Published on: August 15, 2017by Michael Sansolo
When meal solutions were first exploding in supermarkets in the 1990s, a key executive at Ukrops - then the gold standard of such things - offered a sobering piece of advice.
At the time everyone wanted to copy Ukrops, without learning the painful lessons the company endured to achieve its success. To paraphrase that executive, Ukrops had made years of mistakes to get things right and others were going to find a similar path. The road to success was going to be full of problems. (To be clear, none of these issues led to Ukrops demise a few years back. The company’s reputation in meal solutions never suffered.)
Frequently we need to learn carefully from others’ mistakes in hope that we can avoid repeating them ourselves. With that in mind, I want to double down on a suggestion Kevin made yesterday. Everyone need find and read the New York Times article about the decline of Sears and take it to heart.
Now, not every part of that article is relevant. Clearly, a good bit of Sears’ decline was caused by leadership decisions that in many ways are unique to the once-giant retailer. But there were two specific mistakes mentioned in the article that any other company could look at and honestly admit that they are capable of making both.
The lessons come from Victoria’s Secret and Nicki Minaj.
Let’s start with Minaj. The rapper/singer/songwriter may be incredibly popular in some circles, but Sears’ management made the critical mistake of forgetting exactly who is shopping individual stores and why.
The article detailed a management mess-up in which a specific Kmart store was left undersupplied with heavily promoted televisions on Black Friday, the time they were most in demand. In contrast, the store was well stocked with Minaj’s clothing line and probably stayed that way for a good long time. As one assistant manager explained, the store was in a religious area where women dressed far more modestly than the styles offered.
It was a total unforced error and is probably one of many reasons why that store is no longer in operation. But it wasn’t a unique mistake. Many other companies - retailers and suppliers alike - have similarly misread a trend and either jumped on it to late or brought it to the wrong shoppers. As the article made clear, Kmart and Sears were both especially prone to such errors.
The Victoria’s Secret example may be even more important in our current environment, in which everyone seems to be racing at breakneck speed to add e-commerce capabilities and achieve omni-channel status. Such issues are clearly a reality today, but Sears’ example might remind you of just how challenging this could be.
Sears believed it could quickly become an omni-channel player. The company had a history of mail order success; in fact, that’s what built the company. And its army of stores assured management that distribution should be no problem. Only Sears’ problem wasn’t distribution, it was a diluted brand and falling store traffic.
One Sears’ executive cited Victoria’s Secret, as company with a strong store experience and brand, as the contrast. “Victoria’s Secret has a $1 billion online business…because (they) understood the customer in a way that Sears never did.”
That’s a stark reminder of the challenges out there today. Adding e-commerce is an important idea, but only if you have the brand identity and power to make it work. Otherwise you may simply be adding a new way to lose money.
So read the Sears’ article and maybe even chuckle at some of the mishaps and missteps that have laid low the once great company. And then start thinking about how to avoid the same fate yourself.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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