Published on: September 10, 2015
This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.
Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
The broad focus on MNB is consumers and retailing, so it would be some sort of punditry malpractice if I didn't write about change and innovation pretty much every day.
I've been thinking a lot about change this week, in the wake of Tuesday's story about Bfresh, the new small store opened last week by Ahold's new Fresh Formats division. As impressed as I was by the store and the story it tells, I may have been more impressed by the fact that Ahold was willing to create this new division and not saddle it with all the various infrastructure and institutional anchors that big companies often put on their various divisions. Bfresh isn't just a terrific store with a terrific story, but it also reflects a fresh corporate approach to growth and innovation.
I think that's what companies need to do these days if they're going to succeed ... not just loosen the leash, but give their people real and actionable autonomy to try new things, to take risks, to make mistakes, and to find new paths as they work to create consumer connections.
One of the reasons that retailers have to do this is that it is exactly what is happening, in the larger context, in so many other places in our culture.
One of the reasons I was so intrigued by Bfresh is the idea that while it is in an urban Boston neighborhood right now, the next iteration will be in suburban Fairfield, Connecticut, which is pretty much just up the road from me. It has been well documented that many people around the US are moving back to its cities ... it isn't just millennials who find that cities more attractive and relevant to how they want to live their lives, but even aging Baby Boomers, who are selling their homes and moving to the city because...well, because they think that cities are more attractive and relevant to how they want to live their lives.
That's one of the reasons that architects and planners in suburbs like the one where I live are looking for ways to create near-urban retail and residential centers in the heart of suburban towns ... they want to keep Baby Boomers from leaving and get Millennials to move in. I find this to be enormously interesting and attractive ... and I think it has the potential for reshaping the nation's landscape.
This kind of fundamental rethinking is happening everywhere. I look around my kitchen, and I wonder how it will change in just a few years. I'm old enough to remember when buying a microwave was a big deal, but it is a pretty safe bet that we're at the edge of major technological innovations that will create the "smart kitchen," with new influences on how we cook, shop, replenish, and eat.
It will be the retailers that try to figure out all this stuff now ... getting ahead of the curve ... that are most likely to have sustainable business models.
Not that long ago, I was in Manhattan and needed to get out to Citi Field in Queens ... and so I took the number seven subway. And all I could think about as I rode that thing is how much it seemed like early 20th century technology ... the cars were aging, the ride kind of rickety, and it could've as easily been 1945 and 2015, if it weren't for all the people on their iPhones. And I found myself wondering if anyone in the state or city government is working on designing a 22nd century public transportation system that will replace it. Because it will need to be replaced, not just patched up. And the time to start thinking about this stuff is now.
A 22nd Century system, you may ask ... aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?
I don't think so. The 22nd century is only 85 years away ... and if we've learned anything in the past decade, those years go by in the blink of an eye.
In a lot of ways, progressive retailers need to start thinking about they'll be different in 85 years. Sure, it's early ... but I'd be willing to bet that Jeff Bezos is thinking about it.
From the Bfresh store in Boston to the New York subway system, lessons abound about how and why to embrace the future. We might as well ... because we can't fight it.
That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: