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 café. 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


CaseyJ said...

First, I should probably say that my name is Casey Johnson, and I am working on some research regarding the online selling and buying of textbooks. I was hoping you could give me some insight into the scope of that market. Specifically regarding its size and the main competitors. I'd really appreciate your help. Thanks!


The Retail Muse said...


You best source is to contact the NACS Public Relations Department. Charles Schmidt leads that team for NACS and he may be reached at 440-775-7777, ext. 2351.