How the Woolworths Board failed their Masters test (ICYMI)


I am not immune to retail stupidity.

So it was that when I recently drove past a Masters store, and thought I’d see what was on special, thinking there might be something that I did not know that I did not need until I saw it cheap.

To my surprise, the “specials were “10% to 20% off”, and it struck me that it did not seem much like a fire sale to me and I could not help wondering that if they didn’t know how to conduct a liquidation sale, then chances were that maybe they just weren't very good retailers.

It is hard to tell for sure, because I don’t know how long they still plan on trading and what rate of sale would be a optimal to extract the best margins; but my instincts were that it was poorly executed.

Much has already been written about Woolworths and Masters and there are limits to what one can say being outside the inner circle; but there is at least one obvious, in fact I would call it ‘glaring’ truth that must be addressed.

I don’t think anyone can lambaste Woolworths for trying something. Anyone who has ever owned a business will know that not everything you try will work out. In fact, success often surprises us more than we care to admit.

Failure is part of the business landscape, and I certainly won’t be the first to cast a stone at the Woolworths Board.

I am not going to point a figure at their brand, their marketing or inability to put on a decent sale. I am not going to try and fault their ranging or pricing or even their locations. I am sure they spent a lot of money on that. (They had to spend the $3.3BN on something.)

But I do hold them accountable for something.

Human beings are unique in may respects compared to other species of animals. But the one unique attribute I take great comfort from is that human beings alone have ballistic prowess. That refers to the fact human beings are the only animals that can actually hit a moving target.

In order to hit a moving target, you need to be able to anticipate speed and direction and calculate the forces necessary to deliver your projectile to a certain point in the future.

Monkeys can throw nuts at each other. But they can’t hit a moving target.

Am not the first one to figure this out.Wayne Gretzky, Canadian ice-hockey player is often quoted as having said: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

We need to apply our ballistic prowess in all spheres of life. And that is what the Board of Woolworths did not do.

The two big guns in Supermarkets have been copying each other for years: liquor, hotels, hardware, fuel, loyalty cards, metro stores - you name it, they clone it.

That strikes me as stunningly poor leadership. Specifically, poor vision. Helen Keller said “the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Ain’t that the truth.

It is not surprising then that the fastest-growing supermarket chain does NOT do loyalty, fuel, hardware et al?

Who knows if ALDI will be around in 10 years? Their strategy may also fail. The puck may never arrive at the place where you think it is going to be at some point in the future. No one knows for sure. But the one thing that you won’t be able to accuse them of is that the simply copied the competition.

If you are going to fail, do it on the merits of your own ideas. But to fail simply because you can’t even copy properly, is a pretty serious indictment on the leadership.

Don't you agree?

Why do retail mergers always fail?


To merge or not merge, that is the question!

There was a recent announcement here on Inside Retail that Terry White and Chemmart hope to merge. Before I comment, a few salient points by way of qualification:

There has been some chatter here on a post by Dave Farrell on the topic of consultants. I too, have a particular view about the consulting industry. I am not a practising consultant.

Free advice is worth what you pay for it, and I am not in the business of working for free. I offer my view here because I am in the education business and this development is something we can learn from. And you can learn from it, even if you disagree with me. I base my views on what I have read in the press, the experience that I have gained and knowledge that I have, and I specifically don’t have any inside knowledge of the proposed deal.

Back to the merger:

There are two typical objectives for mergers:

  • improving current performance (or economies of scale)
  • reinventing a business model (e.g. when an established business buys an upstart to acquire new technology or market)

In this particular instance the declared strategy is:

“The merged group will leverage scale and combined capabilities to increase the competitiveness and marketing strength of the pharmacies and to improve service levels and health delivery to customers.”

The rationale for the merger is:

“We have a substantial array of core retail capabilities and support platforms which are scalable to handle this growth and support future network expansion. Significant investment in our Enterprise Resource Planning system is already driving efficiencies and improved operations, allowing pharmacists to raise customer service levels and drive strong retail sales growth.”

In short, they are pursuing economies of scale.

Yet, Harvard Business review cites that study after study puts the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions somewhere between 70% and 90%. 

When you quote the opportunity to invest in ERP as a primary motivator for a merger, all signs suggest the priorities are backwards.

Or maybe it really is about an IPO, and not about raising customer service levels and building a business. Hello Dick Smith.

I base my scepticism on the following thoughts:

1.       When you already have 200+ pharmacies in a country the size of Australia, then scale is not your issue. And besides, when your key suppliers are GLOBAL pharma companies, 500 stores do not buy you more clout than 300 stores. Where else are you going to buy your Nurofen after all? (And remember, the supermarkets already sell most of your product lines and they have many more stores than you do or will ever have.)

2.       The behemoth they are creating will simply be a bigger version of what they already have, crippled by additional layers of bureaucracy and systems, and confounded by incompatible cultures.

3.       The merger does not solve the ACTUAL PROBLEM that exists in the pharmacy channel; which is shite customer service. Cheaper prices, cheaper SMS marketing and the like are not examples of better customer service.

You may still want to argue points one and two, but not many people will argue point three. I have worked with a few pharmacies before, and I have asked individuals the same question:

What do MOST OF your customers have in common?

Not once did I get the reply I was hoping for: Most pharmacy customers are patients; and if not an actual patient, certainly seeking a treatment. And this category of consumer has very specific needs, which all but a few old-school, mavericks are brave to enough to meet.

And what consumers don’t need is the ability to walk into an even bigger warehouse filled floor to ceiling with cheap crap. That is what supermarkets are for.

I would suggest that one operator in that high-volume, low-margin space will do just fine, and that the real opportunity is to differentiate on patient (customer) care, and not the desire to screw down your suppliers another few cents.

As stated at the outset, I am not offering this as advice to TWC or Chemmart – I simply don’t have all the facts to do so. I am suggesting that we can learn something from their plans and how that compares to best practice, common sense and past experience.

I suppose there is 10%- 30% chance that they can pull this off successfully, but I won’t bet on it. I wonder if the shareholders will?

How to make a meme

This image illustrates everything that is wrong with the internet/ social media/ the world: Someone takes half-baked idea, adds some pseudo-intellectual horse-shit, mixes in a pretty picture and hits PUBLISH: A meme is borne.

The context here is that this image is being associated with the Olympics – Nike is the sponsor. (Their window-treatments in retail stores reflect the same theme.)


E pluribus unum does NOT mean ‘out of many, you are the one.’

The message here is that Olympians are special, they are chose – they are one-of-a-kind winners.

The proper translation is “Out of many, one”. (This is on the seal of the USA.) The message there (and the correct one) is that out of many, one.

That is out of diversity there is unity. Unity is about togetherness and common ground. It is the antithesis of being different and special.

They are making the message as if it is about the ‘star’ when the real meaning is about the ‘constellation’.

So here is a classic example of how easily the truth is perverted by popularity. Looking good is more important than being right.

Now THAT is a lesson for you to take on board.

Are you successful because you got lucky?

Success is not so much because you were smart, creative and passionate as the self-help gurus would want us to believe. It really isn’t.  For the most part, our success or failure has a lot to do with timing and synchronicity – more than most people want to admit. Whenever I write about this, I get push back because many people refuse to accept that success may be a result of anything but their own making. This is a straightforward case of the powerful influence of . This is a straightforward case of the powerful influence of confirmation bias.

But, don’t take my word for it.

There is a write-up in The Atlantic on how we are likely to disregard the role of luck in our success. I have written an extended exposition of that on this blog previously, but here is the executive summary:

Bill Gross (of IdeaLab) has done some work trying to quantify the role of luck. There is a TED Talk on this titled the single biggest reason why start-ups succeed. He says:

 “Little wonder that when talented, hardworking people in developed countries strike it rich, they tend to ascribe their success to talent and hard work above all else. Most of them are vividly aware of how hard they’ve worked and how talented they are. "

He quantifies the importance of timing (which is usually a manifestation) of luck at 42%.
Maybe we don’t talk about it enough because we don’t want to diminish those other factors that reflect better on us than admitting that it was ‘mere luck’.

But ‘good timing’ is something that we should be able to identify and talk about with foresight, not only hindsight.

Sometimes we are so enamoured with the idea and so blinded by passion and lured into the excitement of execution that we don’t want to think about timing. I suspect sometimes it is fear that someone else will do it before us if we wait. And in both instances we get fooled into pulling the trigger too soon.

And then there are cases where we think the time is right but it just isn’t. But it is for the next guy who comes along with the same idea. The one who just got lucky – even if he or she doesn’t want to even admit it.

This is further backed up by more insights be people who should know.

This is Guy Kawasaki quoted in the Aus Fin Review as saying:  

"The way Silicon Valley works is that a lot of ideas get thrown at the wall, then the few that stick, people walk up and paint a target around them, and then say 'I hit the bullseye!'," he said. "So I won't pretend I've got any special insight on that. Better to be lucky than smart."

Steve Jobs spoke about you needing passion... BUT specifically said it was SO THAT you could push through and keep trying. Passion isn't the thing that makes you successful; it merely helps you persist to work hard and keep going. 

Gary Player – well-known South African golfer – popularised the notion (even if he did not originate it) that the harder you practice, the luckier you get. It is not talent, it is not a mindset and it is definitely not a passion. 

The only conclusion that one can come to is that the necessary prerequisite for success is repeated effort, hard work, persistence, hustling or putting yourself out there. Whatever you call it, it is about showing up every day and giving it your best shot. Then, DV, you may find success – for it’s a GIFT. 

Effort, even persistent effort STILL, in and of itself, won’t make you successful, but it at least makes success a realistic possibility. 


Learning from Pokémon Go: lessons for your business model

Learning from Pokémon Go

There are many lessons to be learned from Pokémon Go. None included in this article will be tactical executions that will allow you to create lures, leverage your proximity to the Pokémon Gym or even explain how you could incentivise the Pokémon crowd to shop your store.

If you really want that advice, I am hoping that some employee in your company is googling that topic to figure it out, because it shouldn’t be what most readers of this blog should be bothered with.

But if that is NOT the case, then there are valid lessons to take from this experience.

Lesson #1: Your survival depends on your agility. Not a technology, not a fad. Not a promotion. But your agility to adapt and respond and to capture the shifts that matter, and do so continuously. It does not matter if you missed Pokémon or whether you are late to Snapchat. No single ‘curve’ is THE curve. But if you miss them all consistently, it proves that your business model is not responsive to the market.

(For a good example of someone who is always ready to ride a wave, go and have a look at what Mark Flethcer is doing at his Newsagency Blog, trying to elevate the game (with some success) in a moribund channel. But it is not about jumping on this particular bandwagon early (it helps that he is a bit of tech geek) but read back and see how his local area marketing responds to the events of the day – immediately. If you can adapt to a trend that lasts a day, then you are bound to succeed.)

Lesson #2: There is no point in looking to a consultant to predict the trends for you. You can’t outsource the viability of your business model to someone else. Nobody predicted the success of Pokémon Go in this incarnation – probably not even the makers. You will find a lot of ‘gurus’ telling you after the fact that these are the reasons why it worked and became successful and how you should do something similar. The key phrase here is after the fact. There is no limit to the number of preconceived ideas and biases masquerading as insights that you can glean from a success. After the fact.

Lesson #3: The lesson I want to share can be illustrated with this picture, taken by me on a Sunday morning (17 July) in Perth. What you see there are a small group of about 30 -40 people chasing Pokémon in the park. They are all gripped by the small screen in front of them, but they are missing out on the stunning view.

Is that your position too?

There was a discussion on a LinkedIn group explaining how Pokémon should have been the solution that shopping malls should have come up with. That is clearly ridiculous, because (a) no one has the scale that could create a global viral sensation and (b) it is just one fad that will last for a few months only.

The question is: while you are obsessing about this one, silver bullet marketing tactic, do you miss the bigger picture?

Happy hunting, anyway.


Dr Dennis Price is co-founder of Ganador: Australia’s only B2B Customer Education Agenc

Ganador Blog is about #thinkdifferent. We cover topic of business- and personal development aimed at entrepreneurial marketers. (c)Applies. Posts authored by Dr Dennis Price.

Learn the difference to gain the advantage

(OR - Why Content Marketing is crock...)

This article from our occasional newsletter - to get it sooner - drop your name in the box - you know the drill :)

There are two major flaws in the way people are approaching marketing today. One relates to ‘content marketing’ and the other to ‘customer experience’. And the solution outlined below solves both problems.

If you want the executive summary, here it is: CE is a way of doing business. It is not an optional extra; it is a necessity.  


There has been a buzz about ‘content marketing’ for a few years now – but strangely, few seem to really practice it well, and despite the ongoing hype, it has not really taken off as a mainstream marketing activity. And rightly so, because organisations are letting the desire to produce content drive the strategy. Consequently they apply it inappropriately. 

This is to be expected because the people promoting that view typically see themselves as content producers, therefore content must be important. (Marketing Agencies are scrambling to re-position themselves as 'content marketers' their traditional domain is being eroded.)

Marketing needs a purpose (expressed as verbs): it must persuade, entertain or educate. 
Old-school ‘Persuasion Marketing’ still has a role to play, but technological evolution is making it harder as it increasingly empowers the consumer/ end-user at the expense of the seller. The focus has therefore shifted to entertainment and education as the core purpose of marketing.

Wrongly, thought-leaders have saddled the Content Marketing horse. Content is a noun, trying to replace a verb.
There may be a place for ‘entertainment’, but I suspect that is more about enriching a brand personality rather than hard $$$ ROI. That is why Customer Education (CE) is actually the main game, and ‘content’ is merely one way of educating customer.

Customer entertainment is valid, but not hugely effective on delivering tangible results. We all love Air NZ for coming up with videos like this.

Great content. Very entertaining. Enhances the brand. But would you pick them to fly next time you go to NZ because of that piece of content?

If entertainment produces questionable ROI and persuasion is becoming avoidable, what remains? The good news it is actually something that is a win-win outcome for both parties of the transaction: it is customer education.


Firstly, Customer Education Is Not Customer Experience
Customer Experience (CX) is what happens when the customer uses your product: The way it works, how easy it is and how obvious it is, how smooth it is and how well it does what it is intended to do.
Imagine your product is a car: the fact that it starts every time, drives quietly and is powerful enough for the customer to enjoy the ride. The fuel consumption does not provide a shock at the bowser. Everything just works and works well.

But that does not mean the customer knows how to set the radio or the climate control. They may not know how to get the spare out and replaced. They might not know that simply holding the key fob close to the lock is sufficient and you don’t need to actually insert the key to open a door.

There is a difference between the customer having a comfortable experience sitting in a comfortable seat and knowing how to fold away the seat in such a way that they maximize boot space. A comfy seat is customer experience but knowing how to configure the seat requires customer education.

Customer education ensures the product and service is enjoyed functionally; it improves how a product is purchased and how it is used. Customer Education unlocks the benefits of WHY a product was purchased.

You design the experience. THEN, you educate the customer so that they can enjoy the full experience possible.


Customer Education is more common in retail environments, even if it is not called that (or in fact not done all that well.)

Buying a pair of yoga pants should be simple, it should fit and should be good value. They may even deliver it for you – all that provides a great experience. But WHY did you buy the yoga pants? You bought it to look good and feel sexy. Smart retailers will make that possible through customer enablement. The swing tag can tell you how to take care of the garment so that it continues to look good and not become saggy. The in-store experience could include an education element – via the sales person or a chart on the wall – to ensure that the customer buys the colour that suits their complexion. A handy booklet could show them how to mix and match with other types of non-athleisure wear so that don’t end up looking stupid.

Customer Education unlocks the purpose of the purchase.

This does not apply only to consumers.


Most organisations already do customer education to some extent – the question is simply how well!
In fact, this article is in itself a piece of customer education; by educating you about the nature and benefits of customer education, we both stand to potentially gain.

Most manufacturers have relied on technical writers to create manuals for their products. They realised that the retailer would do a poor job of getting the end consumer to use the product correctly. Very few have taken the time and the effort to educate their customers (the retailers) to on-board consumers effectively.

A ‘user manual’ is customer 1.0. The world has moved on. Manuals work very poorly, especially in a world where people throw it away without even reading it, knowing they will turn to YouTube if they need to find out how to do anything.

Customer Education in the B2B environment is an untapped opportunity. As far as I can tell, Ganador is the only specialist Customer Education Agency in Australia. (That’s a bit of SSP – shameless self-promotion. If you google “B2B”, “Customer Education Agency”, “Australia”, Ganador occupies EVERY SINGLE ENTRY – other than ads – on page one, and is the one and only organisation to be listed.)

Examples of Customer Education projects

Some of the cases where we’re helping:

  • A gaming technology supplier to ‘onboard’ licensed venues to a new system.
  • A broadcaster educate their advertisers on more effective advertising practises
  • A publisher educate their re-sellers on better merchandising
  • An Association develop practical member case-studies
  • A jewellery distributor Launch a Customer Portal for their retail network
  • Company Reps to adopta solution-orientated sales interaction framework

You get the idea. We did of course create content along the way. But that was secondary. The content was only one piece of a CE framework. We changed processes. We did research. We developed tools. We implemented technologies. We re-designed the customer experience to capture every learning opportunity for the customer, without them even knowing that they are learning.

Opportunities for Customer Education

  • How does a Transit Authority (best) educate people how to open a door when it does not open automatically?
  • How does a Hotel (best) educate their guests on evacuation procedures? (Or how to figure out the damn TV.)
  • How does a Government (best) educate voters on how to vote correctly?
  • How does a medical technology company (best) educate doctors about an innovative new product?
  • How does a wholesaler get retailers to use the portal for account maintenance?
  • How does a brand get retailers to build displays that are ‘on brand’?

The short answer to the above is that they do it poorly if at all. The consequences could be major; disastrous in fact. The opportunity is amazingly big for the early movers.


We have outlined why content marketing is not a new thing, and why focus on the “content” (the noun) will produce very little action. Content is a piece that fits into the bigger picture of Customer Education.

We also outlined why limiting Customer Experience to be the equivalent of a series of moments of truth in the sales interaction is the wrong view of it. The customer experience begins before they purchase and lasts the lifetime of owning your product. The right experience is the one that covers that whole timeframe.

The only practical way you can enhance the customer’s experience when they are using your product while they are not interacting with you directly, is to educate them upfront about how to best use your product to ensure a lifetime of positive experiences.


That is proverbially speaking a million dollar question. In reality the question is worth nothing, but the answer is worth a lot more.

Think about your product/service and your customer. Then think what your future would look like if they TRULY knew exactly how to get best use of your product/service. What would happen to your future relationship if customers knew more about your product, and how to optimise it for themselves, more than any competitor product?

  • If the answer is: ‘we will be in trouble’, then you really need to work on developing products that customers want.
  • If the answer is: ‘they will be unlikely to buy any other competitive product’, then you need customer education. That is the only ‘marketing strategy’ that will do the job.

It does it a disservice to even call it a ‘strategy’, because Customer Education is a way of doing business. It is not an optional extra; it is a necessity.  How well are you doing it?

How to measure customer service to get a true result


There are two astounding statistics about Customer Service:

ONE: More than 95% of management teams we’ve surveyed claim to be customer focused. (I suppose the remaining 5% would the margin of error, because I have never come across those people.)

TWO: Fully 80% of executives believe they offer good service and 8% of consumers agree. And this is not some internet statistic, it is based on a study by Bain & Co.

 Translations: Executives are living in Cuckoo Land.


You can’t blame the executives, because their beliefs are often based on mystery shopping reports. More about that shortly. It has always puzzled me as to why that would be dramatically incongruent, and I would like to offer a hypothesis and hear yours.

I have considered all of the following:

  • Executives outsource the measurement and management of ‘customer service’ to others
  • Executives don’t appreciate that delivering good customer service is a function of a customer-orientated culture.
  • Executives tend to under-estimate the complexity of embedding a customer-focussed culture. Typically, the implementation of customer service is based on the over-riding principle of ‘do unto the customer as you want done to you’; but this is too simplistic in a larger organisations.
  • Most people (including executives) judge customer service subjectively. They judge good and bad based on what they personally consider to be good or bad.

All of the above are partially true, but the main reason why I believe there is such a discrepancy between

The metrics used to generate the customer service score are arrived at by: 

  • Considering a specific attribute/ touch point (sales person greeted me in a friendly manner) 
  • Allocating a score to that attribute (6 out of 10)
  • Summing and averaging the scores
  • Determining an overall satisfaction rating (e.g. &0%)

There are obvious problems with that because all parts of the journey (all variables) are not equally important. The way I used to deal with that (when I owned a mystery shopping company) was to agree relative importance with the client and then calculate a weighted average. (I don’t know if anyone else does that.) But even this is still flawed. 

 To illustrate very simply, let’s use five percentage scores across five variables to determine an overall score. 

 Typically, your CS score will be calculated like this: 

The scores will be added and averaged to arrive at a final score. 

 If Score 5 improves from 60% to 90%, then the overall score will improve to 76%; approximately a 10% improvement. 

 But customer experience is not the result of cumulative averages and aggregates.

 Everything can perfect, but if the final interaction is absolutely terrible, then the customer’s overall experience will be completely negative. 

 Customer satisfaction should therefore be calculated as a PRODUCT and not the AVERAGE.

 Consider the same five scores. 

If the Score 5 improves to 90%, then the overall score will improve to 24%; approximately a 50% improvement. 

 In the latter case, which better reflects reality, your overall customer satisfaction is materially worse to what you have been told up to this point. 

 If you consider that the student or housewife (mystery shopper) who came up with a 90% on a particular attribute did so through a filter of strong biases, inexperience and lack of perceptiveness AND that the actual experience is so materially influenced by variations in score, then that explains the biggest conundrum in customer service. 

 It explains why a Customer Service Score is more like 15% or 25% rather than 80% or 90% as you have been led to believe. That is because overall CS scores are a product of a series of touch points, NOT the average. 

There is one important consideration to remember: If you have numerous (say 12 or 20) touch-points, then even if you score 90% on every one of them, you will eventually end up below 20% score for example. The ACTUAL curve of a customer experience is not reducible to a formula, since there are many subjective considerations that can make a curve/line jump up and down in ways that math can't predict. But using a cumulative product score is a better approximation of reality that the simple average.

And that is my hypothesis for the gulf that exists between what the owners and executives believe and what the customers actually think: customer service is a product of all the touch points, not the average.

Ganador Blog is about #thinkdifferent. We cover topic of business- and personal development aimed at entrepreneurial marketers. (c)Applies. Posts authored by Dr Dennis Price.

Don't believe them, - Burn those bridges baby

img: gsdpuppypaws @deviantart

Should I burn those bridges?

It is commonly believed and accepted that one should ‘never burn those bridges’. But is that really the smartest strategy?

Whether you are leaving a company or a relationship, I’d suggest that you burn away.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting you go out of your way to be a dick about it.

If you know there is no going back, then you are more likely to think harder about it and to commit deeper and longer. The psychology behind is clear (one of Cialdini’s six principles) and is often used in behavioural change programmes like AA and Weight Watchers. By publically declaring something, the level of personal commitment dramatically increases. That is exactly what you need when you are making a big decision.

You can’t step through the same river twice, according to Heraclitus the philosopher, and it is quite true.

Drinking from the same well twice is very rarely healthy. That is why I coach people never to accept a counter-offer. The short-term need of the company to retain you eventually passes and is replaced with a subtle resentment that they were manipulated into paying over the top. It rarely lasts.

Whilst many people will have an example that proves that maintaining that second option has proven to be a good idea, those exceptions actually are a lot rarer than you think. And I will suggest that even if you do go back for seconds, you will never know what would have played out if you actually didn’t do that.

If you fail, fail forward. Burn those bridges and go confidently into the future instead of relying on the back-up plan.

The role of luck in your success

Image courtesy:

Luck? Not something anyone wants to admit when it comes to explaining our successes, right?

Here is a nice write-up in The Atlantic on how we are likely to disregard the role of luck in our success.

“Little wonder that when talented, hardworking people in developed countries strike it rich, they tend to ascribe their success to talent and hard work above all else. Most of them are vividly aware of how hard they’ve worked and how talented they are. They’ve been working hard and solving difficult problems every day for many years! In some abstract sense, they probably do know that they might not have performed as well in some other environment. Yet their day-to-day experience provides few reminders of how fortunate they were not to have been born in, say, war-torn Zimbabwe.”

Bill Gross (of IdeaLab) has done some work trying to quantify the role of luck. There is a TED Talk on this titled the single biggest reason why start-ups succeed. His conclusion:

“So what I would say, in summary, is execution definitely matters a lot. The idea matters a lot. But timing might matter even more. And the best way to really assess timing is to really look at whether consumers are really ready for what you have to offer them. And to be really, really honest about it, not be in denial about any results that you see, because if you have something you love, you want to push it forward, but you have to be very, very honest about that factor on timing.”

(And here is the TED playlist of videos of an event with a whole series of talks on the topic.)

When we think about it honestly, we all know and point to examples where a successful concept was a rinse-and-repeat of another, earlier idea. In fact, I think it will be an interesting study to find all those failures that preceded the successes that just happened to be timed right.

With two other entrepreneurs I was involved in a start-up called ‘Compuspace’ in 1998 in South Africa. It was a version of (for commercial property) before existed. It was that long ago that I had to write a ‘manual’ to teach people about the internet including a glossary of terms explaining what a modem is, to educate them on using it. We signed up all the major landlords with relative ease, but the system floundered and eventually morphed and died because the bandwidth, the technology and the skills was simply not there to be able to uploaded and download plans and images. Imagine trying to teach someone who has only just heard about a modem how to FTP a file?

Bill Gross quantifies the importance of timing (which is usually a manifestation) of luck at 42%.

The research on it is very qualitative, so I am not sure the percentage is right, or that it matters for it to be specific. The more salient point is that it is factor; a very big factor.

Maybe we don’t talk about it enough because we don’t want to diminish those other factors that reflect better on us than admitting that it was ‘mere luck’.

But ‘good timing’ is something that we should be able to identify and talk about with foresight, not only hindsight.

Sometimes we are so enamoured with the idea and so blinded by passion and lured into the excitement of execution that we don’t want to think about timing. I suspect sometimes it is fear that someone else will do it before us if we wait. And in both instances we get fooled into pulling the trigger too soon.

And then there are cases where we think the time is right but it just isn’t. But it is for the next guy who comes along with the same idea. The one who just got lucky – even if he or she doesn’t want to even admit it.

Who is to blame?


  • My boss does not like me
  • By business has failed
  • I can’t raise funding
  • I am being overlooked for promotion
  • I never get the second interview
  • My wife left me
  • I earn less than my colleague
  • I don’t get the recognition I deserve
  • I lost everything I owned

Why does nothing work out for me?

If you really want to know the truth, here goes:

It is you. (And me of course.)

Yep, it is our own fault.

Everything that is ‘wrong’ in our life, can be traced back to decisions we made and factors that we control.

Of course I am not talking about people who are suffering physical disabilities, for instance; but I am directing this to the people who the means, the education, the resources and the time to read a blog post.

Accept that all that is unacceptable in our life is as the direct consequence of the decision we make.

This approach is the direct opposite of feeling entitled to something – anything. Especially feeling entitled to success in some form.

If we adopt this approach, then and only then will we be able to even begin to address the issues that stand in our way.

As long as you have someone or something else to blame, you are focusing your energy on the wrong problem.





The future ain’t what we said yesterday - blockchain just killed it

For the last decade or so, eCommerce has been THE thing. Consultants got into a frenzy and overnight gurus emerged with twenty years’ experience. Omni-channel became the new black. Then there was the boon in ‘social media’ and everyone was urged to enter into a ‘conversation’.

Long-time readers will know that I have cautioned about this. A few years ago I addressed a PCA conference in WA and some may remember that I raised the spectre of IoT – the internet of things. Even then, it was a watching brief only.

Something was missing to power the revolution.

Not anymore.

Blockchain has arrived.

The reason why I am getting on this particular bandwagon is because there is one fundamental difference to previous ‘transformations’ such as the ‘general’ internet or ‘typical’ social media platforms. The natural state of affairs is that PEOPLE want to be empowered and in control. The whole economic model has been slowly evolving towards that point where the individual is enabled to exercise complete control over their life.

Blockchain provides this.

The move towards gender fluidity, being pro-choice etc. are simply social manifestations of this trend and this applies equally and more to the economic domain. It’s a whole different topic to track this particular evolution (maybe another day) but in the meantime trust me when I say that Blockchain technology enables the consumer in a way and at a scale that will make REAL peer2peer commerce possible. (Previously, P2P commerce still needed to be facilitated by a third party, effectively substituting one institution for another.) No more.

Rather than talk about ‘distributed databases’ generically, the best analogy I can come up with to explain it is think about Blockchain as follows:

Currently you will secure a PIN number by writing it down. Saving a file. Behind a firewall. Protected by a cryptographic software etc. It is safe – but it can be cracked.

In a Blockchain environment, imagine every person walking in the street has a single digit on a bracelet on their wrist. You know which six people are the ‘containers’ of your PIN. All the numbers are publicly visible. You and everyone else carry the numbers in plain sight. But it works on a system of trust. If you are asked, you will reveal whose number you are carrying. But any potential criminal can walk through the city and ask people whose numbers they are carrying. The criminal may stumble on John Smith who happens to be carrying the number 7 that is one of the six digits in my PIN, but the same digit is of course also in tens of thousands of other pins. How long will it take for the criminal to find random people in the streets of Sydney who happen to have my six digits, even if the digits are literally hidden in plain sight?

In the real Blockchain version of this, John Smith actually will reveal the exact digit if you can discover their own pin first. And the people who carry John’s digits will reveal the PIN if you can discover their PIN. (Each ‘block’ to be discovered in sequence like that. You can see the practical problem with a system like that.)

This is how Tapscott puts it: “I would have to commit fraud in the light of the most powerful computing resource in the world, not just for that ten-minute block but for the entire history of commerce, on a distributed platform. This is not practically feasible.                                                   

(I am not technically proficient enough to really understand the maths or the programming, and all analogies are flawed, but happy to read better descriptions in the comments.)

To explain the potential impact, I am quoting insights from Don Tapscott’s book on the topic to illustrate the breadth of the impact. Few people can even image the depth of the impact – and I can’t either. But it will be massive.

Back to people power

“We have this great asset of data that’s been created by us, and yet we don’t get to keep it. It’s owned by a tiny handful of powerful companies or governments. They monetize that data or, in the case of governments, use it to spy on us, and our privacy is undermined. In the case of the Internet of Things, we’re going to need a blockchain-settlement system underneath. Banks won’t be able to settle trillions of real-time transactions between things.”

This is the cornerstone evolutionary fact that will become the rock upon which massive transformation and disruption will be built. How this can be play out can be seen from the examples below.             

No more banks, insurance companies, payment gateways etc          

“We can do transactions and satisfy each other’s economic needs without knowing who the other party is and independent from central authorities.” 

Read it and rejoice: we don’t need a bank. Keeping our money under the (digital) pillow has just become the best option for us.                                           

Disruptors will be disrupted

“Rather than a $60 billion car-service aggregation, why couldn’t we have a distributed app on the blockchain that manages all these vehicles and handles everything from reputation to payments? Ultimately, they’ll be autonomous vehicles moving around.” 

Uber has not even finished disrupting the Taxi industry, and they may well become defunct. No doubt they are scrambling to incorporate the technology, but at the end of the day, what value will they really be adding of fridge is doing the trip planning?          

Marketing as you know it will change

“Firms may have to pay just to query a prospective customer’s black box, to see whether that customer meets a firm’s target audience. That customer may decide globally to withhold certain data such as gender, because a no answer is still valuable. But in so doing, the firm will learn nothing more about the prospect beyond the yes/no results of the query. Chief marketing officers and marketing agencies will need to rethink any strategy based on e-mail, social media, and mobile marketing: where the infrastructure may lower communications costs to zero, customers will raise costs to a figure that makes reading a firm’s message worth their while. In other words, you’ll be paying customers to listen to your elevator pitch, but you will have tailored your query to pitch only to a sharply defined audience so that you will be reaching exactly the people you want to reach without invading their privacy.” 

And there we were thinking we need to start mastering Facebook advertising and learn about that Snapchat thing. Fundamentally, consumers don’t want to be interrupted. And fundamentally, my ‘data’ has value, so why would I let you steal it with bots and cookies? And then sell it back to me?                                                         


“For really important decisions, firms could implement internal consensus mechanisms whereby all stakeholders vote on mission-critical decisions to end the chorus of ignorance and denial of prior knowledge.

Of course, that is if ‘firms’ as we know them, still exist?

Example: The Music Industry

If you think music streaming has disrupted traditional publishers, consider this table below to see how the consumer progressively becomes more empowered.

Stage of Economic Evolution

Consumer Benefit

Primitive Era:

Only live music

Great quality and great experience, but no ability to store music

Early Modern Era:

Vinyl records produced and distributed and marketed by Music Publisher

Consumers were able to listen to music when they wanted and it was relatively affordable

Modern Era:

Digital Music files. Enables CDs

Easier to mass produce, better quality and slightly cheaper. Easier to share

Current Era:

Music Streaming from the Cloud by a crop of new players putting the labels out of business. Musicians can negotiate with new streaming service directly, no matter your size or popularity

More affordable. Perfect for sharing. All the music that exists is now on tap.

More musicians have access too, but they still only earn a fraction of the value.

Blockchain Era:

Musicians can build their own app on Ethereum. They can sell directly to you and earn every cent. They can sell a fraction of the song as a ring tone or license it to be used as a soundbite or music bed on a video or a soundtrack for a movie.


You buy music for cents in the dollar – directly from the musician, for the exact purpose youi want.

All musicians all music on permanent tap. No record store, no music label, no distributor, no streaming service required: from the artists’ basement to you.


The main thrust of the article is this:

The change that is coming will be profoundly disruptive. To every industry. In fact, the whole notion of ‘industry’ will be re-imagined. (And I haven’t even layered 3D printing over this yet.)

The reason why this change will be so wide-spread and severe is because the missing piece in previous technological paradigm-shifts was always that the ‘people’ (users/consumers = the market) were marginally better off (Uber is 10% cheaper than a cab, and payment is easier) but they were still at the mercy of an institution (company) who decided how things were going to work and how much it would cost. NO MORE.

In this brave new world THINGS will transact with each other when its owner wants on terms that the owner set. And when the PERSON chooses to transact, it will be on the same terms directly with other people, exactly in accordance with their unique requirements, at the price they agree in an environment of complete transparency. Without the need for ANY intermediary.

What is your ‘industry’ going to look like then?

 Food for thought...

 Dennis Price

The Solutionist – Ganador

PS 1: The grand ‘arc’ of change is described in Rigidly Defined Uncertainty – and you can download it free here.

PS 2: We are starting a free, AMA (ask-me-anything) community on a dedicated platform. Send me your email and I will be in touch to share more details.



Success is more than a witty quote


Success is more complicated than a witty quote

(And becoming successful is not easy. There is help at hand - see the invitation at the bottom of this post.)

But a good analogy does help explain what it is involved.

Before I share that, let me first put some cards on the table.

I have personally failed more than I have succeeded.

I don’t know if it is just a way of post-rationalising my failures, but I really believe that you learn more from failures than you do from successes. The path to the top is a unique journey because individuals are unique and their value proposition should be unique or at least is offered in a unique context. Even if you are opening up just another coffee shop, you should be the only one on that particular street corner.

I have succeeded enough times to be able to recognise the patterns at least, so I like to think I can at least recognise success and what it takes.

And I can assure that, without any doubt, there really is NO FREAKIN’ SILVER BULLET! Innovation is important, but it is not the only thing. Leadership is important, teamwork is important, customer experience is important and so on – but none of these is the panacea that the solution merchants peddle.

All the bromides about ‘passion’ etc probably do no harm, but alone it is not sufficient.

Luck plays a role, but since we don’t control that (by definition) it serves no purpose to worry about it.

Product quality and a relevant value proposition along with acceptable service standards are assumed.

This post is not about these things.

Rather, it is about understanding the interplay of factors at a strategic level that business leaders must juggle in order to optimise their decisions for success.

To that end, this analogy of the FOUR FORCES OF FLIGHT:

To run a successful company is complicated matter requires a lot of juggling. Usually there are a range of variables involved that must be balanced in order to inch the company forward. These variables are like the four forces of flight.

For an aircraft – in your case, let’s imagine a supersonic jet – to become airborne, remain airborne and eventually land safely in another destination requires that the pilot knows and understands and juggles a range of forces.

The plane must be designed right.

There is preparation.

They are using the right technology

And so on.

But all of these are generic factors that apply at all times and are well known.

The four forces of flight that are required for a plane to fly, are the same for a plan to fly.

Consider the diagram below.

This matrix is meant to convey a few salient ideas:

There are specific forces that are more granular and are easier to define and describe and therefore to manage.

There are general forces that are less readily understood; even though we may understand the words, the concepts are so big that it is not easy to wrap our heads around. E.g. economic trends.

There are internal forces that are controllable to a greater extent and there are there are external forces which of course can’t control, but must navigate nevertheless.

The examples I have listed in this diagram are not necessarily the only ones that fit the description. Most readers would recognise the language employed here as being quite reminiscent of strategic planning (e.g. internal factors vs external factors).

But the main point is that there is an INTERPLAY of forces. To be successful in your ‘flight’, the pilot must balance thrust and drag, weight and lift.

At any point if any of those forces are out of whack, the plan(e) will fly into the stratosphere and explode or crash into the ground and explode.

Any one of these forces is easily understood and is part of the strategic staple diet in any company. The more important point is that all these forces are in play at the same time, and consequently influence each other as much as they influence the eventual outcome.

Success is more likely for those who understand the intricacies of this interplay, and make their decisions accordingly. It is not always the appropriate strategy to provide more thrust, as much as it is intuitively appealing that there is no harm in accelerating the company. For example, anyone who has experienced cash flow issues will know that you can actually grow yourself broke as easily as go broke for lack of revenue.

These four forces have been chosen as the examples of those categories of factors influencing strategic outcomes, because they are critical to organisations articulating their business model. The two forces on the left (external) is where the opportunity lies and the forces on the right (internal) are where the response (value proposition) is formulated. Your business model is created as a result.

My key message here is that success does not come easy, it is a somewhat chaotic process that requires decision makers to balance conflicting demands and juggle many balls. It is therefore wise to avoid the glib solutions that suggest that is “all about (fill in the blank)”. It is usually about more than one thing and it is more than one thing at the same time.

Those who are struggling with this will recognise the truth of this.

In conclusion, my warning is to those of you who (consider yourself and your organisation) as successful. Success is a seductive mistress and protecting the status quo seems like an imperative. It is the hardest for those who have tasted some success to see the need for change as much as those who find themselves in a hole.


This note has been adapted from a presentation I gave to the Young Presidents’ Organisation in May 2016. I only had 45 minutes and I had to halve the presentation I originally had constructed, so there is a lot more to it than that. If you are planning an event/conference/seminar – talk to me about adapting it to your needs, and let’s see if we can shake something lose for you.

PS: One of the people I caught up afterwards said my presentation was the best and most thought-provoking; which was nice, especially since one of the other speakers was the recipient of a speaker-of-the-year award.

*** *** ***


Are you weighing up a whole host of challenges and just need a straightforward answer? You don't have a 'coach' and you are not planning on getting one - you just want a question answered or want to bounce an idea off someone? Do you find it a bit lonely running your organisation, but you don't want to join a YPO or a TEC and you can't stand the pushy networking that happens at the local Chamber events?

Join me at a brand new community platform. Simply send me your email with RYVER in the subject line for a personal invitation.

We are aiming to create a platform for entrepreneurially- AND  intrapreneurially-minded people to bounce ideas and questions. Initially I will probably answer the questions  or guide you to where you may get the answer, but in time hopefully more of us can help each other. 

It is free. There is no selling. There are no strings. Join anytime. Leave anytime.

Get answers. That's all.

30 years' business experience in 5 bullet points

These five points are aimed at people/businesses (e.g. consultants, service providers and representatives) who serve the commercial/B2B market specifically. Whilst there are exceptions to every rule, that really only serves to prove the rule.

  1. Your product/service must solve an actual problem of some scale. Not your passion, not what you like and not what you think is a good idea – solve people’s problems. If you first have to convince the customer that they have a problem of a certain kind that only you can solve, you are in for long, hard struggle. If they don’t think they have that particular problem, then you won’t often succeed
  2. You must be able to demonstrate clear, tangible benefits that can be translated into dollars. You can talk about quality, experience and the like, but what people really buy must make or save them money. And they don’t like taking risks – it must be obvious – because they are taking risks with their career if they make a mistake. (unlike a consumer who can throw
  3. Your product must have a point of difference. Not a gimmick. Not the brand. Not the promise. It must actually be different in a way that this difference is a compelling reason to choose your product over another.
  4. You must be specialised and focused. Don’t be – but have the courage to narrow your offer down to the point where you/it is unique. Being geographically unique is of limited benefit to a small range of products – in most cases the global market is open to you, so the smallest niche becomes viable (long tail).
  5. You must have a product. Even if you sell a service, the physical manifestation of that service is a critical element of what the customer buys. People are funny that way. Banks must give a credit card (plastic) as the physical manifestation of their financial service for instance. Do the same with your advice, membership, service etc.

I am pretty sure that none of the above would be your first reading of it. I certainly did not make it up and I have heard and read that same advice numerous times. What I am doing, is endorsing it with my 30 years’ experience AND highlighting to you that if you don’t follow it and just glance over the real intent and content of those strategic principles, then you are trying to reinvent a square wheel that does not exist and will not work, no matter how interesting or different you think it may be.


Want to know if you have what it takes to be a leader?

There are many ways you can process this memo from David Ogilvie, ad guru of the ages, who wrote about his weaknesses.

I wonder what you make of it?

Personally, what is see writ large is EGO. In fact, I would suggest anyone currently interviewing for a job memorise a few of those to regurgitate when asked the ‘what-are-your-weaknesses’ question.

Each one of those ‘weaknesses’ is perverted boastful claim.

I am candid to the point of indiscretion.


Translation: I will tell you the truth the way I see it, and I don’t really care if it hurts or you think it is insensitive and indiscreet.

I am intolerant of mediocrity.

Translation: I will kick your ass if you deliver mediocre work – it isn’t really about my intolerance, it is about your incompetence.

I won’t bother translating each one, but re-read it again and you will see what I mean if you didn’t read it that way the first time.

There is an important point to this, and it is about leadership.

From Kennedy to Clinton to Jobs to Branson and Bob Hawke; in each and every instance these iconic leaders had egos to match the scale of their ambitions.

  • ·         Great leaders hear their followers – but they don’t listen to them.
  • ·         Great leaders understand their customers’ needs, - but don’t give them what they want, but what they need.
  • ·         Great leaders don’t pursue a point of difference to be competitive, they do it because they know being different is how you win (and they are confident enough to own it).

In each instance the ego has to be big enough for them for them to go against the flow and do what they want and what they believe in.

A clear and compelling vision is the necessary starting point for any strategy, but it is the one thing that does not emerge from consensus and consultation – it is the first task of the leader to articulate that vision. And that requires the confidence and chutzpa that emanates from a big ego.

Some people can disguise this unpleasant necessity better than others, David Ogilvie it seems may have been one of those, but ultimately being ‘nice’ is not a leadership requirement. Hitler being one simple case in point.

The real leadership issue is however not whether you have an ego large enough, but whether you are willing to pay the price that having a big ego demands? That is; a willingness to be unpopular and the risk of being wrong.

You either have to be self-absorbed or be brave to believe your own vision and back your own ego. The self-absorbed leaders are the poor leaders and the brave ones are the good ones.

I hope you work for a brave leader, because the ego of a self-absorbed leader makes for a toxic workplace.

I searched for the key, and this is what I found

This is an extract from my monthly newsletter - and important enough for me to want to share it here. (You can get more like this HERE - and I am sure you will figure out how to subscribe if you like it.)

For a long time I searched for the key.

The key to success. The key to happiness. The key to anything you care to name. It took a while for it to dawn on me:

There is no key.

And it took even longer for me to actually believe what I knew.

Does too many cooks spoil the broth or do many hands make light work?

Both. Neither. Sometimes.

I subscribe to over 300 blogs. I am a prolific reader. I am a student of life.

You can learn from success and you can learn from failure. There is a time to stand out and there is a time to fit in. You can study your competition or you can ignore them and focus on your own business.

Sometimes the one thing works better than the other and it is only ever clear with hindsight. That is why hindsight is wonderful; but then again foresight may even be better. So ideally you want both…

You can see where this is going.

We think in a linear manner, but life weaves a tangled web.

Our survival instincts require as to make quick, repeatable decisions. As you meander on the path of life, it is useful when you need to distinguish between a snake and a harmless stick. And is not so useful when you need to decide between a merger and acquisition.

It is liberating to know there are no secrets and no ‘keys’, and you consequently acquire permission to dream and are encouraged to take risks - with no better justification required than simply saying ‘who knows’ or ‘why not’?

So, are you worried if ‘that thing you want to do’ is going to work out the way you intended? Don’t be – nobody knows. And it is okay if you don’t either.

There is no panacea. There is no magic bullet. Just (re-)load the gun and keep shooting. Show up every day. Do the best you can with what you got where you are. Keep doing it if it makes sense to you and harms no one else.

Happy Birthday Moonyeen

Happy Birthday Moonyeen....

The heart of saint makes you a great mother.

A passion and a body to match makes you a great lover.

The insight of wizard makes you a great  trainer

The commitment of a Stoic makes you the best life-mate I could have asked for.

I have had many blessings in my life, but none greater than the privilege of sharing this journey with you.

Ganador Blog is about #thinkdifferent. We cover topic of business- and personal development aimed at entrepreneurial marketers. (c)Applies. Posts authored by Dr Dennis Price.

3 lessons to learn from the supermarket big boys - Part II

Last week, in Part I, I briefly covered the evolution of supermarkets and showed how their business model came to be and what lessons we could take from that. Lesson #1 was about pricing and Lesson #2 was about branding.

(Read it here if you missed it.)


There are three key strategic takeaways from studying the history of supermarkets:

Firstly, standing still is certain death. The middle ground, where are you trying to be all things to all people, is not a sustainable strategic position. Any concept in between will be squeezed out towards one or the other. (Read more about the Big Squeeze here.)

Knowing where you are, where you want to be and the translating that into a business model is the essence of a strategy. That is, the ‘positioning’ you adopt dictates your strategic imperatives.

For example let’s say you can choose to be a (1) mass-market, disposable fashion segment operator, or you can choose to be (2) a high-end, high-fashion boutique operator. Depending on your choice, you will build your brand, your supply chain, and your pricing strategy based on that initial choice.

And this is the important part: If you choose option 2, you cannot simultaneously play in the low price, high volume segment. It is self-evident, but yet every day, we see the exact opposite.

Secondly, the key to driving costs down is aggressive innovation in technology. Big box retailers like supermarkets have led the way in innovative technology, from bar codes to big data and beyond. The financial, direct cost of technology is coming down, but the rate of change is adding a significant indirect cost of constant learning and re-learning, constant tweaking and changing. This is the advantage of the little guy because the investment is lower and the turnaround is quicker.

Finally, and most importantly, every supply chain will have (or attract) middlemen who want to rort the system and ‘clip’ the proverbial ticket without investing in the ownership (and risks of owning) the product. This has been so since time immemorial and it is true today. The new incarnation are SEO services, providers of marketing automation services and the like.

If history is anything to go by (and it is) you can plan for the following inevitabilities:

1. Businesses will evolve towards a more efficient supply chain with fewer middlemen. I don’t know what will replace these middlemen, but something will. Something like the Google Buy Button may well be the thing that changes the game completely.

2. The oscillation between big and small will continue. The Amazon-Alibaba-Google cohort will become the price/convenience operators and the only point of difference will be … not that. The strategic challenge is to find a competitive advantage that capitalises on your smaller size and taps into something the customer really values.

It won’t be product knowledge, because the internet killed that. Figuring out the answer is a key strategic imperative.

The good news is that customers naturally prefer to deal with the little guys, the ‘market operators’ of today, but they won’t do it any price (lesson #1).

Even better news there ARE answers, the question is simply whether you will find it.

Have fun



Ganador: Management SOLUTIONS (especially tough ones)


3 lessons to learn from the supermarket big boys - Part I

The evolution of supermarkets contain many lessons for modern retailing.

Fixed stores evolved naturally out of markets. Following that, several key changes occurred in a few decades: the introduction of self-service, growth of chains (geo-scaling) and then the explosion in size for stores (and concomitantly the increase in range.) Parallel to this was the ever-increasing focus on price.

This historical development reveals that an important driver in the evolution of the supermarket is that the distribution channel was extremely inefficient. (To understand the strategic role that the inefficiencies and friction plays, read this piece.) The low volume purchases of these small traders led to high costs and sizable mark-ups. Traders purchased their supplies from a wide range middle-men who rorted the system, adding additional costs to an already expensive distribution system.

Supermarkets dominate the one end of the barbell (convenience/price) and specialty stores dominate the other (service/depth & knowledge). Graphically it can be illustrated as below:

Lessons to be learned from the evolution of supermarkets:


Saving money is big driver of purchase behaviour. Customers generally would avoid the supermarket, but the price/convenience factor is compelling. The basic business models behind both the supermarket formats dates back many decades, and the anti-chain sentiment (in the US) of the 1930s was at least as strong as the movement against big box stores that we see today.

Focus on price will commoditise your business. Once you are commoditised, there is no escape. When you are locked into a price-based strategy, you better focus on costs relentlessly.

But price is not the only strategic competitive advantage. It feels like it is the easiest to pursue, because you can simply go to a shelf or a unit of merchandise, or log on to a computer and change the process. It feels like you have done something. And you have. But not necessarily in a good way. Once you start sliding down the slippery slope, it is very hard to climb back up.

I am not suggesting that price-differentiation is a bad strategy, just that it requires all the other parts of the business model to be aligned with it, and a specialty shop will achieve that alignment with great difficulty because of structural constraints.


Customers don’t buy brands, at best ‘brand’ is a heuristic. I cannot write it any better than the inimitable Bob Hoffman:

A lot of people have shaky jobs. And many have unstable families. Some have illnesses. All have debts.

Lots have washing machines that are broken, and cars that need a tune-up, and funny things growing on their backs, and boyfriends that are always getting high, and socks that have holes, and hair that is falling out, and toilets that are unreliable, and 10 pounds of extra stomach, and kids that are unhappy, and teeth that hurt, and rent to pay, and...

...a lot of things to care about.

One thing you can be pretty sure they don't care about is your brand. 

Yes, I know you've been told that people love brands, and want to engage with them, and co-create with them and be all social with them. But stop and think about it for a minute. Do you really believe this? Does it even pass the giggle test?

If you're a marketer and you believe people care about your brand just because they buy it, you're headed for trouble. What we blithely call "brand loyalty" is mostly just habit, convenience, mild satisfaction or easy availability. 

‘Housebrand’ is a strategy that is about channel power as much (or even more than) it is about margin, and least of all about giving the consumer value.

Customers don’t buy a ‘housebrand’ because they trust the ‘house’, it is because they want it cheap and believe that it comes from the same factory anyway.

Tabloid researchers and gurus on Today Tonight will tell you that people love the Aldi housebrands more than Coles or Woolworths. Not true. Consumers are simply more likely buy it when they don’t recognise the brand (as in Aldi) and they don’t know they are buying ‘homebrands’.

I am not suggesting that branding is not important, but rather that the role it plays in the consumer decision-making process is different to what people think.

Next week I will cover the final (strategic) lessons to be learned from studying the big boys.

Coming out as a retailer

Without exception, we can attribute success or failure of a retail business to people. Even if we blame an extraneous event, it is not the event as such, but how the people react to the event that determines the eventual outcome.

I believe that view is relatively uncontroversial.

But if it is so, and it is widely accepted, the question that immediately follows, is why the topic of ‘people’ is not at the top of the agenda? Executives and retail owners occupy themselves with a range of matters – from big data, mobile strategies, store location, margin management and a long list of topics – but spends very little time on people.

If your marketing, sucks it is because you don’t have a good marketer or an interfering executive – either way it is a people issue.

If your merchandising sucks, it is because you have poor buyers, poor recruiters, poor trainers, poor managers – pick any one, but whatever you pick, it is a people issue.

High shrinkage is a result of having disloyal or untrained staff. Or it may be a result of poor systems – which of course are designed and implemented by… you guessed it: people.

Name any aspect of retail and behind it stands a human being making decisions. Of course luck (good and bad) plays a role, but once it happens you still have to decide how to respond and counter the bad luck and capitalise on the good luck.

I have come to the conclusion that people in retail don’t focus on people as much as they logically and necessarily have to, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the way that most people enter the retail business is by accident rather than design. The retail sector seems to be largely populated by people who left school, and without having a specific passion or interest took a job – in retail. Or some may have drifted to Uni, and then after graduation simply turned the part-time job into a full-time one. Consequently, far too few people who work in retail are dedicated to it as a profession.

Secondly, retail jobs are easy to get. Even if you are passionate about retail, the hours are relentless, the pay is pretty average, and the specific skills required are often basic (easily learned). Consequently, there is a high turnover of staff, especially at the entry level. Few people in retail had to jump through hoops to get into retail, and those who really choose to be there don’t necessarily feel a sense of accomplishment.

Thirdly, it is also easy to start a retail business. How hard is it to put a few tables and some shelving in a store and put some merchandise on it at twice the price you paid for it? (It is not easy to be good, nor is it easy to survive and be successful, but is easy to start.)

Fourthly, in the pecking order of industries, retail ranks pretty low. It is seen as large provider of jobs, but not much else. I have never heard of any other industry turning to retailing as a benchmark for anything. What great innovation was made in retailing that is adopted in other industries? (Even ‘eTailing’ was invented and is led by non-retailers, usually computer nerds.)

This leads to a confluence of two powerful, negative forces that conspires against us:

Firstly, the people who are committed, passionate and professional are in the minority, outnumbered by a large number of people who simply take up space in the retail environment. Secondly, those who have risen through the ranks to executive status or those who has the courage to strike out on their own to start a retail business spend very little time on people issues; usually only when the ‘issues’ are pressing and unavoidable such as Union issues, or recruitment and the like. Even then it is more about going through the motions, rather than proactively engaging with people with the specific goal of building a culture that underpins, and delivers on the brand.

In order to counter these negative, restraining factors, it is high time for retailers to come out of the proverbial closet. There is no shame in being a retailer. Retailing is not only an essential (and very large) part of any economy, in a modern society it is complex, challenging and worthy of our best physical and intellectual efforts.

It will probably always be true that it will be easy to get started in retail, but it is equally true that it is incredibly difficult to succeed and to be called a good retailer.

A champion athlete can complete a marathon in close to two hours, and is not offended that a Sunday jogger who clocks up a few kays on the weekend also calls himself a ‘runner’. That is probably because that is how every champion started.

So, no matter how you got your start, or how many ‘joggers’ there are in retail; the only thing that is needed for you to become a champion retailer is make the decision to come out as a retailer and to ‘own’ your profession. And then do everything within your power to focus on the people in your organisation and to continuously raise the bar with every appointment, with every interaction.

Make your people your priority. And it starts with you being proud of being what you are and who you are. Wear your ‘retailer’ label with pride.

Be more. That allows you to demand more.


Ganador: People and Performance.



The 7 sins of retailing

Today is the day for some tough love. It is always easier to see the flaws and mistakes in someone else’s business than your own; but no matter how unpleasant it is, it is beneficial to take the time to diagnose the failings in one’s retail business. This list has been compiled from a life spent in and around retail:

Sin #1: Not having a proposition

Proposition = price X product x promise. That is: what does the customer GET for in exchange for their money? What is the value in that exchange? (Not just monetary value.)

You have heard the old bromide that you sell the sizzle, not the steak; the hole-in-the-wall and not the drill. THAT (sizzle) is your proposition. It is not about features, it is about benefits.

How does this sin manifest itself?

·         Image ‘drift’

·         Always on sale

·         Focussing on what you have instead of what they want

Sin #2: Not having (enough of the right) stock

Timing your clearances and timing your buying is at the art and science of being true merchant.

How does this sin manifest itself?

·         Falling in love with your stock = thinking you are the customer

·         Not knowing what is selling and what is not (no proper system in place)

·         Not knowing the metric and not knowing what to do about it

Sin #3: Not presenting properly

Configuration and visual merchandising is crucial to drive retail productivity. Everyone knows that, but few people seem to understand the difference between visual merchandising and interior decorating.

How does this sin manifest itself?

·         Don’t understand the hotspots

·         Trying to manipulate customers instead of simply fishing where the fish are

·         Fail to use smart design principles to lead the sale

·         Unbalanced allocations (too much space for poor contributors and vice versa)

Sin #4: Not attracting the right customers

Not all customers are equal. If all you sell is ‘on price’, all you’ll attract are cheapskates. That is only a good idea if it matches your proposition; for the other ninety percent, it is a really bad idea.

How does this sin manifest itself?

·         Poor marketing comprising most clichés and noise, and a promise of the cheapest price

·         No Point of Difference

·         Fail to use proper psychology (not the pop-psychology of pseudo-experts)

Sin #5: Pitching price instead of value.

Customers can NOT be persuaded to buy stuff just because it is there - not frequently enough to be a viable business anyway. Retailers don’t understand the (true) cost of consumption and trade-offs the consumers take in order to do the transaction.

How does this sin manifest itself?

·         Price-only advertising

Sin #6: Not Persuading Browsers to be Buyers

Too many retailers have become lazy in their selling. It is true that no one likes being sold to, but you should still ‘help them buy’. This can be done effectively with the application of the correct techniques. A few years ago we persuaded a newsagent to allow us to experiment and we had a few days of ‘active selling’ and compared those days with like-for-like days in the previous week, month and year. The results varied between 18% and 28% UP in a business that was trending down. Despite that, they still weren’t prepared to allocate a staff member to the floor. Go figure.

How does this sin manifest itself?

·         No/slow sales growth

·         Customer Complaints

·         Walk-outs

Sin #7: Not building the system to deliver the outcome

Often people claim to have 20 years’ experience when they really only have one year’s experience twenty times over. Retailers are no exception. In order for a business to make a step-change to the next level, it has to do something different AHEAD of the step-change; that is only logical. If you merely arrive every day to make it through the day, doing approximately what you did they day before, nothing changes.

How does this sin manifest itself?

·         Tired, de-motivated owners

·         Unsellable business

The overall message may appear to be negative and critical – and it is that too. But the KEY point I would like to make is that ALL of these ‘sins’ are easily fixed – and customers will forgive you in due course. Every singly ‘sin’ is based on a decision you have taken, and each and every one can be fixed in the same way.

Simply make the decision to do it differently and follow through.

Quite easily done.

Dennis: Ganador: Making success happen


Ganador Blog is about #thinkdifferent. We cover topic of business- and personal development aimed at entrepreneurial marketers. (c)Applies. Posts authored by Dr Dennis Price.
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