retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

This being February 2nd it’s hard to avoid some discussion of Groundhog Day and Groundhog Day. The latter, of course, is a movie and the reason Kevin and I wrote The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies is because we believe films can provide easy ways to explain complex situations. And for today’s holiday and today’s business it would be hard to find a better example than this Bill Murray comedy.

The basic plot of the movie is that Murray, an obnoxious and vain Pittsburgh weather man, gets perpetually stuck in Punxsutawney, PA, and daily relives the celebration of America’s best known rodent. But the metaphor is more important. Murray’s character is stuck in his nasty habits and simply never progresses. It isn’t until he tries to change, to learn and to grow that he escapes Groundhog Day.

There’s another way of saying it much more bluntly: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different outcomes. In the best of times that’s an awful strategy. In days like these it’s beyond tolerable for any business.

Against that background, three speeches from last week’s FMI Midwinter Executive Conference bear consideration well beyond the folks who heard it live.

First, let’s revisit the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Project I wrote about last week. The topic - winning back meal time - has been discussed for decades in this industry and probably many of you wondered why it was raised again. The problem is that minus a few exceptions the industry is stuck in the same place, losing sales and meal occasions to restaurants.

Against that backdrop, this becomes a study you have to read to understand the special opportunities presented by the current economic conditions and the perils looming in the nation’s shifting demographics. The suggestions in the study might help you avoid waking up in the same place again and again. (Visit and click on “Eating In.”)

Likewise, many of the topics covered by IRI’s Thom Blishock have been discussed at length before, but also aren’t near completion. It’s easy to argue that the push toward frugality will end as soon as the economy turns around and that shoppers who have spent years enjoying an ever-expanding universe of products choice will never tolerate a reduction. However, if the trends toward frugality and simplicity are for real they play right into the strengths of operators like Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Costco. It’s not like the industry hasn’t seen tectonic shifts in shopping habits before in the wake of economic struggles. Why relive Groundhog Day again?

Lastly, consider the lessons from political strategist David Plouffe no matter how you feel about his best-known client, President Obama. His point was very simple again: focus on your inner circle to build advocates for your business.

Here too is a lesson that we’d think everyone would know. Engaged employees form the foundation for great sales. They become advocates with everyone they touch. Yet too often, especially in tough times, employees’ needs are downplayed, their enthusiasm wanes and problems ensue. And after them there is no one more valuable than a loyal customer, yet how often are product deals and specials are geared at new customers, ignoring and possibly insulting long-time loyalists? As Plouffe said, focus on the base and build from there. It works in politics and it can work for you.

The bottom line is you need to watch Groundhog Day. You need to ask yourself how often you are like Murray’s character, repeating the same day and the same mistakes over and over again and wondering what it takes to end this nightmare. Ask yourself how you could change and grow so that each day takes on great value, meaning and purpose.

And whether or not you see your shadow, get out of that hole.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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