The store will sell Oprah-branded merchandise, promote Winfrey-approved gifts, and offer a small cafĂ©. Better believe those Book Club titles will be on the shelves somewhere! (Stores, August 2007)

5. It’s So Easy A Child… -- Ashely Qualls, a 17-year old from Southgate, Mich. (outside Detroit), is founder and head of What started as a hobby of creating and sharing backgrounds and other “upgrades” for MySpace pages is now a $50,000-$70,000-a-month business. That’s right! She now employs a group of her friends and has turned down at least one purchase offer worth more than $1.5 million. (Fast Company, Sept. 2007)

So what writing is on the walls?

- Look for new opportunities for your business in services needed by your customers and aligned with your current business categories/services.

- Identify and carry some of the products that your customers want and are willing to drop those disposable dollars on!

- How are your online and brick-and-mortar sales functions collaborating to increase traffic and sales?

- Competition is everywhere! Scan your environment and stay on your toes.

- Creative, talented, and self-starter young people are everywhere. Who are the up-and-comers on your payroll?

Ah, yes! That “bonus thing.” Think this isn’t for us? “Nobody really watches our industry…”, you say? They’re watching!

6. The November 2007 Details magazine offered an article claiming that “the suburbs are the new downtowns” and the place to be (pages 99-104). In a related story, they highlighted six major metropolitan areas in the U.S. -- noting the “warning sign” of downtown transition, the “tipping point” which indicated the time to flee, and the “escape” to move to (that is, the suburb-turned-downtown of choice).

The writing on the wall?
“Boston. Warning Sign: 1996 - Barnes & Noble takes over management of the Harvard Coop, a profit-sharing cooperative bookstore founded in 1882 to provide Harvard students with textbooks.”

This is not an indictment of B&N, but rather a response to the impact that “retail as usual” can have on a community. Because B&N is a national chain, the assumption was made that their arrival would tip off a transition that would eventually turn a unique, local community into something vanilla. After decades of near-guaranteed sales -- thanks to course materials -- I think we all need to heed the underlying message from this mainstream voice of pop culture:

No retailer is guaranteed anything anymore. Customers don’t want, and retailers can’t afford, “get-by” operations. We need to be fully engaged and cooperative members of our host communities. We must continually seek ways to reinvent our businesses. We have to be passionate about bringing fresh new ideas to the table.

Even if you ARE in Kansas…“You’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Me and My Gang

Let's face it, we all need a "posse".

That group of folks that we can knock an idea around with, talk to about our challenges, and call upon any time anyone has something to celebrate.

I just returned from the annual meeting of the NACS Retail Edge Committee (formerly the General Merchandise Committee). And what a wonderful experience!

Spending two days with some of the most creative, talented, and passionate retailers from our industry was a fun as it was exhausting. The idea exchange was endless. The solution sharing was inspirational. And the time away from the day-to-day was priceless.

It reminded me how important it is for us all to maintain a professional network. A posse!
  • When did you last take time away from the day-to-day to reconnect?
  • What small win have you experienced that you really should share with your industry friends?
  • What little challenge has got a burr in your saddle? Give someone a shout!

Many stores are just now coming out of one of the busiest times of the year. Take a few minutes and reconnect with a few of your industry buddies.

Everyone needs a posse.

Tony Ellis, CAE