Whitcoulls and Borders


I was thrilled to learn that the remaining Whitcoulls and Borders have been sold to Anne and David Norman. Now they have some hope. They will now live in the Pascoes Group and of course this group are known as having revived the ailing Farmers chain and given them new life.

Once the essential housekeeping details are sorted, such as property leases and staff contracts, there is every reason to hope that they will breathe new life into Borders and Whitcoulls.

That can not mean BAU or Business As Usual, because even though they did OK and the biggest problems were in Australia with REDGroup. Nevertheless these stores were not run optimally and they were not run with the times.

I heard people, partly lead by local publishers, saying that if the NZ stores were run from Australia, they would probably signal the demise of the NZ author. Certainly I agree that we would have seen less Kiwi authors in store, but I think ultimately either the publishers would have to become less greedy and insular or the local authors would start to embrace the new eBook media and of course in doing so they can either self publish or join Amazon or other local eBook publishers. Neither are ideal for people who love books.

As I’ve said in many previous blogs about Whitcoulls and Borders, a few of them can be found here, the first thing is to go back to basics. For these stores to be successful they need to operate smarter and provide what the modern shopper wants. There are many good examples overseas.

With the chain expanding, here a some ideas that I would look at.

  • Macy's

    Gift Registry. Chains like Macy’s in the USA have had phenomenal success with their national gift registry programs for decades. They have kiosks in store which are linked nationally. I was so excited the first time I went through one I almost bought a gift for a young man’s Bar Mitsva in Chicago. I was in New York at the time looking for a hat in one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced. It was so well laid out, there were thousands of special events from weddings to anniversaries and being national, you could see from New York, what a person in Madison Wisconsin had their hopes on. Given that the chain owns Farmers and a number of jewellery stores, this would be a great opportunity to combine the lot.

  • I keep harping on about Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? It’s funny in a way that in one of his first blogs about the book, he suggests that you could buy it from Borders. The thing was though that I couldn’t buy it from Borders at the time because they didn’t have it, so I bought it from Amazon.
  • So I think that Borders and Whitcoulls need to start saying, what would Amazon do. So many companies are naive and believe their own hype that web retailers (only part of what they are) are no threat, or they consider them such a threat that when things go bad, they become a self fulfilling prophecy.

Hanging a few Kobo’s on the wall is not the answer, that has been a major botch up in my humble opinion. Even on the web, sell the sizzle on the home page! But some things they could do with their ‘loyalty’ programs is monitor what each customer buys and make recommendations based on the buyer habits. I have bought at least a dozen books on Amazon’s recommendations. Amazon is also much cheaper than buying locally, but that’s a different story because it costs a lot to get books to New Zealand, so unless you buy a stack of books, you pay back what you save on freight.

Amazon has many great features that can be just asdestination events

Mobile Marketing easily applied to a bricks and mortar chain, which has the benefit of being able to hold a book, tell you what store it is in and provide you with much quicker gratification.

I don’t want to write a book, but here a some things you may find in this blog in the coming days for Whitcoulls and Borders:

  • Becoming a destination for events such as readings and signings
  • Back to basics and way beyond in inventory management
  • A major web presence with lots of ideas perhaps sparked by What Would Google Do (which should be a mandatory read for all Whitcoulls and Borders management at all levels)
  • A new way for both stores to have lots of stock available, but not necessarily on the spot. A central warehouse with the option of home delivery could cut down inventory sizes without sacrificing range and depth.
  • Embrace proximity based marketing on mobile devices. I would strongly recommend that management from Borders, Whitcoulls, Farmers and in fact all retail chains attend the Mobile Marketing Forum in Auckland this June. This Forum could be called The Retailer Strikes Back. They will learn many new ideas at this event.
  • Understand their regional customer base. There is no point in carrying the same stock range in each store. It simply won’t work and you will have aged stock going on sale. Some of the category managers need to take a long hard look at the books they have been stocking and ask themselves what on earth possessed them to make some of the decisions they made? Or was it the publishers reps that conned them?
  • They should look at products like GeoSmart’s impending Business Intelligence on a MAP. This could produce many aha moments when used to geographically view their business results in combination with consumer demographics.
I could go on but that’s plenty for now. I think with the right motivation and attitude, these two stores can be not only revived, but will rise to new heights. But only if they stop living in the past of this is the way we always did it. They need to embrace and perhaps even lead the future. It’s not hard, its just thinking outside the square and remembering that it is the customers and the books that make your business. Its about the words and the stories and people.

Ideas for Retailers including Borders and Whitcoulls


As I mentioned last week, I am speaking at the  Mobile Marketing Forum in Auckland next month. I’m going to share some good practical business ideas there that smart retailers and destination businesses can implement. You might catch the odd one on #NZSoMo on Twitter, but I’d recommend if you want to get into and ahead of the wave of new social media and location based mobile marketing, you should invest in attending this event.

Some time ago I talked about the situation with Whitcoulls and Borders. I said I had lots of ideas about how they could run their businesses more profitably without sacrificing their models. I’m happy to share some of my ideas, but not all of them, because I am thinking that maybe there is an opportunity to partner with some local developers or entrepreneurs to commercialize some of my ideas, seeing as the people in these businesses can’t see the wood for the trees.

I’m happy to share a few concepts to get things started and to show I’m not just full of hot air.

First is basics. Whenever a business starts falling by the wayside, the smart ones go to consultants or mentors. Often the business has gotten so busy they forget about what made them great stand out businesses in the first place and often they have forgotten good business practices.

A key one is stock turn by category. Some of the books I saw in the sales were going to struggle at $1 a book and should never had been stocked. How did Borders NZ decide what to stock in each category? Did they liaise with the people who read the books or just on what the publishers told them.

Back in the day the late Shaun Joyce of Sounds Music used to consult my daughter on which albums he should bring in for the big teenage market. She was big on music and researched amongst her friends which meant they got what they wanted and Sounds stocked what the segment wanted and it moved.

Shaun Joyce

I haven’t explored retail in the US for a number of years because it was no longer relevant to my current business environment, but that is changing, partly due to a new solution that GeoSmart is launching soon called BIonaMAP or Business Intelligence on a MAP. More on this in the near future but it is very exciting for lots of businesses including retail chains.

I fell in love with Borders in the USA. Shame they may not be there much longer.

They were innovative in lots of ways. there were 3 that I particularly liked (I’m not writing a book here folks!).

  1. They had book signings and meet the author every week (I’m talking about big city stores here). The ones I liked best were autobiographies, for example imagine going to a store, watching BB King play Lucille and sing a couple of songs, having a chat and then personally signing his new autobiography.
  2. They encourage you to read in the store and have a cafe you can take the books to. My first thought was, they will damage the books. My 2nd thought was now I can check a few books to find out which is the one I really want, especially for me technical or music related books. I very rarely go to a book store and buy only one book. This year I have bought at least 20 books from local stores and another 8 from Amazon.
  3. They have massive range, width and depth. If I want to buy anything other than a top 100 book (I’m not generally in the demographic for many of those).
I will come back with some advice and would love some feedback from you dear reader because part of the fin is coming up with the ideas.
My best business read this year has been Jeff Jarvis “What Would Google Do?” My first recommendation to whoever ends up owning and managing Whitcoulls and Borders (if they don’t just shut them down) has a mandatory read of this book. If they don’t come up with at least a dozen innovative, exciting and compelling ideas as a result, I’d suggest they resign from their jobs because they are stuck in the track of “This is how the book trade works, this is the way we have always done it”. Folks this is the way the book industry crumbles instead of making itself relevant. And no hanging a discounted eBook reader off a hangsell rack is not a modern way of doing business.
I will share some more ideas with you for those who need some sparks to get their thinking juices started, but I’m really keen for some participation here, so for each idea, I might also throw out some questions.
What do you think Borders and Whitcoulls can do better that would make you want to go to their stores and spend money?
I visited Borders on Saturday. They were having a stock take yesterday and I would expect some more sales coming up. Not much worth buying but I did get a copy of the 2010 book Kiwi Rock Chicks, Pop Stars and Trailblazers down from $49.95 to $5! They probably could have sold it in volume to the record store next door:(
Footnote, while I believe it is a long time before eBooks totally rule, but Amazon has announced that they have for the first time sold more eBooks for Kindle than printed books. Of course one issue and opportunity is the cost of freight, especially to NZ, but then that is compensated for by much cheaper books as long as you buy a few at a time.

The Insurance Aftermath of an Earthquake


First there were several people who had inadequate insurance in Christchurch. I have no idea what the situation is in Japan, but I understand that some of the worst hit were apparently poor communities illustrated by the ease with which the  tsunami washed away the houses.

I think the first thing goes back to my previous blogs on preparation lessons, the aftermath and getting your household ready. The Earthquake Commission is there to help after a natural disaster which isn’t covered by normal household insurance. But the scope was huge. They had over 440,000 claims and even in dealing with those, their liability is up to a maximum of $100,000 for dwellings and $20,000 for personal property. Try building a house for $100,000 or replacing even your basic possessions including appliances, furniture, clothing etc for $20,000. Some people will pretty much walk away with nothing.

Now insurance itself is a risk game and they take our premiums on the expectation that for a large number of people they will never have to pay out. Now I haven’t seen the financials for EQC, but I suspect that most of the money has gone into running the organisation over  the years, especially given that after the event John Key says that the government may have to treble the levy in our taxes for future incidents. Does this mean that we are now going to start to pay for what happened, borrowing from the future because the funds weren’t there? Are wee robbing Peter to pay Paul?

We always knew a major disaster looming. Of course we thought it was most likely to happen in Wellington. It hasn’t, which of course doesn’t mean it won’t because Christchurch and Wellington are on different fault lines. But I would have thought with years and years of taxes and no major incidents, EQC would have been flush with funds.

Anyway, back to the present. If you don’t have adequate insurance to cover everything, think again and do what you can, even if money is tight, things could get a whole lot worse. I hate insurance. I was once asked to do a whole lot of psych tests by an insurance company who thought I would be a star life sales person. The idea of selling life policies to my friends was anathema but I loved tests, so I spent a whole day doing the tests and they came back apparently saying I would be hugely successful. I declined despite the offer of a big package. Today I wonder if I should have taken the money, because I better appreciate the importance of insurance. It’s a gamble by both parties, both hoping we will never be in a position to need the cover.

I have life, income protection, health, car, house and contents policies and it eats up a lot of money. So far the insurance companies have enjoyed a lot of meals from my table, but if something major did happen, I feel secure that if my company closed for 6 months because its buildings ceased to exist, if I was injured or ill long term, or if my house washed away in a tsunami, I could rebuild. As the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral said, its the people that matter, the church can be rebuilt.

One concern I had with the aftermath was seeing people throw away their household appliances, carpets, furniture etc and wondering how they would be able to prove what they had lost. The share scale meant that many people had to do that, but it does show the value of having a list of your possessions and also photos. I once had a software app that did that, but never fully used it. Another thing to my be prepared list methinks.

 

Household devastation after the earthquake

So I recommend you grab a digital camera or video camera at least, so that you can go through each room and record your possessions and the state of your property, so that you will have proof in the unlikely event that you could need it. Then store the information somewhere safe. I used to keep my songs in safe deposit on video, with the bank, some people thought I was stupid, but again its just insurance.

Enough for now. I hope I’ve given you some more food for thought. Here’s some fond memories of mine of Christchurch a couple of years ago, with a song I am still writing.

 

The end of Whitcoulls and Borders in New Zealand


If you have a Borders or Whitcoulls voucher, even if you hate the idea of spending double to be allowed to spend your voucher, I recommend you do it quickly, because within a couple of weeks it will be worthless. It was interesting to see that there is no mention of the current situation on the Borders website which talks about eBooks coming soon, although Whitcoulls have been a bit more responsible with a home page announcement.

The demise of these companies isn’t about eBooks, it is largely around debt as pointed out by Liam Dann in this morning’s Business Section of the NZ Herald.  and the business models. I’m not going to discuss the debt because that doesn’t reflect on the industry itself, it reflects on higher level financial decisions and the economy, not on the book trade.

Book stores and music stores are in industries that are steeped in history of “this is how we’ve done it for the last 50 years and why change it if it aint broke”.

As was mentioned in today’s NZ Herald story by Isaac Davison, “In 2010, 9.67 million books were sold, an increase of 1.2 per cent in volume but 0.1 per cent down in value against 2009. This was despite the mark-up on books in New Zealand, which saw paperbacks sold for as much as $20 more than online, even after shipping costs.”

So much for Amazon (of course there were a huge number of Kiwis including myself who purchased from Amazon as well) being the cause of the demise of our local stores.

I also appreciated the comment in the same story from Jo McColl of Unity Books that many people bought hard copy books as a consequence of having purchased eBooks. I’ve done that too. I read eBooks, listen to Audio Books and still have a personal library of around 2,000 print books. The same with music, I listen to lots of music online but have still purchased at least 10 CD’s so far this year.

I might have to go to a separate blog about how Whitcoulls and Borders business model needed to change in order to stay viable and vibrant (ignoring REDGroup‘s debt which doesn’t reflect on the book trade business model itself) because for these guys its too late unless they get a savvy new owner (who will not purchase the chains’ debt) who is ready to adopt a new business model.

REDGroup have called in Administrators. I don’t care who the administrators are. Their role is a short term one and it isn’t about changing the business model or trading back into profit. It is about the creditors.

They will try to negotiate with the book publishers and wholesalers and other suppliers who are desperate to get paid for their product and worried about their future viability in NZ. Inland Revenue want their taxes and will be first in the queue.

They will need to negotiate with the 1,000 staff who will have to have new short term contracts and will be justifiably worried about whether they will get paid at all, let alone have a future with the chain, but at the same time, will be essential should they find a new buyer for the chains.

Based on the outcome of their negotiations a decision will need to be made on whether to go into receivership which is next most likely step. If that happens, enjoy the book sale, because there will be many bargains up for grabs.

The shame of it is that (outside of the decisions that got REDGroup into this financial position) the problem in the trade is that the business model needed to change and like the music industry and other industries, the people running them don’t get it. They should have learned from the music industry, which still doesn’t get it. Other industries who don’t get it include banking, telecommunications and consumer electronics to name a few.

What should they have done and what can other retail businesses do in order to not follow Borders and Whitcoulls into the mire? Subscribe to my blog and I’ll give you a few pointers for free. It isn’t rocket science, but it is a fundamental shift in thinking, whilst also remembering the fundamental simple principles of retail and distributon.

We live in a new world, its exciting and there is a lot of money to be made, but the fatal flaw is thinking that if you do the same thing you have always done, that you will get a different result.

There is an RSS feed to this blog. Come back and read some of my ideas on how companies like Whitcoulls and Borders can thrive and prosper.

Here are a few things I would look at:

  • Understanding your business
  • Communication with customers
  • Communication with staff
  • Distribution methods
  • Stock turn and inventory management
  • Engagement
  • In Store Events
  • Proximity based marketing
  • Shelf Management
  • Relationships with community
  • Relationships with education
  • Location Based Business Analytics
  • The Internet
  • Gift Registry

I could and probably will go on. The answers are a mixture of the old and the new, neither of which these chains have effectively managed. Borders started in the right direction in the US, but didn’t continue the evolution. International chains like Borders and WH Smith focussed more on the  era of globalization than evolution of the business model. Something that would have made short term heroes who have probably made their money and moved on, but was only ever going to be short term.

The Future of TV


I was watching a TED Video recently. Unfortunately I can’t remember who was talking, but a couple of statistics resonated. The speaker said that by the time an American student (in most western countries probably the same) gets to university they will have spent 20,000 hours watching TV and another 10,000 hours playing video games.

What’s really amazing about that is generally (especially this time of year) how crappy TV coverage is. I have written in blogs previously that I believe IP TV is going to change things massively, but of course that will spell the demise of TV as we know it unless broadcasters get on the bandwagon. If they don’t, they will be singing the same song and laying off loads of staff in the same way as the music and newspaper industries are.

One thing that will make a difference is interactivity and in NZ we are way behind on that score, although I did note during the T20 Cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand on Boxing Day on Sky TV, you could vote for your man of the match via your remote control. Normally you have to text and pay a premium, so that’s a start, but NZ is way behind the 8-ball when it comes to TV interaction.

In the December issue of The Futurist John M Smart of Acceleration Future Studies came up with some insightful comments on where TV will go, which should be compulsory reading to broadcasters.

Interactivity was one of those concepts. Two areas he covered were collaborative rating social viewing. Both of these happen independent of TV already, but are not embraced by the broadcasters. For example, kids send each other SMS messages via their mobiles all the time when they watch TV. This has been happening for years. The only way the media has taken advantage of that is for competitions and voting on programs like American Idol, which recorded 178 million votes this year. It’s hard to find out what revenue they got from that because it depended on how you voted and who your carrier was, but you can be certain that signifiucant revenue was made, but I digress.

I was talking about social interactivity. So kids text message each other all the time while they watch TV and with new media such as Twitter, the same thing crosses the age barriers. For example whenever there is a major sporting event on anywhere in the world, people are tweeting in real time and sharing their opinions and passion. I believe this will be huge during the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. It will be happening concurrently around the world via mobile and internet. That would be a great opportunity for Sky TV in New Zealand, NBC, and others to get involved, but I doubt they have the foresight.

Another topic that John Smart covered was ratings. I don’t know how accurate the current TV ratings systems are, but if TV really wants to compete with the Internet, why not give all viewers the ability to rate what they are watching on TV and at the same time  what they are viewing by way of IP broadcast media.

A great thing about the Internet is that it can cater for every taste. I have around 60 channels on my TV, but I have access to so much more media online. Family overseas have access to hundreds of channels, but most of it is reruns of old TV series.

I regularly watch TED videos on my TV via my iPod connected to my home theater, but the interface is ugly and its a pain to connect my notebook to my TV. I don’t have an iPad as yet, but I can certainly see myself getting some sort of IP TV connectivity, whether it is a home media hub (so I can get internet radio as well as YouTube and other products around the house).

Today, according to Smart there are 20,000+ streaming Internet TV Channels including YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe and Viddler. Boxee is an example of a Set Top Box that started off with an open source media software package. Unfortunately many of their services such as Pandora are not available in New Zealand. I’m going to give it a try and see if I can make it work downunder.

I’ll stop here and will come back to this topic as I am just grazing the surface. Leave your comments and bookmark this page if this is of interest to you. This is a very exciting and rapidly changing environment and it will be interesting to see who the winners and losers are in the next 5 years.

Boxee review suggests it has potential, but isn’t quite ready?

Farmville and the new Virtual Economy


The computer gaming industry is of course massive and simulation games have been popular for a long time. Traditionally though, game makers made their money by selling games and upgrades for games. The SIMS being one of the best examples. I must admit to having enjoyed some of their games in the past, especially the classic Sim City.

Zynga has taken this to a whole new level of success with Farmville, a sim game which has become incredibly popular on Facebook. People pay real money to buy virtual tractors and other items in the game. This has now gone to such an extreme that Tesco is now about to start to sell real money vouchers in their stores.

In About Us on Zynga, they emphasize that their games are free, which is totally true, but there are elements in many of their games where you pay money to buy virtual things, or for example in the poker game, to buy back in to the weekly tournament if you lose your chips.

This adds an amazing dimension to this free game business. According to industry experts, as reported on Rev2.org, Zynga could be worth as much as US$5 Billion, which they predict could double in the next 5 years. Seems the concept of free and internet based games may have some commercial merit:)