retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I’m not sure how much national play this story got, but in the New York Metropolitan area it was a news story of some note.

Last week, it seems, actor/comedian/writer Steve Martin, who has just written a serious novel set in the art world, participated in a “conversation” with a New York Times art writer at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, a forum for a lot of speeches, dialogues and various other events focused on politics and culture. During the session, the audience - including people around the country who were watching via closed circuit television - started emailing the Y management, asking why Martin was not talking about his career and, well, being funnier. Halfway through the conversation, someone from the Y even handed the moderator a note and asked her to pose different questions. And when the session was over, the Y offered the refund people’s money, and apologized for the evening not living up to its “standard of excellence.”

I have to admit that I have mixed emotions about this one. Sure, it is important for any organization to responsive to the customer, but this seemed more a reflection of the growing desire for instant gratification. In business, that’s something we all have to be aware of; as has been written here on MNB many times, increasingly, customers want what they want, when they want it, how they want it,, where they want it, at a price they think is appropriate. Otherwise, they may go elsewhere. That’s something we all have factor into our strategic business plans.

However, it also is critical for businesses to understand what they do, and who their customer is ... and have the courage of their convictions. There is such a thing, painful as it can be, as the intelligent loss of business. You can’t be all things to all people, and you can’t be so vanilla that you have no distinguishing characteristics.

In this case, it is good to know that Steve Martin has not lost his sense of humor. He’s come a long way since the wild-and-crazy guy of his stand-up days, writing movies and plays, acting in both serious and comedic roles, and in yesterday’s New York Times, he wrote a brief op-ed piece, saying that the interruption of the on-stage conversation was “as jarring and disheartening as a cellphone jangle during an Act V soliloquy. I did not know who had sent this note nor that it was in response to those e-mails. Regardless, it was hard to get on track, any track, after the note’s arrival, and finally, when I answered submitted questions that had been selected by the people in charge, I knew I would have rather died onstage with art talk than with the predictable questions that had been chosen for me.”

Martin added, “Since that night, the Y has graciously apologized for its hastiness - and I am pleased to say that I look forward to returning there soon, especially to play basketball.”

And that’s our Monday Eye-Opener.
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