Published on: June 2, 2016
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.
There are times that I get accused of being too much in love with e-commerce, especially with the "evil" Amazon, and of being entirely too accepting of the idea that robots may be able to replace humans in many jobs.
I plead guilty to all of the above ... with the qualification that I don't think e-commerce is by any means evil. I like to say that I'm not anti-store, but that I am pro-relevance ... and bricks-and-mortar retailers that don't find ways to compete with e-commerce companies in the end only have themselves to blame. As for robots ... it is absolutely true that I accept the notion that someday, maybe soon, robots will be able to do the jobs of many people ... again this isn't a matter of right or wrong. It just is ... and people who want to be relevant and a culture that wants people to be relevant have to find ways to make it so.
Relevance, like excellence and exceptionalism, doesn't just happen every day, automatically. You have to earn it.
I've been thinking about this because of a bricks-and-mortar business in my town that recently shut down, and has left me betwixt and between about what to do next. It was my dry cleaners, an establishment that I've used for more than 30 years, through two owners. It isn't like I have a lot of use for dry cleaners, though I must confess I have a weakness for having my shirts laundered and pressed ... I wear jeans and t-shirts about 99 percent of the time, so on those occasions when I do wear a nicer shirt, I like to make sure it is up to snuff. But in the days before I adopted this approach to dress, I did wears suits and ties, and my dry cleaners always took good care of me.
In the end, though, a dry cleaners is a dry cleaners, and they're not all that different. But what made mine different was John ... the fellow who worked behind the counter for most of the past two decades, who knew me and my kids, who knew what we liked and what we needed so we didn't even have to ask. John knew everything that was going on in town and was always good for a spot of local gossip or some arcane bit of knowledge that he'd picked up over the years.
Last week, just before the store shut down, several of us were inside picking up our final orders, and we agreed that John was like a great bartender, and that we weren't quite sure what we'd do without him, even though we're all sure we'll find another dry cleaners. (My argument would be that every other dry cleaners in town should have offered John a job, if only because he'd bring the majority of his customers with him.)
John did what no robot could do ... he created relationships that mattered. He couldn't be replaced by e-commerce, because he was a differential advantage. And he was empowered to do so, because they knew that for us customers, it was John we were coming to see. (On Thursdays, John's day off, they'd put some other guy at the desk, and I made it a point never to go in. He'd get things wrong, and you couldn't talk to him, so what was the point?)
Of course, in the end, it didn't matter because this location was shut down last week. Based on what I know of the situation, it isn't that this store wasn't profitable ... in fact, it was the only profitable location in the entire company, which may have been made it worth closing. (Sort of like how A&P sold its profitable Canada division.)
I think the lesson stands, though. People can make a difference. But you have to hire the right people, empower them, invest in them, and celebrate their success so that they know how important to the business they are. It can't just be words, because if that's the case, the people won't really matter, and customers will go online or use a robot and the business will be left trying to figure out what went wrong and why the evils of technology ruined their business.
They'll only have themselves to blame.
That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: