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?

A Good Read About Retail Book Stores and Glenfield Paper Plus


I was pleasantly surprised with some great service from Paper Plus in Glenfield this week and want to share the experience with you. Many book retailers complain that they can’t compete with online stores. Some like Borders might even see the fatalities as a  fait accomplis. I don’t agree.

Inside the Medium

Inside the Medium

So here’s what happened. I got an email from my daughter saying that Kelvin Cruickshank, the psychic medium was going  to be doing a book signing on Tuesday evening at Paper Plus, Glenfield at 6PM. That was too early for us and given that my wife is a big fan and it was her birthday yesterday, I rang to see if I could buy a book and get it autographed without going to the signing.

As an aside, one of the things that I used to love about Borders in the USA was book signings and the ability to even briefly meet authors. It’s not something that Borders in New Zealand ever did much of, in fact sometimes it seemed like the only things Borders in New Zealand had in common with the American stores I loved was the layout, encouragement to grab a book and take it into the in-store cafe and huge width of stock. It’s a shame they didn’t step outside of their business and listen to some of my ideas, because I think they could still be here and profitable, but that’s another story.

So, when I rang the Glenfield store, the response was “I’m sure we can do that for you.” I told them what I would like Kelvin to write with his autograph, gave them my credit card details so they knew I was bona fide.

I arrived yesterday to pick up the book and the two women behind the counter told me that they made sure it was the first thing Kelvin did when he arrived at the store to make sure it happened, because the line of people waiting to meet him and get a book signed was very long. We had a brief discussion and I was able t take away a gift that my wife was thrilled to receive. Having it signed to her, with her name spelled correctly elicited a smile that was priceless.

People are always quick to complain when they are not happy with retail service, but don’t often make an effort to recognise good service, so my Award for Great Service for the Week goes to the ladies at Paper Plus, Glenfield. I don’t live in the area, but I’ll go back in the future because these people care about their customers. They show a genuine interest, I don’t know if they are staff or have equity in the business (which is a franchise). If they are staff, my recommendation to the owners is to recognise them and hang on to them because it is people like that, who can make the difference between buying something online or going into the store. It is of course just one aspect of good retailing, but such a critical one. A great looking well stocked store with staff that don’t like their industry, their managers, or think of it as a just a job, is on a slippery slope.

The Orcon Problem


You have to laugh, or else you would cry. The other day I was complaining about the problems I have had with Orcon for the last 3 months. Today I was going to write an email to Scott Bartlett prior to phoning him in person, but the latest episode means I may have to wait until after the weekend before I start demanding compensation and head for the media in a big way.

Last month my Internet disconnected 696 times and then last weekend I lost my landline phoe altogether. I know some of you laughed at the fact that I have a landline, but as I said, elderly relatives still have landlines and can’t afford the cost of calling mobiles.

Anyway my landline is back and my internet has a few consecutive good days. But if you read my blog before, you will have read that over a 1 month period my internet disconnected 696 times. Did you think that was bad?

Well how about this. Yesterday my Orcon connection dropped 245 times and today so far it has dropped 451 times. In fact my average continuous connection time could be measured in seconds.

So I rang Orcon again this morning and got a friendly guy who asked me if I had line filters in my house. I felt like jumping from my chair, rushing into their call centre and launching a tirade, but I didn’t. I asked him if he had read the story on my account in their CRM.

He has come up with a new idea of applying interleaving which he said could increase latency by up to 10 mSeconds. I’ll have to see what the impact is on my poker tournaments, but in general that doesn’t sound too bad. he said it would take about 2 days for it to have an impact and my next tournament is tonight, but given that last night I couldn’t even check my email, it sounds like a major potential improvement.

I was giong to call Scott Bartlett at Orcon today and demand a refund, demand the 2 for one movie tickets that they promised and then start calling the media. I will wait until Monday and then decide my next step.

Several people who were thinking of joining Orcon have decided not to and my Glenfield rental tenants have just received a package from Orcon which they are going to show me tonight. There is no way they will join Orcon, having heard about my story.

I thought my problems were over, but it seems as though they are getting worse. In this day and age I can’t believe this. I’m busy working on LBS applications, proximity based marketing and all sorts of exciting mobile applications but in 3 months I can’t get a reliable internet connection at home. Just as well I don’t have a home business anymore. I wonder what my associates at the ICT Cluster tonight will think of this.

Would you put up with this?

Judder bars slow down traffic


The road I live on is fairly narrow and is often used as a shortcut from one suburb to the next. Boy racers like to race up the road to the intersection where my house is situated on a corner site, testing out their turbo’s. A few years ago I joined fellow residents in the street and called for a council meeting to do something about it. We asked for a couple of chicanes with side barriers, basically barriers that run at an angle to the road and force people to slow down to navigate around them. But no, North Shore City council decided to put in fairly long judder bars, that is they go up and the road rises for a bit over a car width and then they go down again.

Now 2 things happen, the first is that people coming from the intersection go reasonably slowly over the judder and then plant it going down the hill. The main casualties are pets, although there are accidents from time to time as they get to the first corner and meet someone coming the other way.

The other thing is people come racing up the road and either don’t notice the judder bar or forget it is there until they have hit it at speed, which is pretty silly because it is right before a T junction. Every night we hear the scrapes of car underbellies as their cars get gravel rash and houses on both sides of the road are showing cracks from the impact, although council denies that this is possible.

Last night at 4:30 AM I heard one of these crashes followed by some clattering. It was pretty loud and I jumped out of bed and raced to the windows to see if there had in fact been an accident. I didn’t see anything and went back to bed. This morning, I got a call to say come and have a look on the corner and you can see on the photo what I found. A rubbish truck had managed to fkip itself and land between 2 trees after knocking down a couple of signs. I hope the driver was ok.

It’s pretty obvious what happened. He must have been coming up the road way too fast, didn’t see the judder bar which would have been like a ramp for motor stunts. He would have been airborn on an angle as he realised there was a corner coming, started to turn just before he hit the air, landed on 2 or 3 wheels , overcorrected and flipped.

If we had the chicane we asked for, there may have been some damage to the truck, although only a fraction of what there was as you can see from the photo and the main damage would have been to the driver’s pride. But then I’m not a traffic engineer, I’m just using a little common sense.judderbar.jpgjudderbar.jpgjudderbar.jpg