retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Settling into our seats at a concert by the Baltimore Symphony last week, my wife and I both felt some trepidation. For even though our son is a classical musician, we aren’t really all that educated in classical music so the evening could have gone badly. Yet this night promised to be - and was - different.

That’s because this concert featured the music (complete with impersonators) of the Beatles. Suddenly, despite our knowledge of classical music, we were enthralled. Seeing old favorites like A Day in the Life, Penny Lane or The Long and Winding Road performed by a rock band with a symphony gave us a whole new experience. Best of all, it has up contemplating a trip back even if the Beatles aren’t on the program. Our eyes were opened.

That’s what creativity does. It gets people out of their comfort zone, contemplating experiences and purchases they might otherwise have skipped. It’s easy to think about that this week as we witness all the hoopla around Harry Potter and his final film. In many ways, the lesson of the boy wizard is just like what we found at the symphony, but it has nothing to do with movies.

In many ways, Harry Potter author/creator J.K. Rowling changed the world that we knew and built a business success by turning conventional wisdom on its ear. It’s a lesson all businesses - especially supermarkets - can and should appreciate.

Think back to 1997 when Harry first came on the scene. You may remember endless discussions about the death of reading. There was considerable concern that children worldwide were spending all their time on computer games and that books and reading skills were wasting away. Yes there were many classic books and new arrivals such as American Girls that were finding ways to interest a new generation in reading (and merchandise.) But Harry Potter was different.

As John Granger wrote in the Washington Post this Sunday, Harry Potter stories were told with a flair, fun and imagination that drew young people eagerly back to books. Rowling built an environment where her novels were breathlessly awaited and consumed by her audience and other authors followed, finding new ways to make books, plot lines and reading current, exciting and exhilarating. Without Harry Potter, Granger says, it’s hard to imagine a world of Twilight, Kindles and more.

The big question will be what happens to those young readers now, especially as book buying changes - witness Borders announcement that it is closing all stores. Will the appetite Rowling created guide readers to bigger and better. Twilight readers might experience the original Dracula. Others might move onto Shakespeare, and Fitzgerald. Just as the classical presentation of the Beatles might get me back to the symphony, Potter readers could move onto a world of wonderful books.

And that’s where we find our lesson. Just as we moaned about the death of reading, we hear similar concerns constantly about cooking—an issue front and center to the food industry. We worry about how young people growing up in a culture of quick consumption will ever learn to appreciate shopping and meal preparation. At those times we need to think of Rowling and the energy she brought back to books.

We know food shopping can be fun when it is enthused with passion and drama and we see that happening in a growing array of stores these days. We know young people love the endless offerings of food shows that fill almost every cable channel. What the food industry needs do is create the link into the store and the foods that build similar excitement and engagement. Let’s find ways to reach out to young people with accessible recipes and skills that help get them engaged in cooking and shopping like never before.

Before Harry Potter, it was unthinkable that adolescents would line up for the release of books. Maybe the day will come where we create similar interest and excitement in the arrival of seasonal foods, holiday recipes or more? Impossible things happen all the time—like a classical concert ending with an audience dancing to Twist and Shout.

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