retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

"Crowning the Customer, by the Irish food retailing legend Feargal Quinn, was published more than two decades ago, but it remains not just one of the best books about retailing that I've ever read, but a need-to-read primer about how one small Irish supermarket chain carved out a global reputation with a unrelenting focus on customer service. The lesson of "Crowning the Customer" is not that its precepts are easy to implement (because, let's face it, many companies are culturally engineered to resist real shopper-focused innovation), but that the effort is worth it.

Now, Feargal Quinn is back with a new book that is worth reading if you are in any retail business, at any level. "Mind Your Own Business: Survive and Thrive In Good Times and Bad" is just out, and it looks at how a variety of retail businesses have discovered or created differential advantages that allowed them to grow, even in an Irish economy that has been in a tailspin over the past few years.

The book elaborates on a TV series that Quinn has been doing in Ireland over the past few years: "Feargal Quinn's Retail Therapy" has him going to stores and communities that have fallen on tough times, and helping owners and managers out of the doldrums. In the new book, Quinn intertwines their stories with some of his own at the Superquinn chain, illustrating that there is both an art and science to retailing; it isn't brain surgery, to be sure, but requires both a heart and a brain, working in concert to appeal to the hearts, brains and, in the case of the supermarket industry, stomaches of shoppers. And he does it in a way that is funny, charming, chock full of anecdotes (including a number that detail his own mistakes), and a breezy read.

As I thumbed through "Mind Your Own Business," I started wondering whether Quinn's approach was really only applicable to individual stores or small, independent chains; he tends to focus on specific stores and shops, not big companies. But as I read on, I realized something important - that even the biggest chains are made up of individual stores that have to perform on an individual basis and be relevant and compelling to individual customers. If I go into a Kroger or a Safeway or a Wegmans or an HEB store, I'm not thinking about how these stores are part of some bigger entity. No, I'm thinking that this is my store, and I want it to speak to me and for me. Some big companies are better at this than others, but I think it is fair to say that everybody can get better at it. Which is why "Mind Your Own Business" is a must-read for retailers of any size in any venue.

One note here. "Mind Your Own Business" has not yet been published in the US, but you can order it from third-party resellers on Amazon.com. But if you're smart, you won't wait for it to come out here - you'll go to the publisher's website and order a copy or two or maybe a case or two so you can hand them out to store and department managers.

But do it soon. Because it is an Eye-Opener.


(My only complaint is that "Mind Your Own Business" is not available as an e-book, which would seem to be a drastic miscalculation by the publisher. They should fix that now!)
KC's View: