Bartlett Joseph Associates is an independent retail industry
management consulting firm headed by Mr. Robert Bartlett. Mr. Bartlett has been an industry practice leader in a major multi-national
consulting firm and has over twenty five years of experience in working with senior retail industry executives throughout
the United States and around the world. The focus of his current practice is business strategy, organization and management.
Why we love retailing
It's about identifying and serving consumer needs. Everyone gets to vote with their
feet for the combination of products and services that meet their lifestyle needs.
There are few barriers to entry by entrepreneurs of all stripes. There are few
barriers to exit for outdated formats and the industry has a remarkable ability to recycle real estate, employees, customers
and capital. Consumers always win.
An over $4 trillion dollar industry that makes the US economy the envy of the world
and is in turn the locomotive for the global economy. What's not to love?
Winter 2012 - Achieving Management Control
Our country faces a huge challenge to create millions
of jobs and it falls upon entrepreneurs and small businesses to meet that challenge. Obamacare and rising
tax rates make that a tall order and unlikely of success in the short to medium term.
But it has always been tough to start and grow a business. Most new businesses
fail and finding and keeping talented and hardworking management and staff who are willing to expose themselves to the risk
of failure is not for the faint of heart.
During the past few years I have tried to lend assistance to
a number of emerging and struggling businesses. It is always a humbling experience. It’s all very well me telling the
CEO of a major company about the need to “match the organization to the mission” but emerging companies without
the backing of venture capital simply can’t make payroll for a complete management team. So the founder works harder,
tells everyone what to do every day and is thus unable to achieve management control over the business.
connected and global business environment the key to competitive survival is continuous improvement. Our management process
should allow us to achieve better results every time we do something, from preparing a budget to achieving better shipping
The best advice I can give
today’s entrepreneur goes something like this:
Don’t give up, we need you,
Lead and delegate to the people you have or can get by making sure
they understand the management process (e.g. merchandising, operations, finance or logistics) that they are responsible for.
As importantly, make sure they know how to do it better next time based on actual versus plan data, and
Trust but verify that they get it and are accountable. Encourage
them to manage others – it’s the best way to grow and keep the kind of management your company will need if it
survives and prospers.
2011 – Back to the future
hard to stay focused on the fundamentals of retailing when, at all levels, our government pays no attention to the basics
of financial management. You can’t run a lemonade stand for long without a budget.
We’ve been here before and we know that retail market turmoil is coming.
Bankruptcies and liquidations loom, new market share opportunities will open up and retailers will reinvent themselves to
serve consumer needs and attract capital. Were it so for the government.
I have a confession to make. The only shopping that I personally enjoy is food shopping. So naturally, I seek
out a food store that gives me an enjoyable shopping experience. In the past I have dallied with the upscale markets, the
big box formats, even home delivery services. But my favorite food store these days is - my local Safeway. Now I do get irritated
with house brands and frequent out of stocks but I know that any store that wants to stay competitive in a local market will
have to sustain margins and stock turns – to sail close to the wind as it were.
What I like about my Safeway shopping experience is the people. The store associates
have been properly trained and given the tools (technology) to serve the customer efficiently. The offer of help out with
bags is redundant but appreciated and humanizing. The customer service efficiency achieved means that offers of help or service
are sincere, particularly with regular customers.
in 2001 I made a lot of retail venture capitalists cross by predicting the rapid demise of Webvan, the heavily funded online
grocery delivery startup. I noted that in order for the business model to work, every tenth vehicle on the road would have
to be a webvan. I also drew on my earlier experience with “electronic shopping” where enthusiasm for avoiding
the store dropped off sharply – people like the stimulation of the food shopping experience and will tolerate the inconveniences.
So I think we are going back to “neighborhood”
food stores. The big box formats and drug stores have raised the bar on productivity, and the surviving supermarket chains
have reengineered to stay in the game. Thanks to all my friends at my local Safeway store. Don’t give up – get
going.Spring 2011 – adding value with technology
We have just finished working on a new retail concept
business plan for venture funding purposes. It will be interesting to see if the VC’s have any appetite for retail in
this economic climate. Back in the eighties I was ten for ten with a mixture of specialty and big box formats.
Whereas I do not see a return to those retail venture
capital glory days (particularly in California), I do see opportunities for new value added retail concepts driven by new
technology. The brave new world of multi-channel retailing not only adds new revenue sources, it changes the business model
for bricks and mortar – we are starting to see the big boxes trimming down and consumer expectations for value added
It seems that everyone
is looking at RFID these days. And it’s not just about shortage control, it’s about real time control of processes
that are beneficial to the consumer. For example, big ticket items, previously kept under lock and key can be made more accessible
to the consumer in a retail store. We can expect to see source tagging becoming a global standard and transformational rethinking
of the supply chain, packaging and retail store design and function.
Of course, it’s all about people (retail associates) being empowered to add value for the customer.
It’s about time.
Summer 2010 - Back to the Stores
In the early eighties, my late Partner Tom Rauh and I sponsored a highly successful series of seminars
on electronic shopping. We didn’t know it at the time but we were talking about the role of e-commerce in retailing.
I later conducted a lecture series in Japan on the subject and always ended up with a picture of a young girl in a department
store clutching a beautiful dress. I posed the rhetorical question – can any catalog or computer screen match the pleasure
of touching and feeling the merchandise in the store?
This Saturday, my wife took our daughter (turning 14) shopping at the Westfield shopping center in San Francisco.
She was looking for a middle school graduation dress. Apparently, the only store that had a moderately priced selection was
Macy’s (Good for you Macy’s!). There was a long line for the changing rooms, mostly high school girls. Each of
the girls was texting away, including my daughter who sent pictures of herself from the dressing room to her two
best friends for approval. “Cute but isn’t it supposed to have shoulder straps?” came the reply. When she
got home she was thrilled with her selection because it was pre-approved by her target audience.
Most retailers I work with are trying to figure out how to leverage
the internet and social networks and some believe that a pure play e-commerce business model is the answer. But it occurs
to me that the killer shopping App is not about price or selection but about emotion. The cell phone is an emotional force
multiplier when the customer does not have to rely on the opinion of a salesperson (or their mother) to have a great shopping
experience. How this plays out when these youngsters are buying adult clothes I don’t know. But if strong emotions and
the support of close friends are important it may turn out that the retail store is more impervious to e-commerce inroads
than I had thought. The new iPhone with its video chatting function is going to show up in the dressing room, the jewelry
counter and even in the home furnishings department. The customer knows best and they know whose opinion matters most. Retail
store offerings and the changing room itself can be center stage again.
Winter 2009 - It’s about people
A number of my retail clients seem to be weathering this storm pretty well. There is no sign that
unemployment numbers will improve any time soon, however. So it is not surprising that the best advice I can give anybody
working in retailing today, at any level - is to focus on serving the customer and to add value, at an individual level.
Great retail CEOs know that they are accountable
to the internal stakeholders as well as the shareholders. They know that they must give every employee the tools, training
and systematic support that they need to succeed in serving the customer and adding value. The ability to connect each store
via broadband internet to centralized task management and program material distribution systems is huge in this respect. Retailers
who are still able to think and to use this period of economic uncertainty to go to the next level of store operations management
can build a competitive business barrier that may last for a decade or more. Look around at the people working in the store
the next time you visit a department store, discounter, supermarket or drugstore. You’ll quickly see if they are in
cost cutting mode or building people for the future. The retail worker of the future will need to be computer savvy and accountable
for getting each aspect of the job done efficiently. Real empowerment, more job satisfaction, higher productivity and better
career stability are all possible. It’s time.
It’s a jungle out there. Our dog Tucker was attacked by a Coyote last week. He survived with a number
of bites. This time of year the Coyotes are very aggressive and will not back off their prey easily. We live in beautiful
Marin County and in the habitat of mountain lions, coyotes, and otters, all of whom survive by hunting. Only about 10% of
coyotes born survive their first year. In January the Coyotes will be “denning,” that is, digging nests and having
babies or “pups.” If it were a nature movie, you would be rooting for them to catch our dog so that the young
coyotes would survive. It’s a very useful reminder that the natural world is not safe - that we do not control the world
around us. That we are not, any of us, “masters of the universe.”
We are all
humbled by the financial collapse. Good thing too, we need to teach our children to live within their means. The trappings of corporate governance have
not served us well. What auditors saw this coming? What Board of Directors? What CEO? What management consultant for that
matter? We allowed the government to muck things up.
But the American entrepreneurial spirit
is strong. It’s why I fell in love with this country when I emigrated from the UK some 35 years ago. Entrepreneurs create
the jobs and drive the culture. Retailers know how to plough things under and to start over. No bailouts asked for or expected.
Retailers, unlike banks, were the first to make consumer customer service a metric of industrial output. Retailers pioneered
consumer credit. American retailers built a locomotive to haul the global economy. It’s not the fact of retail bankruptcies
that shocks us, it’s the unprecedented scale of the market collapse.
So this could
well turn out to be retailing’s finest hour. Close some malls, refurbish others. Build destination stores that consumers
want to shop. Recognize that the world has changed and global market rules have changed for good. Use the technology or perish.
Start breathing, lick our wounds and let’s get on with it.