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Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

By Ellen Fruchtman, President

With the baseball season (and many sports seasons) clearly in the rearview mirror, there’s a great business analogy spoken by one of the all-time greatest baseball players, Babe Ruth.

“Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.”

At the time, he was likely talking about the game and never anticipated how it could be a great metaphor for business which is this: Basically, you simply cannot rest on past glory. Day after day, we are inundated with news about retail closings. From Neiman Marcus filing Chapter 11 to Nordstrom closing several stores. And, I would imagine, we might see our fair share of jewelry businesses meeting their demise. But is COVID-19 to blame? OR does the blame lie with these businesses failing to evolve? In many cases, I would personally say, it is the latter. Yes, there are the businesses that truly took a hit and continue to take a hit – restaurants, and bars as an example. They get a BIG pass. But, for others, COVID-19 simply sped up the process and has become the scapegoat for many. Because, in business, we all love to play the blame-game rather than take a hard look at what were obvious cracks in the pavement.  I love reading headlines like this:

Full List: J. Crew, Other Iconic American Brands Being Crushed by Coronavirus.

Seriously? We are blaming coronavirus for the demise of some of these brands? One of the top brands on the list was Victoria’s Secret, one that has been woefully out of touch with the female market for years! Victoria’s Secret built their business on a fantasy of what a woman should be. Their racks were filled with sizes 0-4, while the average US woman’s size is 16-18 (according to Coresight Research). There were frilly and sequined undergarments, while today’s woman is looking for comfort in a day of uber casual. A simple lesson in retail is this: If you are not providing me what I want (and frankly when I want it), then I am going to shop somewhere else. And, that’s exactly what happened to Victoria’s Secret. It wasn’t a casualty because of coronavirus. It was a casualty because of their lack of retail evolution and out-of-touch options. And, a narrative about the “sexy woman” that didn’t evolve to meet the thoughts of today’s woman.

It’s a cautionary tale the jewelry business (and every business) needs to take seriously. The famous American novelist John Knowles said, “Everything has to evolve or else it perishes.” Our shopping malls did not foresee the change in human behavior and now they are perishing. Neiman Marcus filed for Chapter 11, not because of COVID-19, but because they too, did not understand how the demographics and consumer mindset were changing! Nordstrom is closing stores, not because of the virus, but because they are underperforming. And have been underperforming for quite a long time. Not only are more and more affluent people comfortable buying online, but these retail giants decimated their brand with the likes of Nordstrom Rack and Neiman’s Last Call. You know what? Even the rich like to save money.  And yes, the affluent are online comparison shopping, too.

If there is anything you can learn within this tragedy, it may be summed up in this one statement from the great statesman, Winston Churchill:

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Failure is part of the process. But you must learn the lesson and yes, evolve.  If you do not evolve, (with apologies to Churchill) yes, it will be fatal.

So, I am going to stop pontificating. Because it is time to learn lessons. What are those?

  • There is no excuse to not have a robust website that fully represents your store and inventory and have it ready to sell online. Not part of your inventory. Would you open your physical brick-and-mortar with 50% of the inventory in the case? It is your store online. Period. That also means figuring out your photography and how your inventory looks online.
  • In California (where I reside), we are told on a regular basis to have a disaster plan. The “big one”, they say, is going to happen. We don’t know when. We don’t know where. But it will To that end, do you have your own business disaster plan? If not, take some time and create one. Putting it bluntly, #$%* happens.
  • Is your business on solid financial footing? Can it weather another storm? Because another could be just around the corner. Sit down with your business or financial advisor and get healthy. Take a hard look at your payroll costs; the amount of inventory you have on-hand or that might be aging – both of which tend to be your biggest costs. Can you reduce those costs without it adversely affecting your business? If so, then do it.
  • Start thinking about inventory. Take that lesson from Victoria’s Secret. Does it represent what customers are looking for today? Or does it represent what you love? Is there a way to creatively display things differently? Think about how people actually shop for fashion. How you personally shop. Is your store meeting what your customers are looking for? Try something different. Test it for a while. And, then ask your customers what they think. This can be anything from displaying pricing, style, etc. Maybe (g-d forbid) even showing pricing in some acceptable, tasteful way.

Let’s face it. If there ever was an industry that is reticent to evolve, it is this one.  With every disaster, there is an opportunity. And yours is for the taking. So, I leave you with one last quote from Richard Branson that I love. It is a message about opportunity. Because an astute businessperson should never be docile.  You should always be looking to be better.

“Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.”

The key to opening the door is right in front of you. Evolve. Plan. Stop the excuses. And future opportunities can be endless.

Comment: 1

  • Ernie Cummings
    May 28, 2020 5:17 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement. We all need to keep l;earning, but we also appreciate reminders of bigger picture issues. This quieter time has giving us the space to forget that watch battery and focus on inventory management and marketing. Happy Everything

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