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 Location Based Services Knowledge Gap

Sometimes I get so frustrated I could scream. Of course I don’t I’m a guy and as a songwriter I need my voice. I’ve given this blog the title of Location Based Services but this really applies to a lot of things. Basically what frustrates me is I see so many people missing out on business revenue and profit because they are so busy working in their business that they can’t see amazing opportunities staring them in the face.

I’m presenting at the Mobile Marketing Forum in Auckland next month. My topic is Using location-based mobile apps, you can read more on the link above. As part of the research I’ve been doing for my presentation I’ve been talking to a lot of people. I don’t really go for canned presentations, I want to be learning as well as sharing what I’ve learned.

Mobile Marketing Forum

So fundamentally here’s what I’ve learned, over and over again for more years than I care to admit. When it comes to technology there are people in the industry who take it for granted and people who have no idea what it is all about. The latter being the ones that actually need it.

Over the years I’ve made other people a lot of money buy showing them things about their business that were obvious to me, but needed to be explained in their terms of reference. I’ve done that in many industries over the years because most of my roles have been problem solving roles in one form or another, whether self employed or otherwise.

It all started when I was at primary school and was told that by the time I reached my 40’s my problem would be what to do with my spare time, because technology would do all the work for us and based on Maslow and Herzberg et al, I would be focusing on higher things like the arts. Well here’s some news, I don’t have spare time, hence the recent blog-fade.


This is going to become a series, so if I haven’t bored you already and you are in business, you might find a few little gems here that can help you earn an unfair share of income for your business.

Many bricks and mortar business, locations that people go to aren’t doing so well. I’m talking about bookstores, music stores, furniture stores, cafes and restaurants, tourism activities, the list goes on and covers most industries. This isn’t limited to small businesses which typically turn over every 18 months of so due to cash flow problems, or finding that its just too hard to make a living, I’m also talking about big business like Whitcoulls and Borders.

The biggest problem these companies have isn’t their industry, it isn’t the internet, its that they just swim with the tide, doing what they’ve always done and complain when they get the same result. In the case of Borders, in New Zealand they didn’t even do what Borders did in their heyday in the USA.

There have always been competitors and new kids on the block competing with them on price. That could be a McDonalds starting up next door to a Wendy’s or a local fish and chip shop. Whitcoulls and Borders will complain that the problem is Amazon and other Internet stores. The music shop will blame iTunes.

I blame the education system for not teaching people to have fun thinking outside of the square and I blame the retailers for not looking outside of the square. I blame the accountants for being bean counters and not giving good guidance. I blame the business mentors who in my own personal experience just told me about the business basics that I already knew and that I was doing all the right things. They added no value.

It looks like Borders might cease to exist in the near future after they have thrown out the trash in their big garage sales. It doesn’t have to be like that. I can see lots of things they can do to make those awesome stores thrive. But of course they don’t know me and don’t ask me. Why would they? At the very least because I am a big customer. Do they ask their customers what they want? I have a large library even after donating around 1,000 books to charity a year ago. I wonder who they do ask? If they did ask me I would have a pretty big list of simple things they could do that could not only turn them a profit again, but could see them become a highly popular destination. Anyway, that probably won’t happen and isn’t the topic of this blog.

Many web developers and marketers are becoming like TV stations. Another industry following the radio stations and the record companies like lemmings off a water slide. They get a few goes at it but they keep repeating those goes in the same way. Like reality TV, once someone made money out of a concept, lets repeat it all over the world with lots of different versions, like runway models, fat people, survival, cooking shows. Boring and lack of imagination means less advertising revenue, means lets try to make even cheaper shows.

Web developers are racing each other to make one day sale applications. In New Zealand there are already at least 100 sites. There is room in the market for maybe 10 in my humble opinion. The others will go broke, sorry but unless you have a unique USP, nobody is going to buy your web site, you will just throw money and time at it and once your suppliers have dumped their distressed inventory, they don’t need you any more. They actually will be wanting people back in their stores where they can use them as loss leaders and marketing tools.

When I studied the Advanced Certificate in Retail, attended training at Arthur Anderson in Chicago and lectures in New York at the National Retail Merchants Association conferences, they still said the number one thing in retail is Location, Location, Location. Some things don’t change and that is that people like to shop, this is more so for women, but if it is the right product men will equally enjoy a bit of retail therapy.

Location Based Marketing tools for mobile phones are one way that can get people into your store or destination. One of the applications I will be talking about at the  Mobile Marketing Forum is Foursquare. I will be talking about my experiences when I went to retailers, showed them they were already on Foursquare (which they thought was the local Foodstuffs C-Store), told them they could run promotions on it for free and get new business, complete with analytics.

They were amazed to see that people were using Foursquare to check in to their business, getting badges, becoming Mayor and they had no idea at all what it meant. They have a gift on a platter which is invisible to them. They think it is a joke, a game, they don’t get it and therefore they don’t get the profit that could come with it. The people using Foursquare on their mobiles wonder why there aren’t more deals available, but enjoy the tips and consumer advocacy that helps them make their buying decisions.

For example:


  • There are several hotels in Auckland offering free WiFi for half an hour for people who pop in for a coffee even if they are not guests of the hotel.
  • There are fast food outlets offering free drinks and if you are the Mayor, free burgers as well.
  • I’m told if you go to some Wendy’s stores, the tips say “Always check your order before you go to your car because this store always gets it wrong”.
  • There are tips for stores like Giapo saying, “you have to go here, the gelato is to die for, the best in the world!”

The user of Foursquare (just one of the many location based apps available) gets prompted when they check in, in the locality of these places and gets told that there are deals available. The reality is that currently in New Zealand there are not that many people offering deals, so this is a brilliant opportunity for destination locations to shine, oh and did I tell you its free?

The main benefit currently to users besides winning points and badges, is they can get consumer advocacy and learn from their peers where to go and where not to go. They can meet friends and associates that they know in person or have met through social media applications. If retail businesses took advantage of these solutions and did it well, they could see huge turn around in their business for a small amount of effort, mostly in downtime.

They need to ask some questions, feel free to ask me questions. What would you like in your business?

  • New customers that you can treat special and turn into repeat customers?
  • Customers who want to rave about how great your store and product is?
  • Higher stock turns and less aged stock?
  • Higher table turns?
  • More bums on seats?
  • More people enjoying your attractions?
  • People telling other people to visit your business because its great?
  • To sell your business to whoever will take it and make your staff redundant?
All of these are possible and there for the taking. It’s not rocket science. You don’t stop doing the basics (although some of you have), you move with the times, swim upstream with the salmon, have lots of fun, share your passion and watch the money roll in.
And I will stop pulling my hair out.
What do you reckon? Subscribe to the blog, pass it on, pick up the RSS feed and leave a comment? I like helping people and seeing their dreams fulfilled.