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?

Going the Other Way with Happy Maps and more

I have had a crusade going with Map My Run and other map makers for several years, trying to encourage someone to develop new tools to add a little gamification to routing, in my case in the name of exercise.

What I’m wanting seems really simple to me. I want to do lots of walking on roads I haven’t walked on before and as part of that exercise, I want to be able to plan and track the routes I can take on a mapping tool that links with my smartphone. More on this along with some other ideas like the man who used a GPS tracker to spell out a marriage proposal here.

Sounds simple to me, but it seems as though no one else wants it because no one is doing it. At the latest CES there was an interesting app for car routing. Rather than giving you turn by turn directions, it shows uncongested options in green and congested options in red.

Daniele Quercia recently gave a TED presentation (below) on Happy Maps, a concept where rather than choosing the shortest route, you can choose a route based on your mood. A happy route, a quiet route or maybe a route that goes past nice nice buildings or green spaces. It’s not a long video and I think given that you have visited my blog, that you would enjoy it.

He started with the observation that every day he took the same route, which was very busy, then one day he turned off that route and found a nice road that had no traffic on it. At that point I was thinking, “we are on the same page”.

So here’s his presentation. If you check out my other link and you agree with me that it would be a cool feature for Map My Run, or one of their competitors, how about dropping them an email and letting them know I’m not the only one who would like that feature, or leave a comment of support here that I share with them. Maybe someone will get a cool idea and we can all have some fun, getting some exercise and see parts of our cities and the world that we wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy.

So the last word goes to Daniele.

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,200 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Authors Complain About Amazon Kindle Unlimited Service

Authors are complaining that the new ‘all you can eat’ service that people can subscribe to for $9.99 a month, gaining access to over 700,000 books on your Kindle device or app according to this article in the NY Times. Kindle

I think the article is very thorough and recommend it if you are interested in ePublishing, an author or just interested in changing business models.

Buying a HouseI’m a Kindle author myself and have also written White Papers and articles about eBooks for many years. I therefore have an interest except that I am more interested in people benefiting from my knowledge than making money out of it. My most recent book is about the use of Location Based Services in Buying a House.

There are a lot of changes in the way people are writing and publishing. Some people are churning out series of books, targeting a youth audience around SciFi, Zombies and Vampires and doing formula writing. They put a lot of energy into the first book, which is often given away for free, finishing like a TV series with a cliff hanger at the end. If you liked the story, you will possibly pay for ongoing series.

Kindle also offers the ability to make offers like Countdown Deals where you can run promotional deals. I’m running one for a week on the above book starting on 30 December when you can buy it for only $0.99, it then goes up by a dollar a day back to full price on the 6th of January 2015. You might like to grab a copy for yourself or someone you know who is thinking about buying a house in the near future. It could save them hundreds of thousands of dollars or a lot of grief.

Anyway, the reason for this blog was to get people thinking about how they market their books and themselves and how they make money. The article compared the royalties from the Kindle all you can eat service to music services like Spotify (which I also subscribe to) and the fact that the songwriters and artists get minute royalties from these services. I doubt that authors get much from libraries either. I didn’t. I listen to eBooks from my local library whenever I’m in the car alone, many are best sellers and I enjoy them for free.

Smart bands and gigging artists today use any tools they can to get their music heard, whether its downloads, radio, streaming, services like Spotify, iTunes, CD’s or whatever method so that their music gets heard. They build up a fan base. The real money comes from selling merchandise and from live performances. Look at the money even old bands like the Eagles or the Rolling Stones can make from concerts. It’s BIG money!

There are some smart writers like Scott Sigler who exemplify how this is done. He is on every social media you can think of. He does book signings, you can order autographed copies of books. He has merch including shirts, hats, artwork in an online shop. He offers his books for free in episodes as podcasts and hopes that if you enjoy them, you will buy the audio book so that you don’t have to wait a week for the next episode. He goes to conventions, networks and engages with his readers. Despite giving away product, he is a New York Times best seller. He understands that he is competing on a world market and it is not just a matter of write it and they will buy.

The article implies that writers think they can just write and sit back and watch the money roll in, give up their day jobs and if they don’t get rich, its someone else’s fault. The reality is that the business is tough and always has been, but today making good money through self publishing is possible if you are prepared to do the hard yards, but you need to innovate.

It certainly helps to be a consistently good writer and to provide the form that your audience wants to read. But even a great writer still needs to market themselves and recognise that their fans are individual people. Stephen King is another great example. He totally understands that he is writing to his ‘Dear Reader’ and constantly reinvents the way he publishes his books. He also does merchandise, if you liked his latest novel Revival, you can go to his merch store and buy a I Climbed Skytop T-Shirt. He even has an online forum on his site. He even runs competitions from his site (I wasn’t impressed that it was for US residents only though, that was pretty stingy). The point being, he is one of the great big sellers of the last 20 years, but he works as hard above the line as he does on his writing. It’s a case of the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Having just written all this, I’ve just convinced myself that the $9.99 is great value and I’m probably going to sign up once I’ve read all the Kindle books I have already bought. I paid US$15 for Revival so that’s a month and a half’s subscription on its own. Oh and don’t worry Stephen, I will buy a hardcover for my collection as well, because despite being an eBook evangelist from way back (Fictionwise on my Palm Pilot), I also collect books of particular authors that I like. I’ve given over half of my books away, but still have around 2,000 in my music room.

So if you are an author, wanting to make a living from your craft, my suggestion is to allow as much time for marketing as you do for actual writing. If you don’t know what to do, ask someone, ask everyone, look at what people like Scott Sigler and Stephen King do. Don’t just copy them though, think of other ways you can sell your books. Look at creative things that bands do. There are so many cool things you can do, I can think of dozens of merch ideas that people would buy.

Don’t complain. Do something.

10 Things I haven’t been quiet about

I’ve had a few comments suggesting I haven’t been blogging much lately. When it comes to this blog and The Future Diaries I haven’t been prolific lately, but I’ve been pretty active on my SoLoMo Consulting blog.

So, if you’ve missed me, here are 10 things I’ve been writing about lately:

  1. Climate Change Refugees. This one on The Future Diaries where I was looking back from the future when all the expat Kiwis and anyone else that wanted a clean green, safe environment was hightailing it back to New Zealand. Interesting to see recent stats back up that notion with migration hitting a 9 year high with one of the biggest groups this year entering New Zealand was Kiwis who had been away for a long time. When fresh non-recycled water becomes a rare commodity, watch them all run to the bottom of the planet.

    Fresh drinking water that hasn't been recycled

    Fresh drinking water that hasn’t been recycled

  2. Usage Based Insurance. I’ve mostly called it PAYD or Pay As You Drive. This story today is about insurance companies using Fleet Management data to determine risk and charge premiums based on how safe commercial drivers, particularly freight companies drive. Makes sense doesn’t it. Fleet Management would also give insurance companies advanced and near real time geographic risk profiles.
  3. Planning your Thanksgiving travel. The weekend is upon us and it seems ironic that we get together to be thankful, but the process makes it one of the most stressful weekends on the American calendar.
  4. I’ve blogged a lot about your mobile knowing where you are and what you’re up to. Now your mobile is starting to know what building you’re in and which floor you are on and retailers want to know.
  5. 19 car manufacturers have got together to ensure that you don’t stop buying their cars because they have embraced location based services. You want the features but you don’t want to give up your privacy. This is becoming a very hot topic.
  6. Take away all the traffic lights and intersection controls and you end up with safer streets. Really? Well it seems to be working in some places.
  7. Hacking Traffic Systems. I copped some flack from a traffic engineer over this, who said it is an old story and DOT’s are way to smart to risk being hacked. Phew, I am very relieved. No illegal green-waves here!
  8. A smart car ITS corridor in Europe. It makes sense to try it somewhere. Driver-less cars should be tested in a safe environment first IMHO.
  9. How big do you think Virgin Atlantic’s new Google Glass check-in service will be at your local airport? It may be a breeze, but I think there will be a lot of breeze between people who will use it.
  10. There is always a story about someone who crashes their vehicle and says the GPS nav made me do it. Here’s one about a truck driver who drove into a public park in Milwaukee and blamed his nav.

So as you can see, my fingers haven’t been idle. Hopefully there’s at least one story here to attract your interest and maybe a comment.

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.

209 years from now, what will be in the history books about today?

MilneToday is the anniversary of the opening of the 1st US auto manufacturer Duryea Motor Wagon Company back in 1895.

I wonder what someone is doing today that will be in the history books in 209 years.Of course there won’t be ‘books’ as we know them other than perhaps in museums.Just like kids today ask what those black vinyl things are in the sleeves on shelves or in boxes.

Sometimes we just take things for granted all our lives and suddenly they seem to be meaningless. I took a pile of books over to a family member yesterday, one of her favorite authors and whilst she likes the author “I only read on my Kindle now. I can lie back on the bed, even in the dark and it’s just so convenient.”

I can’t imagine we’ll have cell phones in 200 years. Of course we’ll communicate, but how will it take place? I struggle to imagine. It could be a watch, or glasses, but I doubt it. Perhaps an ear-ring or something fashionable. It probably won’t be an implant for security and other reasons, but I doubt if we saw what they use, they we would recognize what it was. Imagine showing an iPhone to a family a hundred years ago.