Bartlett Joseph Associates

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Personal Lessons Learned

952 Los Lovatos Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. (505) 820-1874 


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 thirty 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 There are few barriers to exit for outdated formats and the industry has a remarkable ability to recycle real estate, employees, customers and capital.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.
In today’s 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 rates.
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.

August 2011 – Back to the future

It’s 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.

Back 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 service growing.

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.


Winter 2008
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.




Robert (Bob) Bartlett

Bartlett Joseph Associates . 952 Los Lovatos Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. Tel (505) 820-1874