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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Eating the Retail Elephant One Bite at a Time (Articles of Interest from March '17)

Each month, I send a list of my favorite articles from the past month to a group of individuals that I have met along my journey. This month, most of the articles centered around the current state of retail and as I read thru the different articles, I was reminded of the “Elephant and the Blind Man” parable:

(credit: Sufi Story…Elephant & blind sages by Blanca Marti for Equilibre) In a distant village, a long time ago, there lived six blind men. One day the villagers announced, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.” They had never seen or felt an elephant before and so decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” And thus they went down to the village to touch and feel the elephant to learn what animal this was and they described it as follows:

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! It is like a rope,” argued the second after touching the tail.

“Oh, no! It is like a thick branch of a tree,” the third man spouted after touching the trunk.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man feeling the ear.

“It is like a huge wall,” sounded the fifth man who groped the belly.

“It is like a solid pipe,” said the sixth man with the tusk in his hand.

They all fell into heated argument as to who was right in describing the big beast, all sticking to their own perception. A wise sage happened to hear the argument, stopped and asked them “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.”

The wise man then calmly said, “Each one of you is correct; and each one of you is wrong. Because each one of you had only touched a part of the elephant’s body. Thus you only have a partial view of the animal. If you put your partial views together, you will get an idea of what an elephant looks like.”

Regardless of your current point of view, people will always buy and people will always sell. In the process will be the makers and the marketers. We just need to continually improve how we do both. And that is what is exciting, the chance to continually improve! I hope you enjoy this month’s articles. . .

RETAILDIVE.COM: Report: Q1 on track for worst retail earnings since late 2014 Many of you aren’t in the retail industry, but most of you have been through a time when a sector is experience this kind of “churn”. And unlike results that are tied directly to an economic downturn, this seems to be a bit more of a significant shift in consumer behavior. Thought I would start with this article to frame up the rest. . .

BUSINESSINSIDER.COM: The retail apocalypse has officially descended on America So not only is Q1 on track for the worst earnings since late 2014, but now we break out a word like “apocalypse.” And it is not hard to grasp at that word when you consider the amount of change and specifically closures and restructurings that are going on.

FORBES.COM: These 21 Retailers Are Closing 3,591 Stores -- Who Is Next? My father would call me adding this article “gilding the lily”, since the last article already highlights the numbers of stores closing in 2017. But just in case you didn’t read it, this headline will grab you and reinforce the point.

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: E-Commerce Is Not Eating Retail I love this particular quote, “…scary articles completely miss the real story. And panicked retailers who get confused about what’s really happening will head off in dangerous directions.” There is zero doubt that digital is forever changing the retail landscape. But the thought that e-commerce is the main reason and that bricks and mortar retailers have lost all control over their destiny, those that are redefining the retail space simply don’t accept this premise.

NPD.COM: 10 Ways to Win Over Consumers in 2017 “Consumers don’t want to acquire more stuff, they want to do more stuff”, says Marshal Cohen, the chief retail analyst for NPD. This creates an interesting convergence for retailers today – first, how can you elevate what you offer to what a customer really wants or needs and second, how can you make the shopping journey part of an experience that is worth having. The article begins this discussion and goes into several high level thought starters.

INC.COM: This Brilliant Harvard Professor Will Change the Way You Think About Products It is a short article – and one I enjoyed reading. If customers need less “stuff”, maybe we should think about the stuff that is made differently. The article offers a completely different view as to why a customer buys a product, proffering instead why a customer “hires” a product. It would take me more words than the actual article to explain it. It is worth the read.

BUSINESSOFFASHION.COM: Adidas to Mass-Produce 3D-Printed Shoes Several of the sneaker manufacturers are using 3D printing, but mainly for sample production. Adidas is one of the first to role it out for production, which will cut their lead times from concept development to store delivery. However, imagine what happens to the ecommerce model when 3D footwear can be printed right at a bricks and mortar location?

QZ.COM: An Uber model for manufacturing is ready to upend the industry Most of you are very familiar with the “sharing economy” model that has driving Uber, Lyft, airbnb, and others. . .I have something of value. . .a car, a house, a possession, or event time, and I can create added value out of it by “sharing” it for a fee. It may have its pain points, but it is changing the way that we live. This concept is in the early stages, but as new companies look for products that the customer will eventually covet, this could bring them to market cheaper, better, and faster.

BUSINESSINSIDER.COM: There's a growing movement of surgery centers and specialists that list their prices and don't take insurance Plato is believed to have offered that “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, healthcare is in need of change and this article highlights a company taking a different approach and bringing value and care into healthcare.

WSJ.COM: Amazon’s Free Shipping Pushes Small Retailers, Delivery Firms to Compete Amazon this, Amazon that…I’m quite sure that kids are no longer blaming the dog for eating their homework, they are working Amazon into the list of excuses. The reality is that as well as Amazon is doing, it is also forcing business to rethink their models, which ultimately is good for the consumer. In the end, retail won’t be dominated by one company but by better business models that better serve customers.

BUSINESSINSIDER.COM: Target is fixing the most annoying part of shopping there I rarely post articles about specific chains, but in this case, this highlights what many are doing – rethinking the retail space to create more convenience, excitement and engagement for today’s customer. Stores were built before to be a labyrinth, a closed off maze that drew you in for essentials and had you leaving with “stuff” you never needed. The stores of tomorrow will allow you to navigate quickly, but “explore” as you go through helpful suggestions, as the web does today. With the added value of excitement and engagement throughout the journey.

ADAGE.COM: How Halo Top Is Conquering the Ice Cream Biz -- Without Ads Ask me how many of these damn containers I have in my freezer. . .so whatever they are doing seems to be working with my wife. And yes, I took on the challenge of eating a whole pint one night after a tough day. . .and I felt better!

INC.COM: We Need To Rethink How We Educate Kids To Tackle The Jobs Of The Future While we are focused on the future of retail and other industries, it pays to think about the future of those who will fill jobs that have yet to even be created. New skill sets, new ways of thinking, and new ways of interacting with each other – a worthwhile investment. I am interested in your thoughts.

I have a “love – hate” relationship with Richard Branson. I love his take on irreverent, customer oriented branding, but when I read one of his books, the chances that he has taken in his life completely scare the crap out of me. That said, this is the perfect article to end with. . .as I am about to take a few days off with my wife and daughter and drive through the Virginia countryside. Take in a Richmond Flying Squirrels game, sit in the hot springs, see the Natural Bride, hike the Blue Ridge Mountains (well, maybe not “hike”, but go for a nice walk). And I think for a couple of days, I am going to go electronics free. Well, except Instagram. It isn’t a vacation if you don’t post your pictures online, right?

VIRGIN.COM: What happens to your brain when you don't switch off?

I will leave you with this quote, given the nature of the articles that I posted this month: “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” – Pablo Picasso

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