retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

It was Winston Churchill who once said, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

This line occurred to me the other day when I was watching Kevin's FaceTime commentary about how vintners - unable to interact with customers at their wineries during Covid-19 - embraced technologies like Zoom and created virtual tasting sessions that may well have brought them closer to more customers than ever, with a strong base on which to build during the after-times.

That's what all good marketers do, especially today.  If people are not or will not come to you, then it is critical, if you have any interest in survival, to go to them.

I also thought of the Churchill line when a friend of mind (a man in his 60s) told me about how he'd gone to his first baby shower.  He was of two minds about the experience - he really had not interest in going, but he also recognized that we live in a world where it is not a good look to assume that baby showers are just for women.  He's in no hurry to go to another one, but he understood that invitations to men were about something more than just having more people at the shower.

He also noticed something else at the shower.  Many of the women involved in the shower were first timers as well and seemed unready and unprepared for some of the key details of the day, such as properly recording who gave which gift. Luckily for this group of novices, my friend’s wife was on hand and, as a veteran of such events, she stepped in to save the day.  (Knowing what to do with wrapping paper is no small skill in such moments.)

When I spoke with my friend after the event, he ruminated on how much his wife had improved the experience for everyone and speculated on just how chaotic it would have been without her. It got me thinking that there’s a business opportunity there. Obviously with the current labor shortage it’s hard to consider offering new services but that might be exactly what brick and mortar stores need do to thrive.

So why can’t retailers offer party planning services to help with everything from setting menus to building checklists to help ensure a happy and organized event. I have to believe that many of the people attending baby or bridal showers (certainly not me) are very busy women juggling, in many cases, children, jobs and more. Getting a helping hand might be welcomed and could be seen as a service worth a fee.  Or maybe a service worth offering for free if it creates a sustainable relationship between the retailer and the customer.

No matter how you slice it, it sounds like a good idea on multiple counts.

But let’s consider a more complex idea. A recent study found that teen-agers around the globe are lonelier than they were a decade back. Unsurprisingly a lot of that isolation is attributed to the negative impact of technology, social media and, of course, a year of covid lockdowns.

Here again, let’s find opportunity in the face of a new problem. Back in the 1980s supermarkets became the site of singles’ nights promotions throughout the US as baby boomers went looking for safer spaces to meet and mingle. I’m not suggesting we bring those parties back any more than I’d call for a rebirth of tie-dyed t-shirts and bell-bottom pants.  (Though I must admit that I'm seeing a lot more tie-dye lately, enough so it seems like a trend.  One place I won't be seeing it, though, will be in the mirror.)

But let’s examine today’s problems for new opportunities.  If today’s teens are increasingly lonely, perhaps supermarkets could help about again by offering communal events such as classes on cooking, nutrition or even shopping strategies. The lack of home economics education has left this field wide open. (And, by the way, teens aren’t the only ones out there facing loneliness. Perhaps wine tasting events might entice those in their 20s and 30s—or 60s—looking for a fun activity.)

One has to imagine that many parents would gladly pay for such education and it might turn a generation of teens into better cooks and shoppers and could possibly pay off in long-term loyalty.

It is all about finding the opportunity, about being an optimist about one's ability to connect with customers, and sometimes seeing the world through fresh eyes.

Which reminds me.  My friend who went to the baby shower also saw another opportunity.  It seems that almost everybody brought presents suitable for newborns.  But, he reasoned, won't the kid grow out of those items fairly quickly?  Maybe it would make sense, he said, to structure a baby shower so that some people get newborn stuff, but another group gets the baby at six months, another gets the kid at a year, and so on.

In other words, it would identify an opportunity in every difficulty.

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 here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.