Retailer Shuts Shop – Why Retailers Fail

I was sad to read a story in my local newspaper, North Shore Times about a Glenfield hardware store McPherson’s Hammer Hardware, which is going to close in a couple of months. Firstly I as going to share a link with you, but the aforementioned newspaper has a system that requires you sign up to their digital version if you want to share a story, and likewise, probably if you want to read from a link. I do not provide links for my readers to sites like that.

I used to live in Glenfield and visit this story and I remember asking them how they stay in business. The owner, John MacPherson told me it was about community, having those little things that the big stores make you buy in bulk, advice on how to do things, friendly service, remembering people’s names, the little things that come with community retail.

The newspaper story goes on to quote that he has probably hasn’t been making a profit for 6-7 years, but hung in there. He points out that the DIY super-stores and Internet have changed the game and that even the major stores/chains suffer from sluggish consumer spending.

He’s not wrong, but the key word is change. I love the world of retail, I used to have the privilege go to the NRF in New York and FMI Connect in Chicago and bring back ideas to write about in retail magazines, share with my resellers and speak about at conferences around the world. This was important because many of our retailers couldn’t afford to go to those conferences, but learning new ideas, particularly from people who have proven experience, is how business evolves.

It doesn’t really matter what business you are in, you have to evolve to meet the demands and opportunities presented as society evolves. As John said in the North Shore Times article, “In Glenfield we had a haberdashery (incorrectly spelled in the newspaper, I had to look it up to find out what it was), greengrocer, butcher, it was a great mix”. It went on to say they were boom times.

So here’s the thing, it is still boom times for those businesses that want to keep up with the times. The problem that retailers used to tell me was that they didn’t have time to keep up with the times. They were too busy starting early in the morning cleaning the shop, doing stock takes, placing and chasing orders, talking to merchandising reps, ringing customers to say their widget had arrived, preparing the float and a myriad of other things. In hindsight, those retailers, from John McPherson’s Hammer Hardware in Glenfield, through to Borders and other retailers should have found the time to look at how some businesses were thriving, while others weren’t.

When they went on their holidays, they could have combined them with visits to businesses and conferences that showed how some retailers were managing in the new world of mobile and tablet, of connected customers. They could have seen new products that aren’t available in NZ, they could have combined bricks and mortar with online themselves. I appreciate how hard it is to run a business, I have run several businesses over the years and worked in companies from small to multinational and the common thread is that those who looked ahead continue to do well, those who looked to their original training and just repeated what they had learned, which may have been best practice in the 70’s or whenever, will have done well for a while, but aren’t there any more.

People still want to have experiential retail, they still want to see and touch, ask questions, they even want to see people like John McPherson stick around and stay in business, but they can’t advise him on what to do to stay in business and get back into the black.It’s tough, but the time to get ahead in business is when you are ahead and you have the resources to go and do some training, bring in a consultant, go attend a conference. I used to speak regularly at retail conferences in New Zealand and what was really frustrating was that the people attending were those that needed it the least, because they were looking ahead and staying up with the times. The ones that needed it the most didn’t go, probably didn’t read the specialist trade magazines, ask their suppliers for knowledge or go to the trade shows. They were too busy. Now they are either out of business or heading out. Is it too late, not necessarily, but it will be much harder, even to change the mindset. When things get tough, many go even farther back into doing what they used to do, even doing it harder. That’s not the answer.

Back when business was booming for people like John McPherson, Bob Dylan was singing The Times They are a Changing. He was so right. “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.” Listen to the lyrics, they are prophetic. But this is no different to 200 year ago. The times are always changing.

We are still buying all the things we used to buy and more. Some business models have been and gone, but others are growing in a big way. We are still a DIY country, that’s why we have the mega stores, but there is still room for specialists, room to be a community and have community involvement in business, there are so many opportunities. Whether it is classes at the back of the store teaching people how to do things, or a new section selling 3D printers and teaching kids how to make things, using location based mobile services to find people who are looking for what you have, supplementing your business by selling items you can’t afford to stock, online.

I’ll finish with a question. Why is it that I can buy a set of my favorite guitar strings online from a retailer in the USA, 75% cheaper than the same product in New Zealand? The local retailer will say that’s because the guy in the USA doesn’t have a shop to run. But the fact is they do, Elderly Instruments has a bricks and mortar store in Lansing, Michigan, they have bands playing in it, they have workshops for musicians, they just supplement that with online sales. I recently contacted them because I couldn’t get help from local retailers to fix a broken part on my Dobro. I had personal emails, just the same service that John provides in his hardware store and I’ve managed to repair it myself with the parts they sold me. Doing business with them was so easy. If I lived in Michigan, I would go and by from their store and I’d even be prepared to pay a little more, heck I’d buy more anyway just because I like doing business with them and they like what they do and know what they are talking about.

So I’ll finish on a saying that is one that has killed many a good retail business. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Have a look around you right now and ask yourself how many of the things you take for granted would be there if everyone had said that back in 1970, let alone 1870?

Martin Fenwick Should be Gruntled Right Now

Last week I had the privilege of attending a training program run by Martin Fenwick, author of The Change Factor: Insights For Leaders of Change. As a subscriber of my blogs including SoLoMo Consulting and The Future Diaries, you will know that change has been a major motivating factor in my life as a futurist, right back to the promise made to me and my contemporaries, that my problem in the future would be what to do with my spare time, as automation took care  of the majority of our human workloads.

BORDER-CLOSEDChangeI am passionate about change and the need for traditional businesses to embrace and create change, less it be foisted on them by a competing business model. Some examples of my thoughts on the book industry that you may have previously read are here.

Anyway, I am also passionate about languages and particularly the English language, whether it is new TXT language which can have me ROFLMAO, grokking people or in this case we were wondering if there was a word gruntled, being the opposite of dis-gruntled. One of my colleagues checked on her iPhone and sure enough, there is such a word and it is in all the dictionaries.

I was interested to read on Merriam-Webster that it was first known to be used in 1926. I thought it would have gone back way farther. Never mind. The conversation went on to influence and we thought it would be interesting if we could get other people using it. I, typically suggested that I would see if I could spread it’s use with a #hashtag, which I have duly started doing. So if you look for #gruntled it is likely to stem back to a tweet or a Facebook post from me, which was motivated by the training session with Martin Fenwick.

Why bother? Why do people do flash-mobs or climb mountains? Because it can be fun and interesting. One of the things that really interests me and that I frequently research is fads and trends. How do they start? How are people influenced? What makes some things work and others not? How can you get people to do things that are good for the community (such as pay attention to recommendations about real time traffic and helping avoid congestion).

So here’s your task. Leave a comment or post a tweet with the hashtag #gruntled. RT or share this post and lets see if we can’t get people using the word. It could be a great conversation starter for you. I’m feeling gruntled today, how about you? If you think it’s a cool idea, tell him so on Twitter. Let him know you’re pretty gruntled about it.

Nice One Orcon

317019_10150310135863188_76190173187_7703929_5794010_nWhy is it that the little things are so hard? Why do I really dislike credit departments? Do you know how yours talks to your customers?

So today I got home after a long but great day at the office. I found a ‘letter’ from Orcon saying that I had 5 days to pay my overdue account or risk getting my phone and Internet disconnected. I previously took up the option to pay by American Express to make sure that it was always paid on time, along with my power bill.

I rang Orcon and their credit department answered way faster than their support help desk ever has, less than a minute! I gave them my details and said I had received the letter and the person on the phone (Philippines accent I think) responded with “and when are you going to pay it?” I was taken aback. As far as I knew, it was always paid on time by Amex.

It transpired that my Amex card expired at the end of July, but I never received the replacement that American Express subsequently told me they had sent. I didn’t receive anything from Amex asking why the card had not been authenticated, nor did I receive anything from Orcon saying the account hadn’t been paid. I spend over a thousand dollars a year with Orcon, so at least a response like “How may I help you?” Rather than “when are you going to pay?” might have been nice.

So Orcon, I paid your account, that I didn’t know was overdue, on my Visa and American Express will no longer get a commission on that monthly transaction.

If you know that’s how your ‘Accounts Receivable’ treat your customers, you should also know that they don’t like it.

The last company that spoke to me like that was GE Money, through which I once bought a Canon SLR camera on 12 months interest free and was about 5 days overdue (because I didn’t get a reminder note from them). That was about 5 years ago and I have never used them again and told lots of people who follow me, my story.

Maybe it’s time to shop around and see what packages your competitors are offering, Orcon….. I’m sure my blog and social media followers would welcome my opinion. For everyone else, if you use 3rd party call centers, it’s a good idea to check them out as a customer once in a while and see how they are representing your business, because they are your front desk, especially if you don’t have a bricks and mortar presence.

How Do You Keep Up With the Massive Changes Affecting Your Business?

How do you keep up with the changing environment you live and work in? Technology is a moving target as are many other elements that shape our environment. There are so many facets to our industries that constantly change while you are trying to keep your business going the best way you know how. 

There are a  number of options. You can join business groups, buy industry magazines, search the Internet, follow social media and talk to others in your industry. So now you are working a 16 hour day and not necessarily making much more progress. Why? Because you are so focussed on doing Business As Usual and your view is based on your insider knowledge, bias and training.

What else can you do? One option is bring someone like me in as a consultant. As a Futurist I scan data using tools I have learned, my own experience in business and a wide focus on STEEP, whilst also having no skin in your business and therefore an objectivity that is hard to find when you have been making decisions that you are financially and emotionally attached to.

What is STEEP? It is about looking at the world and elements within it from the perspective of a wide range of elements and wild cards which make up the world. These key 5 elements are Society, Technology, Environment, Economics and Politics.

Take those 5 elements and apply them to your Business Plan. What is going on in your world right now in relation to STEEP? How might each element impact on your new product launch or sales plan? I would welcome your comments. 

One of the elements of foresight is being able to find connections between seemingly irrelevant  factoids or situations and understand what they mean. Then on top of that sometimes there are wild cards to be considered. What would happen if……..

When you look at information in isolation there are many risks. People form opinions based on snippets of information without seeing the full picture. They assume other people’s opinions, perhaps also based on bias or limited information. People often form opinions or carry them forward based on old data, often not even knowing that it is old data. For example, you may see a RT on Twitter and think it is current information, when in fact it has been retweeted by people for a week. Think about the disinformation that went around in Boston recently. Once it flies around it is very hard to know which information is current and correct.

Unleashing the Road Warrior

Unleashing the Road Warrior

Currency of information is hard to find these days. When a book comes out, by the time it has been printed it is already out of date. When I published Unleashing The Road Warrior, which took me about 6 months to write, it had a currency of about 2 years. After that, all the technology I wrote about was out of date.

We are frequently bombarded with little pieces of information, parts of stories, brief nuggets of 10 ways to be better at something, or 5 ways to become a social media superstar and double your sales. If only it was that easy.

Is there a simple answer? No, there isn’t. However in today’s world, we are connected to many people who are experts in certain areas. There are also people who maintain they are, when they are not. Start by connecting to people who really do know what they are doing. Ask people you know and trust. Check out their credentials. LinkedIn is a good place to start from a business perspective. Are they well connected? Have they been endorsed or recommended? Do you know people that they are connected with that you can talk to?

There are 3 types of people in the world. Those that make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Don’t be in the last group if you want to go forward, but also be careful where you get your counsel from.

As a footnote, if you are in New Zealand, or somewhere else where similar things are happening. Fairfax is said to be closing down in both print and online Computerworld NZ, PC World and Reseller News. So where will you be looking for information on your next technology investment or foray? I welcome your comments.

The Idea Factory

When and where are the best places to get ideas, or refine them so that you can act on them? For me it is in the shower.

The Idea Factory

The Idea Factory

Like you, I am a very busy person, I have multiple business interests and time to focus on the big picture is often hard to find. I have a daily plan that I work through, I’m big on scheduling, task lists and making sure I achieve what I want from each day, but what is really important is working on the business as well as in the business and the same with my personal life.

I let my subconscious work while I sleep and when I wake I have a mind full of new ideas. Before I give it free reign, I add to the melee by listening to a podcast on my iPhone while I shave. At the moment I have been listening to a lot of This Is Your Life podcasts by Michael Hyatt. I find they put me in the right frame of mind.

I also have Evernote running in background mode and often during a shave, or while I’m toweling down after my shower, I race to a towel  dry my hands and add a task, a thought or a URL into the appropriate notepad, so I don’t lose it. As a songwriter, I learned long ago that you can have some great moments of inspiration, only to lose them again when you are distracted by life.

So here are my thoughts for you as a busy person. You probably have great ideas in the shower too. Make sure that you are in a position to make sure that you don’t lose track of them. The thing about the first shower of the day is that your mind hasn’t yet been cluttered, its at its most creative, at least for a morning person like me.

So where is your idea factory? Where does your thinking cap work best?




What is a Blog and How do I Get One?

Everyone is talking about writing blogs. In the world of IT and in large companies, people are writing online. It might be newsletters, articles, pages on websites and of course social media. That’s all very well for people that like writing and can do it well, but what about busy people working in their SME business? What about people who are good at what they do but are not good at writing?

I’m not going to tell you in detail what a blog is. The web is full of explanations, Wikipedia, defines it as well as anyone here. A blog is effectively an easy tool to allow you to share your passion and message with the world. It’s a way to attract new clients, to share your knowledge, to engage with people with a common interest, a way to share stories.

A blog can contain photos, video, music, polls and much more. You can allow people to comment, you can create categories of information, add keywords to help people find your information when they are looking for what you have and much more. It is also chronological and that is very important. If you are going to blog, you need to be doing it regularly so that people know there will be new information coming. They can subscribe to it and get involved with you and your brand.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Why blog? If you don’t know the answer to that, skip the rest of this. If you have a bit of an idea, then start focusing on it. What is your end game? Do you want customers to buy your goods or services? Do you want to add value and inform people about things you are excited about? Do you want to raise your profile? Do you want new customers, or to keep existing ones? if you don’t have a goal, you’re going to have a pointless blog.
  2. Why would people read your blog? You don’t want to be preaching to the converted. You don’t want to be telling people what they already know, which a lot of blog writers do. If you are in business, what sort of questions do customers often ask you? Why do they come to you, I frequently hear people say their customers go to them because they have product knowledge. I would put it to you that if you have product knowledge, you have passion. People will read your blog for the same reason they do business with you, you have a common interest, you have helpful information and you care.
  3. How often should you blog? At least a couple of times a week or people will forget about you. Search engines will pick up on your blog is they see there is regular content and you will rise higher up the rankings and more people will find you. That might sound a lot, but they don’t have to be long. In fact any longer than this and people may well stop reading.
  4. What sort of writing style should you use? It needs to be easy to read, almost like having a conversation, but leave out the slang and the industry jargon. It also needs excellent spelling and grammar. This is a professional conversation.
  5. What should you write about? Keep it relevant to your goals and your target audience. When I was studying songwriting a common thread was write about what you know. As above, what do you know that will be useful to your reader?
  6. I want to write but I don’t have time. Then contact someone like me. You can email me at  I can get you started with your online writing and help you start the conversation.

Blogging is of course only one form of online content writing. There are newsletters, white papers, online magazines, websites and much more. What is great about a blog is that there are easy to use and often free tools. It is all kept in one place, but keeps growing. You can go back and add to stories, you can edit them if you want to. You also get analytics which means you can find out how many people are reading your blog and even what part of the world they come from. Once you get started it’s a lot of fun. Want to get started?

Here are a few blogs that I write. SoLoMo Consulting is all about Location Based Services. The Future Diaries is fiction of sorts with my futurist hat on. I pretend to be some years in the future talking about things that might be coming, mostly about technology. Imersia NZ is one I collaborate on with my colleagues at Imersia. I have more, but these will give you a bit of a mix, showing different ways of presenting information for different reasons. Of course you have already found this one, which comprises everything from technology to soapbox rants.

IS1380016f there is one final rule I would add, it would be have fun. So we have some empty chairs sitting there waiting to be filled by people who are interested in what you have to say. Let’s start the conversation:)

Why is Telecom Making 1500 staff Redundant?

telephoneTelecom is once again making a large number of staff redundant. According to Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran up to 1,500 people will lose their jobs. This is the result of a planned restructure, although Telecom is not prepared to confirm the numbers. My question is how did Telecom get to a position where they were so overstaffed? You don’t suddenly find you have 1,500 people more than you need on the payroll, do you? 

I started my career with Telecom as a Technical Service Officer back in the day when they had 26,000 staff and was part of NZ Post, which all changed back in the late 1980’s. I joined them because at school they taught us that the communications age was on us and I had a fascination for the future from the age of 7 or 8, reading the Science Fiction greats.

I went to Post Office Technical Training School on College Hill in Auckland and enjoyed a phenomenal education, covering all elements of technology from engineering and how transistors work, through to how exchanges work, management and people skills and everything in between. My training included working in the different types of telephone exchanges, working with fault-men, linesmen, cable jointers, engineers, radio and much more. I loved my job. I loved learning and was one of only two people over the years to score 100% in most of my exams.

I recognized early on though, that the ‘system’ that provided people with 40 year gold watch careers was fatally flawed and whilst the education was world class, HR was pretty much non existent. Promotion was based on a system called ‘Reporting’ where each year we were asked to rate, rank and comment our colleagues, who spent the month before, almost like politicians going to all the colleagues, saying “I’ll give you a good report if you do the same for me.”

PeterI saw totally incompetent people rise to the top of the flock, whilst others continued to work their 24 hour shifts who really should have been making the move into management, because they had the people skills, experience and the ability to take on senior decision making roles. That was my second experience of the Peter Principle, the problem was that it wasn’t one off, it was institutionalized. Telecom was an old school Government Department and whilst many of us worked very hard, those who didn’t want to, could graze on the effort of those who did. If the organisation was better managed and only staffed by people who wanted to work, we could have easily cut 5,000 from the staff without significant reduction in productivity.

I left Telecom at the time, because I wanted to grow into a management career, but I also wanted to be working in the industry with a company that was forward thinking and fortunately I found  7 year career opportunity at Tait Electronics, who I subsequently left to move to a more senior level in another ICT company.

After I left, Telecom made many of my colleagues redundant. 6 months later they found out they couldn’t function without their skills and brought many of them back as contractors (some of whom stayed for more than 10 years) on a significantly increased pay scale. They did the same jobs, but as self employed people, and it cost Telecom much more.

There seems to be, in my opinion, a major problem that creeps into corporates. The bigger they get, the more politics comes into play, just as it did back in the day. They become inefficient, decisions are often made in the interests of senior people, rather than in the interest of the company. They add on staff to grow empires and create division after division of people to fill roles that aren’t necessarily needed, often at the cost of other areas that are not well served.

Telecom spokesperson Andrew Pirie told Stuff that “while job reductions would occur across the board at Telecom, many of the cuts would be to middle management functions in administrative areas such as finance and human resources.” That begs the question of why there are so many people in those roles in the first place. I can understand that there could be a couple of dozen people in a company of that size that from time to time need to change roles, departments or as focus changes, may find their positions redundant. I have to ask though, how does a corporate get to a position where they have 1500 people more than they need?

Who is responsible to the shareholders and the staff for allowing this to happen? Are the shareholders asking questions as to why their share value is going down, if those staff were redundant, why were they employed? What has changed? The classic result then would be that someone will have to fall on the sword, but I think perhaps the discussion should start with Minister Steven Joyce asking some serious questions. Problem is, he’s still asking questions about Novopay. Don’t get me started on our education system. I’ll leave that for another day’s soap box about how we are paying lip service to the importance of the future of our children, tomorrow’s leaders and the teachers who we have been let down so badly, but continue to serve for the sake of the children.

So the good news is that Rod Drury of Xero and Ian McCrae of Orion Health are looking for quality staff and are struggling to find them here. The bad news is that Telecom is saying that most of the people being made redundant aren’t the ICT people that Rod and Ian want.